One Day Star Ambika Mod Is Processing the Emma Morley Criticism in Therapy


Ambika Mod has been thinking about Emma Morley a lot over the past three weeks.

Of course, the 28-year-old actor is not the only one. The latest adaptation of David Nicholls’s best-selling romance One Day dropped on Netflix on February 8 and quickly rose to the top of the streaming service’s weekly ratings. By Valentine's Day, the series was number one, even ahead of Love Is Blind season six (Mod does not like that Jimmy fellow).

In the 14-episode series, Mod plays a brilliant yet self-destructive working-class writer who falls in love with wayward posh boy Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall) on their final day at university in 1988. The series follows their journey as friends to lovers, checking up on Emma and Dexter on the same day over the course of 20 years. (Warning: Spoilers beyond this point.) It's a classic tale of right person, wrong time until, tragically, the narrative shifts to right person, not enough time when Emma is unceremoniously struck by a car just as they're finally settling into their lives together.

To say viewers were gutted would be an understatement. “I have cried every single minute of that last episode,” one fan recently commented on one of Mod's unrelated Instagram posts from 2020. “I have never cried this much watching a movie or a show. I hated it so much, I hated it because I fell in love with both characters and the story. Because I LOVED it.”

Despite One Day's popularity among viewers and critics, a vocal minority on social media are criticizing Emma for, well, everything really. Even before the series dropped, Mod braced herself for backlash as a woman of color taking on a role previously played by white actor Anne Hathaway in the 2011 film adaptation. (Unlike the American actor, Mod was born and raised in England after both her parents emigrated from India.)

“I had a lot more to prove,” Mod said of playing Emma—and while she's loved the novel since she was 13 years old, Mod initially struggled to see herself as a romantic lead and turned down the audition. Luckily, casting director Rachel Sheridan had seen Mod's gut-wrenching breakout performance in the 2022 BBC One medical dramedy This Is Going to Hurt and chased after the actor long enough for Mod to come to her senses.

Now that the series has been out for a few weeks, the actor has seen the discourse over Emma's unapologetic nature and perceived decision to “wait around” for Dexter to finally choose her—even though both characters date other people throughout the series, both engage in infidelity, and neither seems too torn up about it afterward. “It's a tale as old as time,” Mod tells me over Zoom from her cozy plaid bedroom in London. “Women are gonna be misunderstood. No matter what you do. You can make the sweetest, nicest manic pixie dream girl character there is, and people will still dislike her.”

<h1 class="title">One Day</h1><cite class="credit">Ludovic Robert/Netflix</cite>

One Day

Ludovic Robert/Netflix

Needless to say, Mod feels very protective of Emma (and, by extension, herself). “We just do not give female characters or just women in general the same respect as we do male characters, especially in the show when you've got two characters like Emma and Dex, who were so equal,” she says. “Especially in a situation like this, where there are two characters who are completely comparable and one is getting more love than the other, you sort of have to look at society a little bit and be like, Why? Why is that happening? And why don't we talk about it more?”

So we talked about it. Below, Ambika Mod digs into the “twisted” double standards in the romance genre, Jim Sturgess's reaction to the series, and whether or not Dexter and Emma's romance would survive today's dating culture. Oh, and Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, of course.

Glamour: Before you popped on, your publicist and I were discussing Love Is Blind.

Ambika Mod: The last episode I watched…. I watched after they left the pods. I don’t like that Jimmy fellow.

No one from the pods had Emma and Dexter energy.

No. Could never. There’s a UK Love Is Blind coming out, and I think that it could be a very different energy. I'd be very interested to see how British people are in the pods. It’ll be very interesting.

What do you think the difference is between dating culture in America versus the UK?

I don't know about dating culture, but I think Americans are much more earnest about that kind of stuff. The impression I got when I watch Love Is Blind—the US one—like, they are all so ready for love. They are wanting to get married; they're ready to find their soulmate. I wonder if the UK version will be like that because we're so, like, stiff-upper-lip or take the piss out of everything—very Emma, do you know what I mean? So it’d be interesting to see what those relationships are like in the British one, whenever that comes out.

How do you personally relate to Emma?

I'm very like her in a lot of ways. Everyone who reads the book feels like they are Emma and feels that they identify with her and see so much of themselves in her. She is the grounding force of so much of the story. When I reread it when I was like 26, when I auditioned, I definitely saw so many similarities, especially in her early 20s. And that feeling that you're an outsider and that you're not good enough and that sort of low self-confidence, low self-esteem, feeling so far away from your goals and ambitions.

But at the same time, Emma's currency is her wit and her intelligence, and there's definitely a level to which I can relate to that, being a comedian and coming from comedy. So yeah, there's a lot that I see of myself in Emma. I just think she's a wonderful character and it’s testament to her character that so many people, especially women, see themselves in her.

You’ve said in multiple interviews that you initially turned down the audition because you didn’t see yourself as a romantic lead. Doesn’t that make you the perfect Emma? Wouldn’t she feel the same way?

Yeah, you’re probably right. That's probably a necessary process that needed to happen. I don't think there would have been any part of Emma that would have seen herself in a position like this, especially at this age.

At what point did you feel confident that you were the right fit?

Oh, God. It took until well into filming for me to feel like I sort of deserved to be there, and that I was the character, or at least a version of the character that the creative team wanted. But it wasn't until the very end of the shoot where I felt like completely comfortable with her. And I think it was much easier to play her when she was sort of older and more confident and fully realized than it was to play her in the earlier years when she's more insecure and a bit more, I suppose, a bit more judgy, a bit more at ends with who she is and her place in the world.

As I went through the process, and as she aged as we went through the shoot, it definitely became easier to play her. But because she changed so much over the course of the series, I don't know if I ever actually sat in her as fully as I'm remembering. But it definitely took a lot of circumventing to just see myself (a) as a romantic lead and (b) as Emma, which is a character I've loved for, like, nearly half my life.

How did you work on building that confidence?

I think it just sort of naturally came. Because this job was so hard—like, it was an eight-month shoot—and because it's so character-driven and character-focused, it's therefore performance-focused. So the responsibility every day felt really, really massive. You know, this whole thing very much hinges on the writing and then my and Leo’s performances. Because there really isn't anywhere to hide after those three things. So, before I started the job, I did as much research as I could, building the character, reading the book several times, gleaning as much as I could. And then as soon as we started filming, you don't have time to think about anything.

You just sort of got to trust that the team around you are incredible, that the writing is incredible, that your costars are incredible, and that everything's just going to kind of fit. And this was that kind of perfect job where the alchemy was just there. Everything just sort of felt like it was falling into place. But I think that for me, the confidence came when I actually saw the finished product. Because it's weird that you film a job and you don't see it for like a year. So when I saw the final thing, and I saw what we've made, I was like, Ah, this has surpassed my expectations. I'm so proud of myself and my performance. I derive a lot confidence from that.

One Day is the ultimate friends-to-lovers story. Are you a friends-to-lovers or enemies-to-lovers trope kind of person?

Friends-to-lovers, definitely. Absolutely friends-to-lovers because you've already got the foundation for an amazing relationship there.

<h1 class="title">One Day</h1><cite class="credit">Ludovic Robert/Netflix</cite>

One Day

Ludovic Robert/Netflix

I feel like One Day could not take place in present day given the ease of texting and staying connected. Emma and Dexter had to send letters and miss each other’s payphone calls to stay connected. Do you think we’re in a less romantic era?

They really made an effort to stay in contact with one another. Like, sending letters is no mean feat—I mean, it is a mean feat. You know what I’m saying. You put so much more effort into those things rather than just, like you said, sliding into someone's DMs or sending them a text. But I also think, today, there are so many unwritten rules and so much murkiness in our dating culture. I don't imagine that they would have lasted the course, really.

I suppose there was so much more mystery back then. You didn't know what was going on or what people were doing. Like, you had to make an effort to catch up with people. But yeah, I doubt Emma and Dexter would get together today.

Next up is Playdate on Disney+, which happens to star the original Dexter Mayhew, Jim Sturgess. Did he confront you about stealing his thunder?

I’m so surprised no one has asked me about this. It's mad. We finished filming last September…. He brought it up actually. He's the loveliest, coolest man. Ever. Like, he's so great and he's so handsome. But he was so excited to watch it and he actually sent me a text the other day saying he started watching it and he's loving it. I won’t read it out, but he was very positive and supportive.

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in One Day (2011)

ONE DAY, from left: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, 2011. ph: Giles Keyte/©Focus Features/Courtesy Ever

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in One Day (2011)
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

Now that the show’s been out for a month and received all its accolades, charted on Netflix, and made so many people sob, there has been a conversation starting to brew about Emma and frustrations that she “waited around” for Dexter for too long. What are your thoughts on that?

I think there's a lot of, like, criticism of Emma that really takes away the agency and the realism of her story and her as a character. Obviously, in the show, Dexter's got this much more obviously traumatic, dramatic narrative and storyline, that it's very easy to be like, “Oh, Emma’s story is a bit more boring,” but it's like, Emma’s story is actually, for most people, a lot more realistic.

And she doesn't wait around for him. You know, she is in a relationship; she does date other people. Of course, there's always something that draws him to her or her to him, and I actually think she is the one who is the reason that they're friends. And I think you see that in the flashback in the final episode—that speech she does when she’s coming down the hill, when she's like, “I don't want anything from you. This is going to be chill, like we can just be friends.” I think that actually is what reopens the floodgates for him a bit; it takes the pressure off and changes his perspective on what's been happening that whole day.

Like, in episode 12, when she comes back into the flat, let's not underestimate the fact that that was her choice—she chose to do that; she made an active decision. And people are saying, “Oh, like when he's at his worst, and she's at her best, that's when they get together.” But I think that’s such a simplistic reading of it, like they have been friends for years. Cut back to almost 10 years before Paris, they're on Primrose Hill. He's doing great. She's not doing great. It's very unclear what either is gaining from that relationship, but he is there for her. I think it's what I love about Paris—it's almost an inversion of that.

So I think to have that reading is almost taking away Emma’s agency. She’s a big girl; she makes decisions for her. She wanted Dexter. It's always been Dexter for her and she very much went out and achieved the life that she wanted. She achieved her ambitions. She achieved her goals. And I think she would have done that regardless of whether Dexter was in her life. But I think her story and her growth and her art is actually one that is really, like, quietly powerful, and really profound. And real.

<h1 class="title">One Day</h1><cite class="credit">Ludovic Robert/Netflix</cite>

One Day

Ludovic Robert/Netflix

What do you think it says about our culture that people fixate on Emma’s flaws so much more than Dexter’s actions?

This is something that I've been thinking about a lot in the last few weeks, because I've not just seen it in terms of Emma and Dexter. The romance genre can be a double-edged sword at points. For a long time, it has not been a genre that's been respected because it’s mainly for women, and now it's having a sort of resurgence. But it always seems to be the male characters and the male protagonists and the male actors who are elevated from having done a rom-com, and it's the female characters who don't get that same recognition, who don't get that same elevation, who don't get that same moment. And it's a really twisted double standard that shouldn't be the case.

And, you know, I think you also sort of have a double whammy in this adaptation of it where I’m, you know…a lot of people who know the story and read the book or watched the film, probably didn't picture an Emma who looked like me, and I've seen some of that more critical reception. But it's a tale as old as time. We just do not give female characters or just women in general the same respect as we do male characters, especially in the show when you've got two characters like Emma and Dex, who were so equal. They are both the leads, they're both leading the story, and then you see the way in which they're talked about, sometimes I felt like, I'm in the ’80s—do you know what I mean?

So my hope coming of this whole experience was that people love Emma and give me the same respect as they do Dexter. Because it was never a doubt in my mind that people would fall in love with Dexter, and that they would fall in love with Leo. But as a woman, as a woman of color, playing this character, I had a lot more to prove. And I've garnered a lot more criticism than he has. It’s such a problem that we still have to face, and it’s the unconscious biases that are the most dangerous. Especially in a situation like this, where there are two characters who are completely comparable and one is getting more love than the other, you sort of have to look at society a little bit and be like, Why? Why is that happening? And why don't we talk about it more?

I saw one TikTok that was criticizing Emma for her affair with the principal, focused on the fact that she never apologizes for it or reckons with it in the series. What do you think is the obsession with women being apologetic and contrite?

What's really appealing about Emma to me is that she's fucking smart. She's fucking funny. Like, she is incredibly British and dry and sarcastic. There seems to be this tradition, and especially in rom-coms, but just, you know, film and TV in general, where female characters have to be likable and sweet and we don't want people to think they're bad people and we don't want people to misunderstand them. Women are gonna be misunderstood. No matter what you do. You can make the sweetest, nicest manic pixie dream girl character there is and people will still dislike her. People will still criticize her and analyze her unfair reasons.

With Emma, specifically, I think she’s so refreshing because she’s not that way inclined. She's just a woman living her life. Like, let her live her life like we all want to live our lives. It’s the double standard…. Like, Dexter did much worse shit than Emma does. We don't see him apologizing! Like, he's done terrible stuff. I love Dexter, don't get me wrong, but he does terrible stuff in this series. We don't really ever see him apologizing or reckoning with that, and no one expects that of him. I imagine it's the same people who were saying Emma should apologize, who’ve also been like, “I love Dexter. I love him so much.” Again, it’s this double standard just seeping in everywhere.

I wonder if another part of it relates back to what we discussed about Love Is Blind. Maybe a bit of that pushback comes from American audiences being used to those big grand gestures and apologies in romance movies. There’s something more quiet about Emma and Dexter’s love story. [Don’t get mad at me, reader—I’m American.]

I completely agree with you. Oh my God, I completely agree with you. I think that's what's so remarkable about this story and about this show, like, love isn't grand, it isn't dramatic, you don't have these large gestures in real life. They only really exist in TV and films of old. And if that's the kind of rom-com or romantic story that you're into, those are available for you to watch. But this story is a much more grounded one about growing up. And we see Emma and Dexter go on this realization as well, that when you're younger, you have these big dreams, you have these big ambitions about finding the love of your life and finding your dream job. But as you get older, you just want a quieter, peaceful, stable life. And that's what they give each other. Even when Emma comes back to the apartment in Paris, it's not this massive turn of events. She's made a choice. She has come back and she has chosen him and that’s that.

I think there's something that’s so much more romantic and profound in the small moments that two people share together. And that's what I love so much about episode 13…is, like, their life together is very ordinary. It's the small moments that they find together on a day-to-day basis like having like a glass of wine together at the end of the day, or going to pizza with Jasmine, having breakfast together. It’s the small moments that make up a relationship.

Have you discussed the double standards and criticism you’ve seen with Leo at all?

I haven't directly, no. I think because I'm still trying to process it myself. The show only came out a couple of weeks ago, and honestly, it's been quite an overwhelming rush of time. So I'm, like, still trying to produce it for myself before I then, like, go out and talk about it.

You’ve spoken about mental health and going to therapy in the past. Have you discussed this with your therapist?

Yes, definitely. Absolutely, I have.

Speaking of therapy…you’ve said you’re going to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour this summer. Where are you seeing her?

London both times.

Two times! What's your favorite album?


What are your ideal surprise songs?

Oh, man, that's so hard. Oh, everything. One of my favorite songs from Folklore, and it's so underrated, is “Epiphany” because it's so beautiful. What else? I would love her to do “Is It Over Now?”—which was on the (Taylor's Version) of 1989—because it's such a bop. And “No Body No Crime.”

Netflix’s One Day is available to stream right now. Emily Tannenbaum is an entertainment editor, critic, and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. You can follow her on Instagram.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Okay, maybe not *your* orange, but the *One Day* star is definitely internet-boyfriend material.

Originally Appeared on Glamour