Ambika Mod stars in One Day, the Netflix remake of the iconic film and book One Day
Imagine meeting up with someone on the same day every day for 20 years, getting a snapshot of your life and theirs as you age. What would your stories be? How would you change as the years roll by?
That’s the scenario in One Day, the bestselling book by David Nicholls that was turned into a film in 2011 and now a 14-part Netflix TV series starring actress, comedian, and writer Ambika Mod.
“This is a story about friendship and growing up and the shocks and twists and turns that arrive with coming of age,” says Mod, who plays Emma Morley, who meets polar opposite Dexter Mayhew on her last day at Edinburgh University on 15 July 1988 at the graduation ball. Despite, or perhaps because of their differences - Dexter wants to be rich, Emma to do something that changes the world, or “maybe just her own tiny corner of it” - the pair hit it off and decide to meet every year on that day to see where life has taken them. The story follows them over the course of 20 years as they develop and evolve, sometimes together, sometimes apart, and find both happiness and heartbreak, going from being total strangers to the most important person in each other’s lives.
Remaking the popular film which starred Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess into a TV series will see a whole new generation of viewers engaging with the story, which is updated with a more contemporary edge, while still being set in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I like that we’re going to reach a new generation with this series and hope they connect with the characters,” says Mod. “It feels grounded and truthful to people because I think that’s what’s so singularly special about the book.
“I hope fans see the same things that they loved in the book and film in the TV series. I hope they love the characters as much, and connect with the story as much,” she says.
There’s a strong chance they will as the writer David Nicholls’s stamp is all over the new iteration of his work since he was heavily involved with the series.
“He was one of the execs and writers and I feel like because we’ve got his blessing I’m not really thinking about anyone else’s opinion as much, but it would obviously be the cherry on top if fans of the book say that they felt this series did it justice,” says Mod.
Best known for playing junior doctor Shruti Acharya in the award-winning BBC drama This is Going to Hurt (2022) and I Hate Suzie (2020), Mod, now 28, discovered acting and comedy at Durham University and began performing at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival with sketches she wrote, becoming a regular in subsequent years.
One Day saw her leaving her home in London where she lives with mini Bernedoodle dog Todd to return to film in Edinburgh, which is central to the book, with scenes on the city’s extinct volcano and popular viewpoint Arthur’s Seat bookending the action and having particular significance. It’s where Emma and Dexter spend their first day together after walking to the top and gazing out over the capital, a ritual that chimed with Mod.
“I really love Edinburgh. I’ve done four Fringes and the city means a lot to me careerwise. I always have friends that are there doing shows and on the last day we always walk up Arthur’s Seat and it became a tradition. So we shot the Arthur’s Seat scenes in July 2022 and it was the most gorgeous day, the view was incredible, and I remember thinking back to three years before being up there and not in as good a headspace and feeling quite lost. Then to have that full circle moment back up there was really special. It felt really cosmic, like it was meant to be. When you get up the top it’s so quiet and you’re so far away from everything and feel so tiny, I think it’s a place that lends itself to reflection.
“Edinburgh means a lot to me as a person and also it’s really key in this story. But we also shot in London, Greece and Paris, and Leo got to go to Rome for a few days, so we were quite spoiled during this shoot.”
While One Day is a romance, for Mod the themes of ageing and self-discovery are every bit as important as the relationship between Emma and Dexter, played by Leo Woodall, last seen in White Lotus.
“What I love so much about this story and why I have always loved the book is that I think the love and romance element is just one part of the storyline that tracks their relationship and how they interact with the world around them, changing as they get older and as things come and go. I didn’t really think about the romance of it as much as the other stuff because that feels more true to me.”
For Mod, playing the same character over two decades in One Day presented a very different challenge from This Is Going to Hurt for which she won the RTS Television Best Supporting Actor Award and the Broadcasting Press Guild Best Actress Award last year. How did she approach researching for the two roles?
“I went about them in very different ways. For This is Going to Hurt I did a lot of research into the experiences of junior doctors and the NHS and working in those conditions and that was quite heavy because I was researching depression and anxiety and suicide, and obs and gynae doctors can have PTSD. So as much as the show was a lot of fun to make there was a lot of heavy research that went into it, whereas this was a very different experience because the book basically has everything you need to know about the characters in it so I read the book twice through and made notes, and obviously you learn the accent [Emma is from Yorkshire] and then I tried not to overthink it too much,” she says.
“At the beginning I would do a lot of prep, although I’d rather just do all the background and then show up and trust that it’s there, but as time went on this was a really different experience to This Is Going to Hurt in the sense that the schedule was really full on and Leo and I didn’t really get breaks for time off. Because it was so relentless we had no choice but to learn our lines two minutes before we were about to film or do it for the first time during rehearsals in a camera rehearsal and that was a really new experience. It was a different experience to This Is Going to Hurt because of the nature of the writing and the breadth scenes, so it definitely felt like two very different processes and I learnt a lot from both of them.
“It’s a very different character too, and you see Emma over 20 years so it’s obviously a massive curve, and the two jobs felt worlds apart in so many ways.”
Key to the story’s setting in the 1980s and 1990s is the soundtrack to those decades, with songs from the likes of Elvis Costello, Del Amitri, Tears for Fears, Fatboy Slim and Robbie Williams, all of which go a long way to creating the ambience and energy of the times. Did Mod have her own personal soundtrack to help her get into character as Emma?
“I didn’t make one but David Nicolls has a playlist for Emma and Dexter which is long and so specific and I listened to that a lot which was great because it gave me access to so much 1980s and 1990s music that I wouldn’t necessarily have heard because I was born in 1995.
“No-one knows Emma better than David so it was really nice to have a playlist he’d curated and it got me into the time period of it all, having an immediate handle on what she listens to without having to pick and choose myself.”
After winning and being nominated for so many awards for This is Going to Hurt, has Mod experienced a change in the roles she’s offered or the way her career has progressed since?
“That’s a hard question because I don’t have anything to compare my experience to. I always say that This Is Going To Hurt changed my life and also didn’t.
“Obviously since I did it I can probably get into rooms and am asked to audition things that I might not have before, but on the flip side I’m always cognisant of the fact that I might not be offered, or might not be in the same position as a lot of my white peers who may be the same age and at the same place in their careers. That’s something I’m always aware of as probably being a reality and I’m very specific and very particular and intentional with the things I go for and the things I don’t and that’s very helpful. But absolutely it’s nice to have a piece of work like that behind you, it helps so much to have your foot in the door in the industry and careerwise, so that’s really amazing and feels like a real privilege.”
After a busy few years filming Mod is planning on “taking a bit of a break” to recharge but also hopes to go back to doing comedy and writing.
“I’d love to write my own thing to be in because I’ve been acting for the past few years which I’ve loved, but I do sort of miss the control of comedy and creating something from scratch myself and being there for the whole process.
“So I don’t know what the future looks like yet for me, whether I’m going back to doing life stuff or writing something for screen - that’s definitely on the horizon - but I’d like to take a bit of a step back.”
“But I’d also love, if it came to me, to do out and out comedy because I haven’t had a chance to do that, something really absurd and off the wall and really sharply written. I’ve got that string to my bow that I’ve not really been able to exercise acting wise. And if not, I’ll just write it,” she says and smiles.
This would be a return to her roots and her early Edinburgh Fringe experience, putting on comedy she wrote herself.
“I’d love to do that,” she says. “I had so much FOMO this year when the Fringe was happening and I wasn’t there.”
And like the story arc in One Day, it’s a return to the city where it all started. In the spirit of that, what would Mod say to her younger self, a decade ago at 18 before her career took off in the way it has?
“I would tell her that it’s all going to be OK,” she says. “Because I remember being extremely anxious in my late teens and being quite depressed and having a lot of self-loathing. I would tell her she is a lot better and a lot smarter and prettier and more capable than she thinks she is and that she’s her harshest critic and probably always will be so her opinion can’t be trusted.” She laughs.
“I’d just tell her it’s going to be OK - and don’t sweat the small stuff. It would be interesting if someone had told me that at that age, but whether or not my 18-year-old self would listen is another story.”
Ambika Mod stars in One Day with all 14 episodes launching on Netflix on Thursday, 8 February 2024.