It’s a slightly bleary-looking Leo Woodall we meet at Netflix HQ in central London. It’s T‑minus-seven days till the launch of One Day, the streamer’s much-anticipated adaptation of David Nicholl’s beloved 2009 novel, and The White Lotus breakout and co-lead Ambika Mod (This Is Going To Hurt) – heading down in the lift as we head up – are being put through their promotional paces.
They’d better get used to it. One Day is a decades-spanning story of love, sex and friendship, exquisitely acted by two British actors at the beginning of careers that are about to go off like rockets.
For anyone who hasn’t read a best-seller that has sold six million copies in 40 languages (watch both those figures explode as Netflix blasts the show round the world), Emma and Dexter meet on 15th July 1988, graduation day at Edinburgh University. A not-quite-a-one-night-stand catalyses a relationship of sorts. Each subsequent chapter/episode, we catch up with the pair one year on as they navigate their twenties, move to London, work shit jobs, then slightly better jobs, family trauma, other relationships, their shared lives coming apart and coming back together until… Well, suffice to say One Day has one of the great endings of a modern novel.
And to anyone who loved Nicholl’s book, please be reassured: this 14-parter more than atones for the, er, questionable 2011 film starring Jim Sturgess and a woefully miscast Anne Hathaway.
The sleepy-eyed, West London-born and North London-based Leo, 27, isn’t here to talk about the film, and also politely deflects discussion of his own romance with White Lotus co-star Meghann Fahy. But he will admit that it took him five auditions to land the part of Dexter, and that he only belatedly read the book, albeit with some help from Audible – “I’m quite a slow reader!” He also spills on filming that scene with his “uncle”, played by Tom Hollander, in The White Lotus. And, in his Ralph Lauren cardigan and chinos, Leo will gamely whip off his trainers to check and spell out the label on the sole. “These are.. Loo-bou-tin…”
Hi Leo! One Day was a long shoot: seven months, in multiple British and European locations. What was it like being immersed in one person, and one couple’s life, for all that time?
Amazing. It was hard work at times, because Dexter goes through a lot. And I never wanted to dishonour the truth and the pain of it. So there was a lot to really dig deep into, to get to some of those places. There’s a responsibility that you feel when you’re telling a story like that, particularly when there’s grief [involved]. But there was so much detail in the script. And having 14 episodes to tell the story, you really do get to live out the life of these people.
Your character ages from early twenties to mid-thirties. Which look was easier to accomplish?
Young was definitely the easier one. They didn’t do loads to age me to be honest. There was a bit of crows’ feet, and a couple of grey hairs, but nothing too extreme. To be honest, it was quite subtle. There was a bit of… not bloodshot [skin] added, but maybe pigmentation from all the boozing and drugs that he did in his twenties.
The series’ writer Nicole Taylor (Three Girls) is on the record as saying: “Dex has not fared well in people’s memories. Everyone I asked said, ‘she was amazing, but he was a bit of a prick.’ [And] do we have any time for a white male posho at this point?” What’s your take on both those elements?
Ha ha! It was kind of a joke on set a lot as well. Anytime Dex is doing something, people would poke fun at me: “God, Dex is such a twat, isn’t he?” And he is at times. But I was always on the side of him that needed a hug. He is a good bloke and there’s a lot of love in his heart. He makes a lot of the wrong choices, and it was my job to try and redeem some of those choices as much as I could. Not me personally redeem them. But to get to that place where you see his heart a lot more than just his actions.
How braced were you for the possibility of not getting the part after doing five auditions for One Day, especially given you didn’t have much acting experience under your belt by that point?
Well, I remember when I did get it, I wasn’t elated or even smiling. I remember literally just breathing a huge sigh of relief. And I laid on the floor and was just like: thank fuck for that! Because it was such a tough process.
Your dad and stepdad are both actors. Did they help you prepare for that side of the job?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Before I even wanted to be an actor, I was aware that it was a tough life. They, and other people in my family, once I decided that I wanted to do it, said, “OK, are you ready for all the rejection?” But you can only be so ready for tough times. I’ve been very lucky so far, and I’m definitely fortunate that I’ve got them to turn to if I need advice.
As a kid, PE teacher and stunt man were more appealing to you as career paths. Were you Action Boy?
Yeah! I don’t remember this but apparently I used to just jump off the sofa headfirst. I do remember taking my mattress off my bed and putting on the stairs and sliding down. And I always played sports – PE was one of the only classes in school that I enjoyed!
Was there a school or college production that lit the acting spark in you?
Um, no. I’d done a couple in the past – in Year 2 I played Goggles in Goggles the Penguin. I did drama GCSE, but it was only to muck around with my friends. You had to pick a certain number of subjects, and once you’d filtered through the subjects you liked, you’re like: what’s left? And I wasn’t gonna pick extra science. So drama it was. But it wasn’t for a few years after that that I decided I wanted to be an actor.
Was there an actor or film or performance that made you think, “yeah, I want to do what he’s doing”?
A couple. The first ever one, where it flipped a switch for me, was Jack O’Connell in Skins. I remember thinking: I want to be Cook! But I then realised I didn’t want to be Cook, but it just looked like so much fun. And he was so electric. And Peaky Blinders – I was doing Tommy Shelby impressions. That’s when I realised maybe this is what I want to do.
You’ve said that your mum said of Dexter, “He’s a bit like you. He’s a really good person who makes a ton of mistakes and helplessly stumbles through life a little bit, and is confident and cool, but also has some demons and some insecurities.” Lot to unpack there, Leo…
I think [actually] I said that! I can’t remember exactly what she said to be honest, but I think she said “confident and cool”. But, yeah, I guess there are similarities…
So what would you say your demons or insecurities are?
Oh, you’ll have to get me drunk for that! I mean, there’s a tonne that every actor has. But everyone, especially in their teens, early 20s, maybe goes through that thing of, “am I good enough?” – especially becoming an actor.
The White Lotus: how was that audition process for the part of tattooed Essex geezer Jack?
Completely different to One Day. It was quite quick. It was a self-tape. And I got well into it! I made myself a fake cocktail to hold in shot, I had the sunglasses on my head, I did the whole thing. Then a week later, I heard that [showrunner] Mike White liked it and wanted to meet me on Zoom. So I met him on Zoom with [executive producer] Dave Bernad and [casting director] Meredith Tucker and did the scenes again. My wi-fi was shit, so apparently they couldn’t understand a lot of what was happening on my side. But thankfully, it was enough for Mike to give me the green light.
How was it working so closely with the very experienced Tom Hollander?
Oh, man, I fucking love that guy. He’s such a pro. But he’s such a gent, too. Obviously, it was a privilege. Some of my friends were so jealous when they found out I was gonna be working with him, and he was gonna be playing my “uncle”. But I didn’t tell them what was actually going to happen! I didn’t tell a single soul, and it was torture for six months not being able to tell anyone what happens.
Did you at least flag that scene to your mum and dad before they watched it?
Um… no, I actually don’t think I did! I did tell them that in episode five, just be ready to maybe look away. I think I told them they’d see my butt cheeks. But I didn’t want to ruin it, because it’s such a shocking “woah!” moment.
Was there a fleet of intimacy coordinators standing just out of shot?
Just one! The first shot starts from outside the room. It was just me and Tom in the room. Then they open the door and Jennifer Coolidge is there and the camera’s behind her. So it’s just me and Tom in the room – and then one boom guy in the corner of the room, holding his boom.
Season three is about to start filming in Thailand, and Aimee Lou Wood has been cast…
I know! I met Aimee once at an event and she’s so sweet. I couldn’t believe it, because I was so excited to meet her. But she, surprisingly, was excited to meet me and said how much she loved White Lotus. So when I saw that she was announced I was very, very happy for her. She’s so funny. I bet she’s such a laugh to hang out with.
Any advice for her ahead of filming?
She’s already so great and seasoned, she doesn’t need any advice for me. But I’d say to anyone doing it, just have as much fun as you can. Mike’s scripts are so brilliant, and he’s a good collaborator. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime gig.
To end on One Day, a deeply romantic drama, and ahead of Valentine’s Day: what’s the most romantic thing you’ve done?
I once got a jar of little promises that I would make to a certain person.
What would be a perfect date night for you and this mystery woman?
Something cosy. Nice food. Nice wine. Nothing too crazy. Let’s go Italian.
One Day came out 15 years ago, and is set even longer ago. Why should a younger generation care about this relationship and these people?
A lot of what they go through is relatable in different ways. You see them grow up, and everybody grows up. There are maybe some lessons to be learned, by seeing the actions they take and what happens later on in the series. So, yeah, I’d say there’s things that anyone can relate to in the show.
One Day is on Netflix now.
GROOMING Jason Lawrence