When Leah McNamara lit up screens in Dublin Murders last year, her acclaimed performance as the manipulative and possibly psychopathic Rosalind was the result of research into a world and a mindset that was alien to her. For the part of Rachel in the television adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People, by contrast, the Limerick-born actress was better able to draw on her own life.
"This character is a lot closer to home," she says. "I was definitely able to cast my mind back to school, and all the cliques and little dramas. School is such a pressurised place and you've all the hormones and insecurity."
The buzz around Normal People, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, has been palpable. The Daily Telegraph called it "a riveting romance for the millennial age" and it has been hailed for capturing the magic of the novel.
McNamara's Rachel exists at the top of the social pecking order in the Sligo school where the plot of the series begins. She has a crush on the male protagonist, Connell, and is annoyed whenever he pays attention to, another girl, Marianne. McNamara could relate to this thread.
"Yeah, I have dealt with unrequited love. I've experienced rejection, of course I have, I think everyone has. It feels like a lifetime ago. John B Keane once said that we can often view ourselves through the distorted lens of another. So I tried to keep that in mind."
That lifetime began in Castletroy, Co Limerick, where she grew up with performance running in her veins. "My dad and mum did amateur theatre and my great grandfather was a production manager and a stagehand," she says.
"My uncle is a professional opera singer. I had memories of my dad in shows and then I did shows in school, so acting seemed like a natural thing to do."
As a teenager she was rebellious and "a bit of a hellraiser" and she sounds like the characters in Normal People in the questioning she did of herself.
"In school and college you are quite sheltered but then you come out of there and you have to lead your life and I think it's that time in life that nobody really prepares you for."
She studied drama and theatre at UCC, graduating in 2015, and that was followed by a year at Bow Street Film Academy for Screen Acting. Her promise was clear early on and she won the Discovery Award at the Dublin International Film Festival in 2016 for her performance in Graham Cantwell's short film Lily. This was followed by a recurring role in Vikings.
Despite the momentum of her career, she says there have been tough moments as well. "There has definitely been and will continue to be so many rejections. Having a thick skin is really important in this industry. It makes the moments when you do get a role you've really wanted all the more memorable."
One of those moments came last year just after Dublin Murders had finished filming. She and her actor boyfriend were staying in a flat in London. "My agent called me to tell me that I'd got the part. I was with my boyfriend and so I was able to tell him first. He was completely over the moon. I felt so fortunate to share that moment with him."
At the moment she is isolating in London with her boyfriend and keeping in touch with friends and family by phone, including a very modern grandfather whom she Facetimes. She says she hasn't found the lockdown stressful.
"I'm grateful for the weather and that's had such an impact of my mood. I feel happy that I have the luxury of self-isolating with someone I actually want to be with."
'Normal People' begins this Tuesday on RTE1 at 10.15pm