“I miss a lot of the aspects of being in the midst of the story because it’s done now, and it’s out in the world and, in a way, not ours anymore.”

When she left the casting office in London, rising star Ambika Mod didn’t think she’d secured the leading role in Netflix’s series adaptation of One Day, based on David Nicholl’s best-selling novel. But the 14-episode drop before Valentine’s Day this year has garnered strong reviews, become a massive hit for the streamer, and is an outstanding showcase of Mod’s talent. 

Mod plays Emma Morley, an aspiring, middle-class writer whose 20-year friendship with the handsome, upper-class Dexter Mayhew begins the night of their graduation on July 15th, 1988. Each episode finds Dex and Em one year older as they grow, change, and move together through heartbreak and joy.

Mod’s breakout role was opposite Ben Winshaw in the 2022 BBC | AMC medical drama This is Going to Hurt, where she played Shruti, a student doctor struggling with emotional turmoil within a stressful environment. Mod, a comedian, was a standout in her role, and the experience on the series was an important stepping stone in understanding the responsibility of being at the top of a call sheet and how she prepared for the role.

This is Going to Hurt gave me so much confidence in my ability, and I don’t think I could have done One Day without that experience behind me,” shares Mod.

One Day has been praised for its warmth and charm, with leads Mod and Leo Woodall brilliantly capturing the chaos and heartache of two souls moving into adulthood and finding peace within themselves. Mod’s Emma is snarky, charismatic, and gorgeously realized through her performance, progressing from Emma in post-adolescence into her late twenties with seamless transitions. 

Awards Focus spoke with Mod about the modernization of the novel through the series adaptation, chemistry reading with Leo Woodall during the casting process, and how she reflects on a single, ordinary day in life.

Awards Focus: The show has been so well received. What’s it been like for you since the release?

Ambika Mod: It’s been mad; mad beyond words. I feel like my brain is constantly on fire. Every expectation has been blown out of the water completely.

For the most part, I’m really grateful and relieved that people like it. I felt a lot of pressure to get this story right because it’s such a beloved book and characters. The fact that people are emotionally connected to it and responding to it is all you can really ask for.

AF: I first came to your work through the BBC | AMC series This is Going to Hurt. How did playing Shruti help prepare you to go through a lengthy production like One Day?

Mod: I’m really glad I had that series behind me when I started One Day. [This is Going to Hurt] is part of the reason why I was brought in to read for One Day. It was a step up in a way because it was a marathon.

I don’t say that lightly because, at the time, Shruti had a character arc that I was terrified of portraying because it was a whole world I didn’t really have much familiarity with. I dove straight into research and did as much as I could, and that was a five-month shoot. I was also number two on the call sheet where the show was very much about Ben [Winshaw], and I learned so much as I was so green.

However, with One Day, to be at the top of the call sheet with Leo [Woodall], where we’re basically in every frame, there was nowhere for us to hide. It’s so character, emotional, and performance-driven, and it was by far and away the biggest job either of us had done. So, it was always going to be a challenge.

AF: You mentioned being at the top of the call sheet, and I’d like to know what it was like carrying that responsibility both in front and behind the camera. 

Mod: It’s massive. It’s an enormous responsibility. In any other job, the people at the top are in leadership positions, so the director and the actors at the top really do set a tone. When it came to my time on One Day, I became exhausted as time went on, and your temperament sets the tone. I really tried my best to be aware of the responsibility and feel it out.

AF: As a fan of the novel One Day, how did you find that translation from novel to script, and was anything omitted you wished had been in the series?

Mod: It’s so weird because there are so many different forms that a series based on this book could have taken. The structure of it is so unique.

Nicole Taylor, the series creator and head writer, discussed at length every little element of the book, whether or not it should be in it, what the benefits were of having something in the story, when it should happen, and how it should be played. I really loved the way she paid such homage to the book. We’ve been faithful in so many ways.

I also think that the changes really modernized [the story] and, from a storytelling perspective, gave it much more depth. The obvious example is that so much of what happens in the first episode only happens at the end of the book.

Nicole built this whole day out for episode one and then manipulated the story to bring those flashbacks in the final episode so differently that it still pays homage to how the book does it. The book is so beautiful and heartbreaking to read, and every time I got a new script, I would settle down with a cup of tea. It was almost like reading the book again.

AF: That moment in the first episode when Emma and Dex lock eyes is so sweet and genuine. When you were going through the casting process, did you have chemistry reads with other actors too, or was it always Leo?

Mod: God, chemistry is so weird. By that point, anyone called back could play the part, so you’re basically being tested on chemistry, which you have no control over. You try to force it a bit with every person you read with, and it can come off as a contrived situation.

We both read with three or four other actors. I talk about the first time I met Leo, and I always feel like I’m disappointing everyone because it wasn’t like we knew each other. We just met at the casting office in London.

What I remember is that we met briefly in the waiting room, and then we just went straight in and did the scenes. Casting gave us three scenes, and we ran through them several times, and it was a really, really grueling process. We both went through several rounds. I didn’t leave that day thinking it was me and Leo. You’re just left with incomplete cluelessness, so they definitely did their due diligence.

AF: I loved watching your performance progress throughout the series and the subtle changes made to Emma’s hair and clothing that showed her evolution. But how she held herself at Tilly’s wedding was a significant moment that showed her growth and maturity. What was the process like for you moving through time as Emma?

Mod: We were massively helped by the writing. It did a lot of the heavy lifting for us, and I looked a lot at the internal dialogue from the book. I was really intentional about where Emma and Dex were, not just in the moment, but in that period in their lives and on that specific day.

I found charting Emma’s progression with herself to be the most helpful. Obviously, apart from her relationship with Dexter, it’s her biggest and most key relationship, the one she has with herself. Initially, she’s this incredibly smart, funny, capable woman and knows it, but she also has no confidence. She’s an outsider and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder, which is so relatable. Seeing that slowly change over the years in every aspect of her life was such a gift to play.

AF: Particularly in the middle of the series, in the seventh and eighth episodes, it felt like Emma was pushing towards that familiarity and acceptance with herself. What was it like tackling the heavier scenes in Emma’s life when it came to her big fight with Dex and break-up with Ian?

Mod: I won’t lie, it was terrifying. I’m a comedian and I had never done scenes like those. They were so well written, but they also played like theater. You had a sprawling 20 pages where Emma is talking to Dexter or Ian, and I was really intimidated by that. I’m not formally trained, and I had no expectation of how I would prepare for them in a practical sense.

I didn’t try to think about the days in relation to each other. You’re showing a continuous thread of a story, and to make Emma more real, I would try to treat each scene in isolation and how she would act at this age as opposed to being 20 or 23. Honestly, it was a good exercise for me to let go and surrender a bit.

AF: How did this show make you reflect on a single day in life and how vastly different a day can look as we get older and somewhat wiser?

Mod: You know what? I read something on my Reddit, which is an excellent source [laughs].

It says, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. I think it’s so easy to throw away a day. I’m not going to pretend I live every day to the fullest. Literally, I don’t. I’d love to sleep and not have to leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

What’s made me really reflective is how the smallest of accidents, coincidences, or brushes with fate can alter the course of your life. What I love so much about Emma’s and Dexter’s story is that a seemingly ordinary day massively alters the course of the next 20 years of their life.

When I look back on the people I’ve met in my life, I’ve not had any relationship, or at least besides a long relationship with my parents, but when I think about my closest friends and the ways we met, it all just seems so accidental and unlikely. In a sense, it’s made me more reflective and soulful.