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‘It’s either there or it isn’t’: Ambika Mod on co-star chemistry and the star-crossed-lovers of ‘One Day’

“Where do you want to be when you’re 40?” Emma Morley asks Dexter Mayhew in the opening episode of Netflix’s new 14-part adaptation of “One Day,” David Nicholls’ 2009 bestseller.

Dexter glibly replies that he wants to be “famous,” while Emma wants to change the world – “not the whole world, just my own tiny corner of it.”

Ambika Mod, the 28 year-old actress who plays Emma, is well on her way to achieving both characters’ ambitions ahead of schedule.

After a breakout turn in the acclaimed BBC miniseries “This Is Going to Hurt,” Mod is now taking on her first leading role as one half of the star-crossed lover-come-best friend duo at the heart of “One Day.”

Like the novel – and the 2011 film adaptation, which starred Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess – the series checks in on the lives of Emma and Dexter for one day each year on July 15, St. Swithins’ Day.

“Every episode kind of felt standalone,” Mod explained to CNN. “It’s like the accumulation of moments and experiences and failures and successes that make up a person.

“It’s so much more than just a Romance, it’s the whole spectrum of life and growing up.”

Mod made her start in the industry in live comedy, performing for several years at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, first with university sketch troupe the Durham Revue and then alongside Andrew Shires in comedy duo Megan from HR. (Full disclosure: I attended university with Mod, where we became friends.)

That comedy background shines through in abundance in the character of Emma, whose whip-smart, acerbic humor masks a much gentler and more fragile soul.

Mod (left) and Woodall (right) filmed on location in Greece, Paris, Edinburgh and London for "One Day." - Courtesy Netflix
Mod (left) and Woodall (right) filmed on location in Greece, Paris, Edinburgh and London for "One Day." - Courtesy Netflix

Like Emma, Mod also studied English at university, only to spend her early twenties in jobs she didn’t really want. But despite characteristic similarities, her route to the part was far from straightforward.

“When I first got asked to audition, I said no to it several times. I thought it was a waste of everyone’s time for me to even consider it,” she said.

“First of all, she’s written as a White woman. Second of all, I would just never have seen myself ever playing romantic leads. I got the message very early on from Western television that that just wasn’t the vibe.”

Her impostor syndrome was only fuelled by the types of role she was being offered after “This Is Going to Hurt” aired in 2022.

“I didn’t really feel like a lot of the roles and auditions that were coming to me were that right next step up,” she explained.

“It kind of just felt like I was being put in my lane a bit as a brown woman. It was a lot of South Asian women in professional jobs, very much assisting the plot in a procedural way. I’ve auditioned for a lot of doctors, policewomen and lawyers.”

Eventually, Mod decided “One Day” was too good an opportunity to pass on, and after two days intensively preparing Emma’s Yorkshire accent, submitted a self-tape audition.

"One Day" is the first time either Mod or Woodall have played the lead in a TV show, after both had breakout supporting roles in 2022. - Courtesy Netflix
"One Day" is the first time either Mod or Woodall have played the lead in a TV show, after both had breakout supporting roles in 2022. - Courtesy Netflix

What followed was a month-long process of auditions and screen tests with her soon-to-be co-star Leo Woodall, who at the time was awaiting his own TV  breakout as Jack, the mysterious “nephew” of Tom Hollander’s character in the second season of HBO’s “The White Lotus.”

“One Day” is a sweeping love story at its heart, which takes Emma and Dexter from Edinburgh to Greece, and Paris to Wolverhampton. So with the two leads at the center of every episode, the show’s success relies almost entirely on the palpable chemistry between them.

“If the chemistry wasn’t there, it wouldn’t work,” Woodall told CNN. “I think we were both just kind of lucky – we clicked early, and then when we were cast and started filming we were pals. We would do icebreaker games in between takes, and so pretty early we just had a good sense of camaraderie.”

“The writing really helped us,” Mod added. “But you can’t fake or manufacture chemistry – it’s either there or it’s not, so we were just lucky that things flowed creatively from very early on.”

“One Day” is available on Netflix from February 8.

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