Happy birthday to our favourite Internet Boyfriend, babygirl, Gen Z's Marlon Brando. The man who made us all up our running game just in case we encountered him in one of his favoured North East London boozers (more on this later). He’s 28 today, so here we track the 28 steps that propelled him from zero to Gladatorial hero in no time. You’re welcome.
The boy, the legend was born in County Kildare, to mum Dearbhla a Garda, and dad, also Paul, a teacher and sometime actor. And because he was born 2nd February 1996, not one year later, it officially makes him a very junior Millennial, although he's somehow become the Gen Z poster boy. We’ll let him off.
2. Gaelic Football
Mescal’s first love was football — by which, of course, we mean the Irish kind – which he played at a high level for Kildare’s U21s, until a jaw injury saw him retire in his late teens. The sport’s loss was thankfully our gain. Plus, he keeps the spirit alive with his taste for short white shorts, which is another win.
3. Lir Academy of Acting
Like Connell Waldron (his Normal People alter ego), Paul is a Trinity College alumnus. But instead of English, Paul headed to its acting enclave Lir Academy, the Irish equivalent of RADA, which also gave us The Morning Show’s Ruairi O'Connor and Shadow and Bone’s Danielle Galligan.
4. Great Gatsby
Gunning for the glitz even as an under-graduate, Paul’s debut was as a rave-reviewed Jay Gatsby in an immersive version of Great Gatsby with Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street star Charlene McKenna. Imagine mingling with that.
All of yous who thought his TV claim to fame was lighting up our lockdown in his school uniform as Connell, obviously haven’t seen his break-out role as the eager gap-year kid for Denny’s sausages, for which he has said he was paid the princely sum of €5,000 — paying his rent for a year, and having him known as Sausage Man for the rest of 2018.
6. Asking For It
Taking on the adaptation of another young Irish writer’s painful coming of age tale, Paul grappled with rape culture, sexual assault and consent in Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, which might well have served as his audition for the big time which came knocking shortly after with...
7. Normal People, for normal people
As a world was incarcerated, we came together around two things: clapping once a week for our frontline workers, and our lust at Connell’s chain (and its ensuing Instagram account, which prompted many a boyfriend to receive an unexpected sterling silver gift suddenly). His British Academy of Television Award-winning performance as the young man navigating the travails of young love, loneliness and depression provided us an essential mirror of our cut-off, confused pandemic selves. The brooding delivery was just a cherry on the top.
8. He wears short shorts
See football career above. Clearly: 1. Paul still has his old football shorts or 2. the Gaelic Athletic Association is using him as their legs ambassador and is providing him with a lifetime supply.
9. Phoebe Bridgers: Savior Complex
Which came first, the video or the romance? Witnessing a celebrity romance in real-time, their correspondence started with a Tweet, swiftly followed by Wonderland commissioning them to flirt openly on an Instagram Live — which they clearly went IRL with shortly after. Cue Paul (and cute dog) in black and white for her next single. The result was a real low-key Gen Z Bennifer moment.
10. The (lost) Lost Daughter
Unbelievably reserving his movie debut until the Maggie Gyllenhaal adaptation of Elena Ferante’s The Lost Daughter in 2021, he proceeded to steal the show as a beach-hand turned covert star-crossed lover. His steamy kiss with Dakota Johnson was his first ever film scene, and as he confessed afterwards, "I was sh**ting myself."
11. God’s Creatures
Making sure he wasn’t typecast as just a teenager in love, Mescal chose a murderous son in the Irish fishing village thriller as his second big screen outing, going toe-to-toe with Emily Watson as his Mammy, and making his fishing waders look worthy of a Real Housewives of Clapton technical gear meme.
12. East London boy
By now a tabloid pin-up, he gave popping out for crisps a good name with his constant slew of short-shorts and Blokecore retro football top looks. We’ve never roved around so many corner shops hunting for a snack, as during the summer of 2021.
13. Phoebe Bridgers: break-up, complex
After two good years together, the pair dissolved their reported engagement, apparently after Paul discovered there were three people in this relationship... Himself, Phoebe, and 6'5 ½ comedian Bo Burnham. Ever the gentleman, Mescal has declined to comment ever since.
14. Aftersun – a very quiet man
Ever looked at those holiday photos from the 1990s, the ones printed on the large format glossy stock, and thought how attractive and melancholic everyone looked? Distilling this energy into the searingly bittersweet portrayal of Calum, young father to Frankie Corio’s 10 year-old Sophie, Mescal possibly spoke out loud approximately five times in the entire two hours and yet had us – and Cannes, and the Academy - transfixed.
15. Remaking the moustache
Where Paul led, everyone else followed. His Cannes Aftersun promo look started as a kind of riff on the hazy 1990's dad he played in the film, run through the fashion mangle, and came out every inch the 1970's stud. Join our petition for him to shave it back in.
16. 2023’s new awards scene hun
Every year we crown an awards scene King and Queen. And the 2022 to 2023 season was definitely the first of many years in contention for Mescal. But it was his Oscars look: distinctive custom Gucci tux, consisting of black turn-up bell-bottoms, red silk rose and Cartier diamond brooch neatly tucked into the pointed lapel of his cream dinner jacket, black dickie bow and set off with his newly shorn (and now Generation-defining) mullet, which pulled the crowd.
17. And bagged himself a left-field Oscar nomination
He may have eventually lost out to Brendan Fraser’s gargantuan return in The Whale, but simply having his name on the list when three films into his career was a standard setter.
18. The ES shoot
We of course then swooped in to shoot the man of the moment, nearly breaking the internet by handing him a white vest.
19. Shag-Mullet-definitely wouldn’t avoid
By now a mainstay, Mescal refined the Aussie Bogan favourite and introduced it to East London’s hypest urbane Gen Z bois. Soft and wavy on the top and back, short around the sides, it’s giving sexy Dalston sheep shearer vibes and we are maaaad for it.
20. Streetcar Named Desire
Hitting the protein shakes for his most physical performance to date, he stepped into his inner Brando and brought the house down as Stanley Kowalski. Having been to see it during its West End run, we can confirm that theatre-goers are indeed all female and in their twenties now, and yes we do enjoy a man in silk pyjamas.
21. The lost movie
We have noticed that Carmen, the first film by (now scandalised Natalie Portman ex) Benjamin Millepied has disappeared from release schedules. Will it ever re-appear?
22. Gucci boxers
Trench coat, blue boxers and tan Horsebit loafers? For this iconic Gucci look, celebrating their 70th anniversary, we forgave the man-spreading.
23. Befriending the Hot Priest
It seemed there was a hook-up afoot when Ireland’s two major exports Mescal and Andrew Scott started attending events together left, right and centre. And then we realised...
24. All of us Strangers
...They were ready to break all of our hearts afresh. Under Looking creator Andrew Haigh’s watchful eye, they have wholly and completely ruined our ability to stop crying for all eternity.
25. Breaking the internet, daily
As we enter the present day, Mescal has now segued to his Internet-breaking heyday. Every interview, every bit of video content, every photo opp spins a thousand think pieces about his Babygirl/ Internet Boyfriend/ Zaddy status. And we’re here for it.
27. The Mescal Marathon
The less said of his love of a good romantic walk (and the TikTok rumours that he gets his running shoes on after a ‘date’) the better. We’ve upped our marathon training so we can keep up now Paul!
27. Gladiatorial Gains
As if buffing up for all that Streetcar desire wasn’t enough, then his role in Gladiator 2 was announced. Ready to rebrand masculinity for a new generation, we expect to be scouring ASOS for ‘Lucius’ armulets’ to buy our boyfriends in summer 2025.
28. Bafta glory
Mescal and Scott have Internet Boyfriended hard, almost as if their lives depended on it for this film, so let’s hope the six nominations for All Of Us Strangers result in a clutch of wins, especially in Mescal’s Supporting Actor category on 18th February.
Happy Birthday Paul!