SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “One Day” now streaming on Netflix.
Before auditioning for the latest adaptation of “One Day,” Leo Woodall watched its first iteration. In the 2011 film, Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess starred as Emma and Dexter, a pair of best friends who reunite on the same day each year. The TV series follows the same format, beginning when the duo, portrayed by Ambika Mod and Woodall, meet in college in 1988.
Woodall, who was filming Season 2 of “The White Lotus” in Italy at the time, didn’t have time to read the book, so he watched the movie to gauge the story — and he was pulled in.
“I just think it’s such a beautiful story. It’s dubbed as a romance story, but there’s just so much life in it. There’s so many life events that these two characters go through,” he tells Variety. “I think from from an acting standpoint, it was a wonderful, challenging kind of gift to be able to play a character at many different points in life.”
Once there was interest in casting him, he dove into the book — and had to work on his accent. He flew from Sicily to London for the auditions and had to tweak his accent to go from Jack’s, his bad boy character in “The White Lotus,” to Dexter’s: working specifically on “throwing my t’s back into my speech.”
Not only was Woodall tasked with taking on a beloved book, but this also marked his first time in a leading role, as his past characters — he appeared in “Vampire Academy” and “Citadel” recently — have been supporting parts.
“I think I was surprised as we began shooting, the pressures that can come with it. We were very lucky that we had a very welcoming and warm crew to work with,” he says. “It was a wonderful challenge in realizing that responsibility. But then on the flip side, everybody is doing their own jobs, and everyone’s working hard at what they’re doing — and so actually, it’s kind of no different. You just have to do your job as best you can, and take your naps when you can.”
“One Day” wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Dexter and Emma — both as friends and as partners. Luckily, that connection came easy between Woodall and Mod.
“I think we met up for coffee, which then turned into a gin and tonic around lunchtime, the day before we went into pre-production, just to kind of have a natter,” he recalls. “Pretty early, I guess we both realized that we were not alone in this big mountain that we thought we had to climb. We knew that we were going to lean on each other a bit, and we were lucky in that we did bond early, and and it made working a lot easier. I think maybe our friendship carried through on screen.”
While focused on romance and friendship, “One Day” also shows the many ups and downs of life for both Emma and Dexter. In the penultimate episode — after the longtime friends finally make their way back to each other in a romantic way, and begin their lives together — Emma is killed in a car accident. Dexter, who struggled with addiction throughout his life, spirals.
“They definitely were the tougher parts of shooting, and incredibly taxing. I was exhausted by the end of those few days,” he says of filming the later scenes, which include Dex speaking to Emma years after her death. “But there’s definitely something fulfilling about it. Walking away from it — hoping, and feeling fairly confident that I’ve told that part of his story with truth and integrity — felt so good. I’d never want to mistell or underrepresent those really, really awful parts of someone’s life.”
The days of Dexter’s life that were “coated in grief” were a bit more difficult for Woodall to experience; personally, he could relate more to the earlier days of Dexter, when he’s “living a very cozy life,” running a cafe and “just trying to be as happy as possible, and spend more time with his loved ones.”
For Woodall, that’s the most important thing. Just as Emma and Dex do in the series, we discuss where he’d like to be when he’s 40. “I have no idea,” he says. “I think I’d just love to be healthy and happy and able to work. If I’ve picked up more hobbies along the way or more interests, then maybe I’ll be exploring them.”
After rising to fame in “The White Lotus” and now being the lead of his own series, the opportunities for him are endless. But Woodall doesn’t have a “dream role,” per se.
“I know that in this occupation, there’s a lot of variety that you can have,” he says. “I’d love to play a sportsman or a sports coach. Maybe that’s what I want to do — play a coach of a college football team.”