Conversations with Friends actor Joe Alwyn on Nick and Frances' romance — ‘I love the messiness’

Joe Alwyn in a brown jacket and dark jumper as Nick who is embracing Alison Oliver in a red jacket as Frances in Conversations with Friends
Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Frances (Alison Oliver) have an affair to remember in Conversations with Friends. (Image credit: Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)

Conversations with Friends is one of the most anticipated dramas of the year and it’s finally here.

The drama is based on the novel by Sally Rooney, whose award-winning book Normal People became a TV phenomenon in 2020. 

Conversations with Friends centers on Irish student Frances, played by newcomer Alison Oliver, who is studying at Dublin’s Trinity College and also performs poetry with her best friend and former lover Bobbi (Sasha Lane). When sophisticated author Melissa (Jemima Kirke) takes the girls under her wing, sparks fly between Melissa and Bobbi, but matters become more complicated when Melissa introduces them to her actor husband Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Nick and Frances embark on a passionate affair.

All 12 episodes air on Hulu in the US and BBC3/BBC iPlayer in the UK from Sunday, May 15.

What to Watch caught up with Alison Oliver and Joe Alwyn to find out more about Conversations with Friends…

Conversations with Friends sounds compelling, what drew you both?

Joe Alwyn: “This is a book I loved, as did so many. It's a modern love story and it doesn't give a conclusive answer to the questions Sally's asking, and I like that messiness. I feel incredibly lucky to be on this journey. It's exciting!”

Alison Oliver: "It's brilliant that Sally’s stories are being translated into a visual form and we can keep talking about them in a new way. Even when I was auditioning, I felt lucky to be seen. You never think it's going to happen and I was completely shocked when it did!"

Tell us about your characters

Alison Oliver: "I love Frances! She's quite reserved. You’d probably have to chat to her for a bit to get her to open up!" 

Joe Alwyn: "And I like Nick. He’s guarded and enigmatic at the beginning, but you learn more about why he’s the way he is and perhaps find empathy with him for what he's been through. You want to get to the root of what's going on underneath. Hopefully, there's satisfaction when those layers start to be peeled back."

What attracts them to each other?

Alison Oliver: "Each stare, each moment and each silence has a purpose, they communicate without words. But I think they find safety and something that's more than just attraction."

Joe Alwyn: "Yes, both Nick and Frances are not great at communicating or knowing what they feel, let alone then spelling it out to another person! It's interesting to play those moments where people can't articulate or things are felt but not said."

Melissa (Jemima Kirke) in a red dress bonds with Bobbi (Sasha Lane) in a dark jacket and waistcoat in Conversations with Friends

Melissa (Jemima Kirke) bonds with Bobbi (Sasha Lane) in Conversations with Friends. (Image credit: Element Pictures/Enda Bowe)

How does their affair impact on Frances’ relationship with Bobbi and Nick’s marriage to Melissa?

Joe Alwyn: "Frances and Nick are used to being defined by these strong characters next to them. But in coming together, they grow. Then Nick’s relationship with Melissa takes a new form and Frances' relationship with Bobbi grows and changes because of her relationship with Nick too. Ironically, through the affair, every relationship shifts."

Alison Oliver: "For all its turbulence and chaos, it's good for them. When you meet those four characters, they're in a stagnant place but the affair causes all their relationships to uproot and they come to terms with what they mean to one another."

Conversations with Friends was filmed in Croatia, Belfast and Dublin, what was that like?

Joe Alwyn: "I loved Dublin! I'd never been before. I wish we'd spent more time there but we did go there for exterior shots and it’s such a fun city." 

Alison: "For me it was surreal because I was doing scenes in places I'd hung out in a couple of months prior! [Alison had just graduated from Trinity College’s Lir Academy drama school]. That was helpful to still be in that space I was familiar with. I’m just starting out and it's nice to feel you get this world and these kinds of people, then you can let the story take its own route."

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.