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In 'One Day,' a new Emma and Dexter bring angst and yearning (again and again)

Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Long before Netflix hooked viewers with a premise that tested whether a love connection could be formed in a matter of days in a "pod" with a glowing blue wall on "Love Is Blind," a fictional duo had hopeful romantics yearning for a different kind of connection — a beautifully torturous 20-year slow burn.

"One Day," David Nicholls' bestselling novel, is a melancholic, angst-ridden portrait of a friendship between two young people that deepens and matures into a romance separated by time and timing. It was adapted for the big screen in 2011 with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Now, the love story has been refashioned into a 14-episode Netflix series by lead writer Nicole Taylor that was released last week. (Nicholls is an executive producer on the series.)

Emma, played by Ambika Mod ("This Is Going to Hurt"), is smart and witty, but insecure and stubborn; Dexter, played by Leo Woodall ("The White Lotus"), is privileged and unworried, but emotionally tortured. The pair spend the night together after their college graduation in 1988 —they talk, they drink, they remove clothing, but their one-night stand doesn't lead to sex. It sets their foundation. From there, the series checks in with them over the next 20 years on the same day (July 15) and chronicles their evolving relationship and lives as they navigate the pull of their tormented chemistry.

In a late-January Zoom conversation across time zones — Woodall and Mod joined in from their respective homes in London — the duo talked about chemistry reads, fans who enjoy the yearn, and how things end for Emma and Dexter. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: How familiar were you with David Nicholls and "One Day" before you started shooting?

Mod: I was very familiar. I had read the book ... I think when it came out. I was maybe 13 or 14. It's always been one of my favorite books. It kind of felt really surreal to be playing this part in this adaptation because I just love the story so much.

 

Woodall: When I first got the audition, I watched the movie. After that, I started reading the book. But I'm a very slow reader, so I did do some of it on Audible. When it came to the final round of auditions, or scenes from the last episode in there, I had to kind of shimmy ahead. We've seen David countless times on set and just in general, and he's such a humble, sweet, gentle man.

Q: When the show was announced, it was interesting seeing the reaction on social media of people being like, "I can't wait to be in pain." Why do you think we're so drawn to the angst and the yearning?

Mod: I think so many people hold a special place in their heart for this book and this story. What I will say about the series is — as much as the ending is very sad, as much as there is all that longing, [and] there is all that angst, it's also a very joyful story and very joyful series. It's really nostalgic. I think, especially as we get older, especially in terms of our friendships, we all have a relationship like Emma and Dexter's, where you meet someone and you could never have guessed so many years later how they might have impacted your life and what role they'd suddenly play in your life decades later.

Q: The chemistry between Emma and Dex is so crucial to the magic of their story and how it develops over time. Tell me about the chemistry read. What were the scenes that you had to do? What do you remember about meeting each other?

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