How Comedy Shaped Ambika Mod’s Role on ‘One Day’

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Photo Source: Matthew Towers/Netflix

The following essay is by Ambika Mod, as told to Theo Bosanquet. Previously, she appeared on BBC One’s “This Is Going to Hurt” and Netflix’s “One Day” and is set to star on “Playdate,” an upcoming thriller miniseries from Disney+. This article has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

I remember wanting to be an actor from a really, really young age. I’m not sure where that desire came from, but it was always just something in me. 

When I told my parents, who are Indian immigrants, they were like, “No fucking way; you should go to university and get a proper job.” So I did. But then at uni, I fell into doing comedy. When I performed live for the first time, I just found it surpassed every expectation I’d ever had. Eliciting a laugh from someone is one of the best gifts you can give a person. 

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Improv taught me a huge amount about acting, like how to be present and how to be collaborative and open. And because I have performed my own material, it means I now approach acting with a writer’s brain. That really guides me. 

I was put up for the role of Shruti Acharya on “This Is Going to Hurt.” I think I was about the last South Asian girl in the country they looked at. But I did a tape, and they asked me to come in and meet with casting director Nina Gold and do a chemistry read with Ben Whishaw, who was the star. I was absolutely shitting myself; I talked about my dungarees for about five minutes. Then I got the part, and it was just surreal. I felt like a massive impostor.

One Day

Walking into the room for an audition always feels a bit like walking onstage for a gig. But I’ve learned over time to be more myself. I think it’s such an important skill to be able to read the atmosphere and work out where it’s best to place your energy. That’s something that only comes with experience.

When I saw the email about submitting a self-tape for the role of Emma Morley on “One Day,” I immediately thought, I don’t want to do that. It was partly because I loved David Nicholls’ book, and just didn’t see myself as her; I felt like I’d be wasting everyone’s time. Then several weeks later, having said no, I literally woke up in the middle of the night and thought, What am I doing? 

I sent my tape in at the eleventh hour; then as I went through the audition process, I just wanted it more and more. I can’t remember ever wanting something so much; I felt almost physically unwell.

I knew “One Day” was going to be special, just because of the people involved and how it felt on set. But the level of reaction to the show, the way people have emotionally connected to it, has been astounding to me. One of the reasons I didn’t see myself playing Emma was to do with the color of my skin. Seeing the reaction to my casting, particularly from young women of color, has made it feel doubly special.

If I could go back and speak to my younger self, I would tell her to chill out. I was so tightly wound about everything. But I’d also say to keep working hard. I learned a phrase a couple of years ago: “Try hard, but don’t be a try-hard”—and I just felt that was so relevant to me. 

This story originally appeared in the June 20 issue of Backstage Magazine.