Ambika Mod Isn’t Much of a Romantic

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, Everett Collection, Retailers

Ambika Mod never thought she would play a romantic lead. In real life, she is not much of a believer when it comes to love. “I never really thought of myself as a romantic fan. I’m very cynical about that kind of stuff—about romance, love and relationships. So this all feels a bit bizarre,” she says of starring in One Day, Netflix’s 14-episode adaptation of the popular novel and 2011 film of the same name. Alongside Leo Woodall (whom you’ll recognize from The White Lotus), she appears as Emma, one-half of the unlikely friends-to-lovers duo.

The seven-month shoot resulted in a complex romantic drama that dives deep into the trials and tribulations of adulthood and the central relationship between Mod’s and Woodall’s characters as they get to know each other over 15 years. “The sheer weight and responsibility of that was a real shock, especially at the beginning,” Mod tells the Cut. But she’s no stranger to filming an emotionally heavy story. Her breakout role came in 2022 when she appeared in the BAFTA-winning medical drama This Is Going to Hurt as Shruti, a junior doctor who struggles to stay afloat in an underfunded public hospital. Even though that show isn’t the easiest to watch, filming it was a breeze for Mod. “I was so green, I was there for everything,” she says.

We hope Mod will get the chance to dig into something lighthearted in her next project (or at least a character who experiences a little less tragedy). In the meantime, she’s keeping her eye out on the Tube for podcast recommendations, staying up-to-date on The Traitors, and ruminating on who she thinks was snubbed in this year’s Oscar nominations.

One Day takes place over 15 years. How were you able to find your bearings as Emma for each year?

I tried not to pay too much attention to it because when people think about playing older, that can trip them up. I was lucky we shot chronologically, so that helped. The biggest thing I thought was that it’s not about her getting older; it’s about the relationship with herself changing. I tried to think about her becoming a more fully realized and confident woman. We all become more comfortable in our own skin as we get older, especially as we enter our 30s. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway. I’m 28, so I wouldn’t know.

You also had a small role in I Hate Suzie Too. What kind of roles do you envision yourself gravitating toward in the future? 

I would love to be in I Hate Suzie Three. I’d love to work with Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble again; that would be amazing. I feel like I didn’t really revel in that experience as much as I should’ve because it was such a quick, fun shoot — everything was shot in one take. But I’d really love to do an out-and-out comedy. I’ve been doing a lot of serious stuff over the last few years, so something really loud and chaotic and funny and weird. But I’m very open to whatever comes my way for this year. I genuinely have no preconceptions or expectations.

Now, getting into our “Taste Test,” where do you get your best culture recommendations? 

Social media. And one of my really good friends, Caroline, who has her finger on the pulse of current culture and trends. I’m also really nosy on the Tube. I like to see what podcasts and music people are listening to. That’s definitely where I get a lot of my fashion inspiration from, too.

You’re hopping into an Uber XL and can bring five celebrities (dead or alive) with you — who’s coming?

It’s got to be Taylor Swift. First of all, I love her forever. Emma Stone because I think she’d be a really great time. I’m currently obsessed with Ayo Edebiri; I think we’d really get on. Maybe that’s just me hyping myself up too much. And Amy Poehler or Kate McKinnon, someone really funny but older and wiser. I’d be the least-funny person in that car, but I’d learn a lot from the experience.

What’s the last meal you cooked for dinner?

Last night, I made a vegan cheesy lentil pasta with broccoli. It was really delicious. I had some leftovers just now.

Are you vegan?

I’m veganish. I was vegan for a good few years, but now I just try to have as little dairy as possible.

What is your pre-filming ritual? 

I wake up an hour and a half before I’m picked up. Whenever I tell anyone this, they think I’m an insane person — especially because I don’t sleep very well anyway, so I’m purposely depriving myself. I wake up, have a hot shower, meditate for about 20 minutes, and drink my tea in peace really slowly and quietly. I take my time because on set you have no time alone and no quiet moments. It seems to be working so far.

What’s your comfort rewatch?
I watch a lot of The Kardashians. I just love watching them because it just really helps you switch off. In terms of rewatches, the American Office; I really wish there were a button on Netflix that would pick a random episode for you. Also Friends, but I haven’t been able to watch it in the same way since Matthew Perry died. 30 Rock as well. Basically, a lot of old-school American sitcoms from the ’90s and noughties.

What is something you’ll never, ever watch no matter what?

Football. Most sports, to be honest. And I’m sort of done with stuff about war.

What’s the best piece of gossip you’ve ever heard?

I heard — I have no idea if it’s true — that in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Meryl Streep’s hairstylist wouldn’t glue down her wig at the front. So in postproduction, they had to airbrush it out, and it also got rid of fine lines on her forehead. What an amazing hack.

That’s genius. Do you have a favorite game you like to play?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a game night at my flat and we played The Traitors nonstop and then watched that night’s episode. We played a version called Werewolf which is similar. But I also love classic board games. I love organized, structured fun.

What music do you listen to when you’re alone?

It’s a chaotic mess, but I have a playlist of all my favorite pieces of scores from film and TV and it’s ever-growing. That’s my most-played playlist. You can listen to it whilst you’re doing work because there are no lyrics or anything. It feels really immersive. In the score from Past Lives, there’s a track called “See You,” which is the final piece of music when Nora is walking back to her husband from having put Hae Sung in the taxi. It’s so beautiful. When I first heard that, I listened to it on repeat. Greta Lee was snubbed by the Academy! I also listen to the Succession score a lot, the last season especially. Banger after banger.

Name a book you couldn’t put down.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. I was at home at my parents’ house, and I literally didn’t leave bed for three days. It was so brilliant. I loved how it explored the working and creative relationship between two best friends; that’s something I can relate to. I haven’t seen that explored a lot in storytelling. And I learned so much about video games in the ’90s, which I didn’t think I cared about.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I read it somewhere: Try hard, but don’t be a try-hard. That really spoke to me because for most of my life I’ve tried hard and also been a try-hard. I’ve been really intense and controlling about things. That massively shifted so many things for me. I’m going to do the best I possibly can in any given scenario, but there’s an extent to which you just can’t control what’s going to happen. That’s the space where you have to learn to let go a bit.

What about the worst advice?

I’ve been told to smile more. I can see how there’s a world in which I might come across as detached, and I’m quite dry and deadpan. I’m not an easy laugh. But being told to smile more and lighten up is bullshit, and it’s exhausting. If I find something funny, I will laugh, and I’ll smile when I want to smile, thank you very much.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ambika Mod Isn’t Much of a Romantic