Dolly Alderton’s memoir about her 20s stubbornness was a huge hit, and now it’s a streaming series. But she had to change the story.
Whisper Dolly Alderton’s name to a young woman and she will probably scream with pleasure.
The British writer, podcaster and journalist is a superstar for millennials for her honest and fresh take on everything from geopolitical conflict to the Sex and the city revival.
Her podcast with Pandora Sykes, the high lowwas wildly popular before it was discontinued in late 2020 and her memoir of her 20s, Everything I know about lovewas shortlisted for a National Book Award in the UK.
She wrote and talked about the world as if you and a friend were together for brunch. For a generation—and privileged women—Alderton was one of them. She has it.
The messiness and heartbreak of friendship are at the heart of Everything I know about lovewhich has just been adapted into a streaming series about Stan, a semi-fictional version of Alderton’s memoir.
And the “love” in the title refers not to an all-consuming romance, but to the sometimes more complex love dynamics between best friends and what happens when that love breaks and fades.
Set in London in the early 2010s, the series captures youthful rebellion, discovery and optimism from that intoxicating moment in your life when everything changes – not always the way you want – and anything is possible.
Alderton is one of the series’ executive producers and spoke to news.com.au about the sometimes scary experience of turning her life into a TV show.
Do you feel nervous about seeing your story told on another platform, to a global audience?
Yes. Thanks for putting it in those terms! Yes that’s me. But I’m also very excited. That’s what I realized, big risk, big reward, that old expression. If something is going to get really exciting, chances are it’s going to be a little scary too.
If it’s scary, do it.
Yes I know. I remember hearing that years ago, or just, if something makes you feel like you’re out of your comfort zone, that’s probably where you’ll get the most growth. However, I like the comfort zone. The comfort zone is so nice.
This is of course a very personal project for you. You’ve done TV before, I can imagine this experience was very different.
They are completely different. When I was at work Made in ChelseaI was a story producer, which basically meant hearing from the producers what actually happened to the cast members, then trying, with the help of another person on a bigger team, to turn those real life events into an episodic structure. While of course this was building a world from scratch.
Not completely out of the blue, it has great source material in the form of your book.
Yes, exactly. It’s funny, actually. I recently thought, ‘God, what will it be like if I write a series, and it’s not from source material?’ Adaptation, I think, is difficult in a way because you can feel limited by what the original source material is. But it’s also kind of awesome, because it gives you a vague backbone structure for the story, and for the characters, and for the world itself, as you said. I wonder what it will be like if I write something that is nowhere at all.
Probably a little scary, out of your comfort zone.
Precisely. Once again.
Yes. It’s semi-fictional, it’s not exactly a direct adaptation. Were there aspects of your book, of your memoirs, of your life story that you wanted to keep faithfully in front of the screen?
I definitely wanted to keep that romance between the two best friends. I wanted to keep that and explore the ups and downs of that relationship, and that changing dynamic, as you would traditionally do in a romantic comedy, between men and women.
I knew I wanted to keep a raucous girl gang, which I think people responded well to in the book, what it’s like to be four young wild women in a city, figuring out who they are, and experimenting, and looking for a good time.
I wanted to keep the details of the millennial experience, and the nostalgia of it, of what it was like to be a young woman in the early 2010s, what it was like to be a teenager and a kid growing up in the beginning of the internet . Those were the main things I wanted to keep, and hopefully I have.
I really got a sense of what it was like to be in London in the early 2010s. Have you had many conversations about capturing the energy of that moment in that city?
Lots of conversations. A lot of the research we did before we started writing was looking at the news events, local events, world events that happened in that year. A lot of talk about where people went out then, a lot of talk about how people dressed, about the internet trends of that time.
It was very important to me that Maggie was someone who took advantage of this golden age of online hot takes. How exciting it was to be in the world of online magazines and blogging as a young writer at that time.
What was it like casting Emma Appleton and Bel Powley? They’re characters I think you’d be innately familiar with, and Emma plays a younger version of yourself. Were you looking for specific qualities, or energies? What was it like when you saw her inhabit that character, say those lines?
The thing about Emma that we loved is that she managed to create a character that could potentially be really obnoxious or impenetrable, she managed to really humanize that character.
She played all these different contradictions of Maggie at once. She could play her hidden vulnerability next to her hardened front. She just managed to humanize her, and she managed to invite us all into her heart, really.
It wasn’t until we auditioned for Maggie, and I heard Maggie’s lines, that I realized she could be quite unpleasant in the wrong hands. That disparity between her low self-esteem and how she presents herself to the world, that disparity must be there, but it’s all unspoken.
Without it, she’s just a 24-year-old blogger in vintage jackets, giving sassy one-liners. She’s just not a girl you want to fall in love with.
[Director] China [Moo-Young] always said about Maggie, “You have to fall in love with Maggie like you fall in love with those female romantic protagonists in romantic comedies, classic romantic comedies, like Julia Roberts in My best friend’s weddingor Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally†
That’s the vibe we had to find, and there’s a reason there are so few of those actors around. When we saw Emma Maggie play, I think we knew. She really has that energy. She’s flawed, but she’s sweet.
What was behind the choice to make it semi-fictional? Was it a bit of a shield to keep yourself a little bit away from your personal experiences? Or is it just better drama?
A combination of both. It definitely set me free, so I felt less self-conscious, because I didn’t want to make a documentary about my life. That just felt too exposed, and it would make me too vulnerable.
Also, a documentary about my life just wouldn’t be terribly interesting, to be quite honest. It would be an unsatisfactory story, and a beautiful one-note world, and many characters that were very similar. Why not dramatize that, just to make it as entertaining, dramatic and elaborate as possible?
I imagine when you wrote your memoirs there was a bit of catharsis, maybe an exorcism of demons from being able to process your experiences. Did you experience that again – but differently – to adapt it for TV?
I didn’t feel it was therapeutic because I feel like the things I went through, and the issues explored on the show 10 years ago, are if not [what I’m going through now]† I have whole new set problems as I go through them.
And they’re not the issues of, ‘I’m afraid I’ll lose my best friends to love. I worry about how to get guys to like me. I worry about my purpose in the world.”
I’m very lucky that, like most people, when you get through your twenties year after year, you process those, and you see, you get into your early thirties, and you just get this whole different pile of problems that you’ve never had have thought.
My psychiatric problems are now in a completely different world.
I’ll tell you what it did, which wasn’t therapeutic, but it was definitely satisfying and peaceful. It definitely felt like it was me saying goodbye to a period of life.
I remember on the last day of shooting I knew the set would be packed in two days, so I walked through this house, the set of this house, the house where it all started for me as a young adult, and it’s so similar.
The house was so much like the house I was in when I first moved to Camden, when I first moved to London. That was quite a moment to walk through those rooms and thank the high power that I chose that day for the time I spent there, and what it gave me as a person, and what it gave me as a writer, and to be in there some way to say goodbye.
That was a very privileged experience.
Everything I know about love is now streaming on Stan
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