The Normal People star takes on a role that pushes her toward the A list

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Daisy Edgar-Jones may be a self-proclaimed "extroverted introvert," but she has a knack for portraying characters who live very much inside their own heads.

The English actress, 23, first broke onto the scene in 2020 as the lovelorn and damaged Marianne in the broody TV adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People. And now she's taking that interiority to another creation lifted off the pages of a novel: Catherine Danielle Clark, known simply as Kya, from Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing.

An early selection by Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club, Owens' 2018 novel was a massive hit, and the film adaptation (out July 15) marks a big swing for Witherspoon's producing efforts, shifting away from a predominant focus on prestige TV efforts like The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere.

It follows Kya, sometimes called the "Marsh Girl" by her local North Carolina community, who grows up isolated and abandoned by her parents in the backwaters. When she's accused of the murder of golden boy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), her entire life is thrown into disarray as the town's prejudices take center stage.

Credit: Michele K Short/Columbia Pictures

Edgar-Jones was attracted to the role precisely because of the character's lonely upbringing. "I have been, for a long time, very intrigued about everybody else's inner life," she tells EW. "You get a funny realization when you become an adult and you realize that it's not just you that has that whole world going on in your head — everyone does."

It's that inward focus that has drawn her to book adaptations in these early stages of her career. "I'm always really curious how you adapt that to screen, where you haven't necessarily got the luxury of being able to see what's going on inside that person's head," Edgar-Jones adds. "In the case of Normal People, all you really have are particular ways of using the camera. And in Crawdads, you have that and a small bit of voiceover."

Her performance is pensive and thoughtful, her vibrant inner world coming to life through the power of her stillness. Edgar-Jones, who is also currently starring in Sundance breakout Fresh and FX drama Under the Banner of Heaven, says it's liberating to trust that an audience will have empathy for a character, even one that's not particularly wordy. But that did mean studying Owens' novel was crucial for her preparation: "I read and re-read and re-read that book," she notes.

Kya may not say a lot, but she does commune with the flora and fauna surrounding her remote home. (The character finds eventual success as an illustrator and naturalist.) Edgar-Jones worked with the film's art director, Kirby Feagan — who rendered most of Kya's drawings we see on screen — to master Kya's artistic methods.

Arriving early in New Orleans, where they shot on location, Edgar-Jones spent days in a local park with Feagan. "I found the drawing really therapeutic," she says. "I tried to read the County Almanac that Kya was reading and did as much research as I could for that."

Edgar-Jones also learned how to drive a motorboat around the swampy waterways of the film, and worked with a movement coach to tap into Kya's wild side. "We talked a lot about how you'd move when you've lived on your own in isolation for such a long time," she explains. "You'd have far less awareness, especially in that time period of the '50s and '60s when a woman's role was a lot different. It was all about being presentable. But when we first meet her, she's not so aware of the pressures that are put on us to conform to this ideal of what it is to be a young lady."

Credit: Michele K Short/Columbia Pictures

Still, Edgar-Jones is quick to rebut any notion that Kya is a savage creature. "She's got wildness within, but whenever I read the book, she came across as a very gentle character that had been misunderstood," she explains. "Because her love of birds is something that's so clear, and birds have such a gentle way, such a grace to them. That was something I was really keen to imbue Kya with."

"The feral-ness is something that is projected onto her by the town, rather than coming from within necessarily," she adds. "But if you're told you are something for long enough, you become it. I found that a very interesting way of thinking about it."

Given Kya's intimacy with plants, flowers, even the weather, the natural world needed to be an on-screen character in its own right. That was largely accomplished by shooting on location. "The weather is so extreme in New Orleans, the thunderstorms and the lightning," Edgar-Jones says. "At one point, our set flooded, and we had to have days off. It was definitely not the easiest place to film, but it was also perfect for that story because it proves that nature is bigger than you, and far more powerful."

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