“I made a foolish mistake!” Ambika Mod expressed her regret for almost rejecting the opportunity to play the lead in a romantic comedy.
Next month, there is an upcoming event that Ambika Mod cannot look beyond. The release of the Netflix series, One Day, is expected to launch her into the spotlight, even though she claims to have no expectations and is trying not to dwell on it. Based on David Nicholls’ popular novel, the story follows Emma (played by Mod) and Dexter (Leo Woodall from The White Lotus), who first meet as they are about to graduate university, and then revisits the same date in July each year for the next two decades as their lives unfold. Interestingly, Mod remarks that her own life seems to be mirroring the events of One Day, with the date of the series’ release being a significant milestone. This was also the case back in February 2022 when Mod gained recognition for her role in the BBC drama This Is Going to Hurt.
In 2009, she read Nicholls’s novel and was approximately 13 years old. She considers it to be one of her favorite books and initially declined the chance to audition. Looking back now, she admits that was a foolish decision. She explains that she was feeling overwhelmed at the time due to the recent release of “This Is Going to Hurt” and her love for the book made her doubt her ability to take on the role. However, about a month later she had a realization and immediately contacted her agent to submit a taped audition. As the audition process continued, her desire for the role grew. She was eager for the challenge and felt that this was the best opportunity following “This Is Going to Hurt”. She also has a personal connection to the character and the book, as it was a dream of hers when she was 13 years old. She describes the experience as magical.
Mod is an ideal portrayal of Emma, embodying her unwavering loyalty and the sense of being a victim, as well as her tendency to use humor as a way to cope. This show evoked a longing for the 90s and the boundless potential of youth. Emma, a northerner, is striving to establish herself as a writer in London, while Dexter, fueled by the charm and confidence of his upper-class upbringing, appears to effortlessly navigate through life, at least initially. Mod comments on how she can relate to Emma’s sense of being an outsider, stating that she sees a lot of herself in the character, especially considering her own experiences in the entertainment industry.
Recently, a friend described Mod as a serious actor, which was unexpected since her previous experience had been in comedy. Despite this, Mod still doesn’t see herself as an actor and believes that she stumbled into it by chance. She grew up in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, with her parents who were an accountant and a vet. Mod was not the type of child who enjoyed putting on shows and was not given any roles in secondary school. Despite her introverted nature, Mod has always had a desire to perform. This does not conflict with her shy and reserved personality.
She decided to join the comedy group, the Durham Revue, at Durham University after not getting cast in any plays. In her final year, she took over as the leader of the group. Writing and performing comedy was not something she had planned to do, but she found that she excelled at it and enjoyed it immensely. She vividly remembers her first sketch on stage and how it made her realize the joy of making people laugh. She describes the feeling of hearing laughter from the audience as unparalleled and something she constantly craves. She admits that seeking validation is also a driving force for her.
Mod relocated to London after completing her studies and secured employment. She held positions in the stock department at John Lewis and as a personal assistant at Condé Nast, all while pursuing standup comedy at night. When she wasn’t working, she would collaborate with her comedy partner, Andrew Shires, on writing material for their performances at the Edinburgh fringe. Their show, Children of the Quorn, incorporated a seance theme with comedic sketches, including absurd and comedic moments such as a failing Simon and Garfunkel tribute group and a spoof of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.
Progress was initially slow and frustrating for a couple of years, which felt like a huge failure. However, in 2019, things took a turn for the better. Their comedy duo, Megan from HR, gained attention and received positive reviews. Mod also landed an agent and took on a few small acting gigs. Then, an opportunity to star in This Is Going to Hurt arose. Despite having little experience and no formal training, Mod’s portrayal of a junior doctor struggling with mental health was a revelation. She credits her background in comedy and occasional stage failures for giving her the confidence to try new things and not be overly self-conscious. However, she still struggled with impostor syndrome and felt like she didn’t belong in the acting world. Despite this, she adopted the philosophy of trying everything and eventually finding what works for her.
As a child, Mod primarily watched Bollywood movies, but as she grew older, she became more interested in British and American TV shows. She noticed a lack of roles for women of South Asian descent on screen. However, after her success with “This Is Going to Hurt,” she received many opportunities. Despite this, she also felt limited due to her age, ethnicity, and gender. She often wonders what roles would have been offered to her if she had been a white actress with a breakout role. She also acknowledges the issue of quality in the roles she is offered, as she has been asked to audition for the “best friend” role to a white lead. While she is grateful for the opportunities, she is learning to advocate for herself and not settle for less than what she deserves. She believes in honoring her abilities and not accepting roles that her white counterparts would not be offered.
Most of the time, when she is recognized on the street or approached on social media, it is by young women who share her south Asian heritage. This is significant because her image represents a group of people who are not often represented on television. She hopes that by being a role model for young south Asian girls, she can inspire them to believe in themselves and their dreams, even if they do not want to become actors. This would be a truly incredible gift to give someone.
As she was growing up, Mod looked up to role models such as Mindy Kaling, a comedian and writer from the US. However, she wishes she had more role models to look up to. Mod reflects on her teenage years and how there wasn’t as much discussion about representation and its importance as there is now. She has always struggled with her physical appearance, which she believes is due to societal messages that brown women are not considered beautiful. This lack of representation on screen is especially harmful for young women of color. Even now, Mod still carries these feelings with her. She recalls feeling insecure when she landed a role as a romantic lead in the film One Day, wondering if she was the right fit. However, she proves to be a brilliant romantic lead in the movie – warm, empathetic, and someone the audience roots for. The chemistry between the leads is also convincing, making their 20-year relationship feel authentic.
During a conversation in One Day, Emma and Dexter discuss their expectations for their lives at 40, which can be alarming for those who have already reached that age. Mod, who is 28, is asked about her own hopes for when she turns 40. She responds with a laugh, admitting that she can only think as far ahead as February when the show premieres. However, portraying an aged version of Emma must have made her contemplate the direction of her own life. She confirms this, stating that in youth, the focus is on achieving big things and making a significant impact, having a successful career, and finding love. But as one gets older, life becomes more about the small moments. She expresses gratitude for her current success but acknowledges that it doesn’t completely fulfill her. It’s only later in life that one realizes how these seemingly insignificant moments have had a profound impact in unexpected ways. She finds this realization to be beautiful but catches herself and jokes about sounding pretentious.
In the future, she hopes to continue pursuing things that bring her excitement. She possesses a natural talent for acting and a strikingly expressive face, making her a captivating performer in any role. She aspires to return to comedy and focus on her own writing, rediscovering her unique voice. Despite turning forty, she is not intimidated as she has had the opportunity to work with confident older women who have inspired her. She looks forward to reaching a point where she is no longer concerned about others’ opinions of her.
On February 8th, One Day will be available on Netflix.