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The stars of Netflix’s ‘One Day’ on bringing the beloved story to TV

Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall star as Emma and Dexter in the new Netflix series, based on the book by David Nicholls.

By Anna Smith

One Day
Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall in 'One Day' (Picture: Netflix)

Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall star as Emma and Dexter in new Netflix series One Day, based on the book by David Nicholls.

The beloved book, released in 2009, was adapted for the big screen two years later for an adaptation starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

12 years later, it has been turned into a 14-episode series on the streaming service. “It’s either there or it’s not,” Mod tells Rolling Stone UK of her chemistry with Woodall, with the pair also discussing their history with the story of One Day, why it suits a TV-length adaptation and how it has become “the template” for modern day platonic love stories.

Read our interview with the pair below.

The book One Day (2009) was made into a film in 2011, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. What was your relationship with the story when you got cast?

Ambika: I read the book first when it came out, so I was 13 or 14 and it’s always been one of my favourite books. I’ve loved it nearly half my life now and always loved Emma. When I first got the audition I turned it down because I didn’t think I could play the role. But when I was rereading it, I thought I’m actually very much like Emma, in a lot of ways. I think a lot of people feel that. I think she’s the grounding force and in the story for a lot of people. 

Leo: I hadn’t read it and then read it during the audition process. I’d only seen the film. I quickly dove into the book and fell in love with it as well. 

Leo, what resonated with you about your character and the journey he goes on throughout this story?

Leo: I think it’s his vulnerability, that can sometimes be overlooked because of some of his other behaviour. But he’s incredibly vulnerable and fragile at times. He goes through a lot and he doesn’t get sympathy from a lot of people in his life. I felt pretty bad for him at times.

When did you first meet, the two of you? 

Both: Our chemistry read!

Well it obviously worked, the way you said that in unison!

Both: 14 April 2022! 

One Day
Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall (Picture: Netflix)

So, how do chemistry reads work?! Do you know when you meet each other? You go, ‘oh, I think this is going to work’?

Leo: I don’t know. Because casting directors and directors and producers are sort of deciding that themselves, we just had to do our best. And during that first meet, we we weren’t entirely sure what they needed. 

Ambika: It’s either there or it’s not. You have no control over the situation. So yeah, it’s one of those things where the alchemy just has to be right and there’s definitely a little bit of luck involved. Kudos to the team for seeing what they did, because it obviously translated really well. 

What were the joys of the shoot?

Leo: We were lucky, we did get to go to some funky places and Edinburgh was very early, and I think that was a highlight for everyone. As we left, they were setting up for the Fringe.

Ambika: Yeah, I was really sad to not be able to stay for Fringe. We were there for the last few weeks of July. And the weather was gorgeous. For me, a highlight was Arthur’s Seat, especially that that first day up there, that was a week into the shoot.

Leo: I had a slightly different experience on Arthur’s Seat, I got food poisoning, I think I’d had some dodgy pork! It was really windy and I was really not feeling OK.

Oh no! Where else did you get to film?

Ambika: We went to a lot of places for this shoot – we did Greece for two weeks, an island called Paros. [turns to Leo]. You went to Rome for a week.

Leo: And then we did Paris but that was at the end of January and everyone was tired and cold. So that wasn’t quite the same experience. We were still pretending it was the 15th July and we were in limited clothing. 

Ambika: I think from November onwards, is when things started to get really tricky because we were outside with no clothes on, having to look like it was a nice warm summer’s evening, which was its own challenge that I didn’t think either of us could have foreseen going into this. Having watched it back, I’m very proud of us, you wouldn’t have been able to guess!

Leo: There were points where we had to almost hold our breath to stop frosty breath coming out. 

One Day
Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall in ‘One Day’ (Picture: Netflix)

What were the other challenges?

Ambika: Just to be really candid, being a lead is no joke. This is, for both of us, the biggest roles we’ve ever done. And because the story is so character-driven, and it’s so reliant on our performances and our chemistry, we definitely felt that pressure and that responsibility. It was hard work. It was something that I underestimated a bit going into it, just the sheer level of focus. The sheer pressure and responsibility that lay at our feet was huge. 

What were the fun parts to shoot? Were there days when you were cracking up laughing?

Leo: Loads. We’d be just giggling or trying to make the other one laugh during a set up. 

Ambika: It was one of those sets where the alchemy was just perfect. Everyone wants to be there. We all travelled a lot together. We stayed in the same hotels. So we’ve become really close in the whole cast and crew. 

What do you think are the benefits of having this as a series as opposed to a film adaptation?

Leo: Being able to dig deep. Having the space and the time to do that and tell the story accurately and with the space that it needs and deserves. 

Ambika: Definitely – the book is so episodic I think it lends itself really well to a TV format. We basically do a year per chapter. So every episode is like its own little movie and we could continue exploring things in a way that you can’t really in any other format.

One Day
Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall (Picture: Netflix)

Why do you think your characters maintain such a close friendship when they are so different? 

Leo: I think they both rely on each other to cut through the bullshit all the time. And neither one of them really tries to analyse too much. But there is something that keeps joining them back to each other. And before any romance, they do just have a fierce, fierce friendship.

It’s interesting to see something that explores the platonic nature of a friendship between a man and a woman. Were you influenced by anything else you’ve watched in that area? When Harry Met Sally is an interesting counterpoint. 

Ambika: Probably with the exception of like When Harry Met Sally, I think One Day is the template for a lot of those kinds of stories. Normal People, that’s very similar. I think it’s probably more common and also more realistic, than two people who meet and end up falling in love. And I think it’s definitely opening romances up to a more complex narrative of exploration of people and their relationships, especially when they meet when they’re very young, and how that transforms as they get older. 

What are you both up to next, work wise?

Leo: I’m doing a movie at the end of February, called Nuremberg, about the Nuremberg trials in World War Two.

Ambika: I’m open, I might take a little break. I kind of want to write. Taking my time!