Ambika Mod Answers (Almost) All Your Questions About 'One Day'

We almost wish “One Day” was a continuous series. Not because we wanted to extend the narrative of David Nichols’ original novel, but because if it was a drama series we’d be assured stars Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall would almost be guaranteed to receive the Emmy love they deserve. Those categories allow for significantly more nominees than the Limited Series acting categories. But, if there is any justice, Mod, in particular, will somehow fend off one Oscar and previous Emmy winner after another to land a Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie nomination.

Dare to dream, right?

READ MORE: “The White Lotus”: Leo Woodall says don’t feel sorry for Jack [Interview]

Adapted by Nicole Taylor, the critically acclaimed smash Netflix series follows star-crossed lovers Emma (Mod) and Dexter (Woodall) as their romance and friendship intertwine over 20 years of their lives. Each episode focuses on (primarily) one day every year from their first chance meeting after graduating from the University of Edinborough in 1988 to a much different life in 2008. and while Woodall has already had a bit of the spotlight thanks to his role in season two of “The White Lotus,” the success of “One Day” has given a worldwide platform for the impressive talents of the now 28-year-old Mod.

Over the course of our lengthy discussion, Mod discusses a variety of subjects including shooting the final episode early on during production, how she initially turned down auditoning because of her reverence for the book, just how difficult those ocean scenes were, her favorite episode (it might not be the one you’d expect), her acting process, and much, much more. And if you’re a big fan of the series, like this writer, her responses will be delightfully informative about how hard the show really was to pull off.

Please note: There are major, major spoilers about “One Day” in the context of this interview.


The Playlist: I was such a fan of “One Day.” I was even bawling at the end. I loved your performances. Thought it was so good. How did the project come your way and what was your reaction when you got it?

Ambika Mod: So the project came to me just by a self-tape. My agent emailed it to me, and my reaction when I got that tape was, “I’m not doing that. Please say no on my behalf.” And I turned it down and I kept turning it down. They kept asking me if I would tape, and I said, “No, no, no, I won’t tape. Thank you. Please leave me alone.” For many reasons, mainly I loved the book so much, and I loved the character so much, and I just didn’t see it happening. And then about a month later, I literally woke up in bed and was like, “I’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.” And I called my agent the next day and I was like, “Is it too late?” And she was like, “Mo, no, no, but you have to do it now. You have to do it. It is the 11th hour.” And then, yeah, I sent the tape off and the rest is history, as they say.

Did they even have you and Leo do any chemistry tests together?

Yeah. So we both went through several rounds and my final round was the chemistry reads, and we both read with three or four other actors over the course of a day. It was quite a full-on day. We had three scenes to read. They were all like 10 pages long, so they really put us through it. But yeah, I met Leo once before we were cast at that chemistry read.

Having been a fan of the book, what surprised you the most when you got the shooting scripts?

Well, initially I only really had episode one. That was all I had I think before I started filming. That was all they shared with us and we got other scenes. But what I loved so much about the first script when I read it was, first of all, it was so faithful to the book. So, many of the lines plucked literally from the prose. But at the same time, structurally, you could tell that there was a very different intention. If you know the book, a lot of the events of the first episode happened right at the end of the book. The first chapter in the book is just Emma and Dexter talking in the bedroom and structurally and narratively, I think it was Nicole Taylor, series creator, who reimagined that top and tailing of the narrative and made it into something profound that is so faithful to how the book portrays it, but also I think makes it much deeper and much more, I suppose, eventful in a way. But honestly, every time I read a new script, I would settle down, I’d have a cup of coffee, I’d have a blanket, and I would sit. Because, for me, it was almost like reading the book again. And it felt like being able to go on a journey with these characters again after having read the book three times already. But it was just a thrill to be part of a project that was being so faithful to the source material whilst also, I suppose, bringing it into the modern day and age of a television series.

In the context of production, how difficult was it to chronicle each of these years as an actor? Are you one of those actors who, tracks where she is in 1995, this is where she is in 2002?

I mean, I thought had a mixed approach in that. Like I said before, the book’s been around for half of my life, so I was always already very, very familiar with Emma and her arc. And, before the job started as much as I could, I delved deep into the book. I massively did my homework. I charted her progression year by year. I pulled out all the context that they could. The book would give me all the internal dialogue, and if there were any gaps, I would fill that in myself. But when it came to actually filming, there was a real liberty in this series that each episode happens a year apart. Each episode is a day in the year, and the last time you’ve seen them, it’s been almost a year earlier. So, whilst there is that sort of progression, two days a year apart are often quite unconnected to each other. Often they did feel like a little bit of freedom to treat each episode in isolation.


And I think in terms of the larger chronicling that just came from the prep and the homework and just knowing the character really well. I think so much of the heavy lifting for us in terms of the maturing – because obviously me and Leo were 26 and 27 when we made this thing. So, I’m not going to pretend that know what it’s like to be 33, or 34, that would be ridiculous. All we can do is just know these characters as much as we can. And it felt like a real collaboration with the writers and with the execs. But when it came to actually shooting, there wasn’t that much time to prep each scene and go into depth in each scene and be like, “O.K., where is she now and why is she acting this way versus how she acted a couple of episodes ago?”

It was fast, it was boom.

Yeah, it was fast. We filmed 10 pages a day, which is unheard of. You do maybe four or five pages a day. Our page count a day was mad. I remember the first two days of the shoot was the chat on Primrose Hill, which was originally a 20-page scene, and that was half the episode. And we did it in two days. It was fast. There was no time to really sit with a scene and think about it and dissect it. And we had to know our stuff before going into it, and then we just had to play and surrender and yeah, hope it came.

Were you and Leo rehearsing lines beforehand? Was there a read through?

We did. We had four read-throughs throughout the course of the shoot as we did blocks. But no, I think at the beginning I tried as much to prep as I could the night before, but then as the shoot got on and it just became more grueling, I was like, “This is physically not possible. Physically, mentally, this is not possible for me to do.” So, I’m an actor who – I don’t like to learn my lines until the very last minute. I’m very blessed that I have one of those memories where I can just read a scene a few times and it just seems to absorb by osmosis. So, I didn’t have to stay up for hours each night learning lines. But especially as the shoot went on, it very much became a situation where we would have our scripts in our hands during rehearsals, but it would be so quick. We’d have maybe one rehearsal and then we’d have to do it, and we’d just have to see where it took us. But I think it’s rare that you have the opportunity to play a character in such depth over 20 years that we got to know our characters in a way that we might not on another job. So, it was a double-edged sword in that sense that we had had the time and we had the material and we had the depth, but at the same time, we didn’t have the time.

Were you able to shoot sequentially or was it all over the place?

We largely shot it sequentially. It did help, yeah. I mean, it was so broken up at the beginning. We shot [episodes] 1, 2, 3, and 14 [first], so that was mad for us.

14? That is the final episode, right?

Yeah, yeah. But it’s because of all the flashbacks, so you sort of have to do 1 and 14 together. So, I was being a dead 35-year-old ghost before having read any of the in-between scripts. So, that was an experience. But like I say, we had a book. We had this amazing source material to draw from, which you might not always have. But yeah, it was very much being thrown at the deep end for sure.

Was it scary shooting the final episode that early? Were you nervous?

Yeah, it was scary. And you sort of had to decide where your character was going to end up before you’d even had any information about what was going to happen in the middle. Like I say, we had a book, so we had all that context. But in terms of charting the journey, you just had to, I dunno had to make a really bold, intentional choice. I was playing Emma when she was 22 to 23, and then suddenly I was playing her in a scene where she was 36 and also a ghost and she was Dexter’s imagination of her. And I was like, I don’t necessarily even know what that might look like. It did kind of feel like a stab in the dark, but also being something very intentional. And at that point, I think you also just really have to trust the writing and the directors and trust that they have got as good as if not a better marker of the journey than you. So yeah, I think when we were shooting that scene specifically, I just fully trusted Molly [Manners], our director, and that it happened.


I particularly love that sequence in the room where the ghost or a figment of his imagination.

Imagination, yeah, that’s a better way of putting it. Yeah.

I think one of the things that I love about the show is that even though it’s going through so many years and things, whatever, it just feels so grounded. It just feels like these are real characters. There iso little artifice to what’s sort of going on. And did you feel like that was coming through at the time when you were shooting it?

I think I remember the first time I read the script, there was a description at the beginning about how they wanted to portray the eighties and the nineties, not how you see it on TV, but how people actually remember it. And I remember that has always really stuck with me because I think that is so indicative of the approach and the outlook for making the whole series that as much as this is a love story and a rom-com, this is I think fundamentally a show about life and growing up. And we didn’t want to cut any corners in terms of the groundedness and the authenticity of it. And I also think that’s part of the reason why they probably cast a Leo. And I suppose our instincts are quite underplayed and understated. And yeah, I think that was very intentional from the team in so many aspects of the show from the outset. So no, I wasn’t surprised, but I was surprised at how much that came across and how much people connected with that element of it.

Was there one particular sequence or one scene that you’re either most proud of?

Episode eight for me, which is sort of Emma’s episode where she has the affair with the headmaster, and then she comes home and she breaks up with Ian [Jonny Weldon] and then she runs into her ex-student. I just loved that episode so much, and I remember that was an episode that I worked quite closely with Nicole Taylor, the writer on. For me, that episode represents just doing Emma justice. Anyone who knows the book and loves the book knows that one day is Emma’s book. She is the grounding force of that novel. She’s the eyes through which we sort of experienced that story and experienced those growing pains. And I think that episode in particular is so pivotal for Emma and it comes at a central point in the story, and it was also right, really hard to shoot. It was creatively really, really challenging. So yeah, I’m just really, really proud of it, and I always remember the feeling that I had when I finished watching that episode where as an actor, as a professional creative, I remember just being feeling just profound pride in how hard we’d worked and what we’d created in that episode in particular for this beloved female character and where she is at that point in her life. And yeah, I just think every choice in it from all members of the team is just really perfect. And that is the episode that really has a special place in my heart.

I have to ask you about the Greece episode. Did you go to Greece or did you go somewhere else to stand in for it?

Yeah, we went to Greece.

Where did you guys go in Greece. Do you remember?

It was a little island called Paros.

Oh my God. I’m going to Paros this year. This is hilarious.

Not, you are not.

Yeah, I just booked it with my friends.

Beautiful. It’s beautiful. You’ll have a great time.

I love that episode. The whole narrative about love unrequited speaks to me. You’ve always have that moment in your life with maybe one friend who you wish wasn’t juts a friend and you want to say something about how you really feel, but you don’t. I feel like it so captures that moment so well. But the pivotal ocean scene, were you shooting that at night? Is it day for night? And, if it was the Ocean, how tough was that to do?

We did two ocean shoots. We did the night shoots in the ocean where they go skinny dipping, and we shot that at night and we did the wides. And then several months later we shot the closeups in a tank in London. So we did the wides at night time and it was f**king freezing, and we were both naked and they were getting us in and out of the water because when you were in the water, your body temperature drops 20 times faster. And we’d get in the water and we’d be like, “Please let us stay here. It’s warm in the water.” They’d be like, “No, no, no, no, no, you’re going to freeze. You’re going to get hypothermia. You need to get out.” So we’d be going in and out and out. So that was magical for an hour. Then it got really hard. But then there was the other ocean shoot where they were talking in the daytime and on the beach, and that was even colder. That was so cold. And I remember every time we started filming that scene, by the time we finished that scene, we’d be like 20 meters to the left because of the tide. So it was just impossible. And it was so cold. It was the same thing. They kept getting us in and out of the water. We were like, “” lease let us stay in the confines of the ocean. But it was so cold. Every time we’d go back in the water, it was cold. So, I don’t have particular particularly fond memories of either of those scenes, but you couldn’t tell. [Laughs.]


No, you couldn’t. Also, and by the way,I never would’ve guessed you guys finished that in a tank. It looked like you guys were there.

That’s right.

I have two last questions for you. One of the other scenes or moments that just sticks with me in the show, it must be episode 13 I guess, or maybe it’s 12, where Leo’s ‘ex…

Oh, Sylvie.

Sylvie [Eleanor Tomlinson], she just comes to drop off her daughter, and you both have that scene in the alley, and it felt so like, yep, this is what most adults, how they would actually act at that moment. No unnecessary melodrama. And I’m just curious if you guys talked about it before you did it, if it was just natural on the page. If you even remember that day.

I do remember that day. And because it was my only scene with Eleanor, who I love, who’s so amazing, I mean, obviously, we did the wedding [episode] together, but we didn’t actually have any scenes together. And I love that you said that, and thank you for noticing that, because in the book there’s a comedy bit about how Emma and Sylvie don’t really like each other and Sylvie’s a bit mean and has a gripe with Emma. And not only do I think it is perhaps a more mature take, but also there’s no need to portray two female characters like that because that’s just not the reality. There’s no need for Emma and Sylvie to dislike each other or to be cold with each other. And it’s quite an unremarkable conversation, to be honest. It actually felt really simple when we were filming it, really straightforward. We didn’t have these massive diatribes about the characters or our relationship. And I’m really glad that came across. But that would’ve been, I think, an intentional from Nicole and David and the execs to build that relationship differently from how we have seen it in the book.

My last question for you is, I’m assuming you are at least privately online in some manner. And I don’t know if you paid attention to the reaction from either fans of the book or just fans of the series overall, but I certainly noticed people talking about it online all over the place and loving it. What was your reaction to people’s reaction to the show?

Yeah, I am online. I mean, I have Instagram. I remember the first month or so after the show came out, I read everything good and bad, which wasn’t healthy either way. Like, no one should be consuming that much information. But I can’t believe the sheer volume of people who have watched it, the sheer volume of people who have emotionally responded to it in a way. And I can’t believe just after the show came out for weeks on Twitter, there were just people recording their reactions to the final episode and they were all just weeping in the camera. So bizarre. And I couldn’t go onto Instagram or TikTok without hearing my voice or hearing the music from the final episode. So, I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant for me to say that the show almost became a cultural moment.

No, it absolutely is.

Yeah, the reaction is pretty mad. But I’m also aware that social media and the internet are such a small part of it. There are lots of people who watch the show who aren’t on the internet, and I would love to be aware of that response as well, because sometimes on social media, you are often just listening to who’s shouting the loudest, whether that’s good or bad stuff. So yeah, every time I get to talk to someone like you and hear things about the series I haven’t necessarily heard before, that’s so special as well. So yeah, I’m still calibrating everything. It’s only been like two and a half months since it came out. So it still feels quite raw and fresh.

“One Day” is available on Netflix worldwide.