Dolly Alderton’s memoir of the madness of her 20s was a huge hit, and now it’s a streaming series. But she had to change history.
Whisper Dolly Alderton’s name to a young woman and she’ll probably squeal with delight.
The British writer, podcaster and journalist is a millennial superstar for his honest and fresh perspectives on everything from geopolitical conflict to the sex and the city the comeback.
Her podcast with Pandora Sykes, The high lowwas extremely popular before its liquidation at the end of 2020 and its memoir on its 20 years, all i know about lovehas been shortlisted for a National Book Award in the UK.
She wrote and talked about the world as if it were you and a friend catching up for brunch. For a certain generation – and privileged women – Alderton was one of them. She understood.
The mess and heartache of friendship is at the heart of all i know about lovewhich has just been made into a streaming series on Stan, a semi-fictional version of Alderton’s memoir.
And the “love” in the title doesn’t refer to an all-consuming romance, but to the sometimes even more complex love dynamic between best friends and what happens when that love fractures and fades.
Set in London in the early 2010s, the series captures the youthful rebellion, discovery and optimism, of that heady moment in your life when everything changes – not always the way you want – and anything is possible.
Alderton is one of the show’s executive producers and spoke to news.com.au about the sometimes frightening experience of turning his life into a TV show.
Are you nervous about having your story told on another platform, to a global audience?
Yes. Thank you for putting it in those terms! Yes. But I’m also very excited. That’s what I realized, big risk, big reward, that old phrase. If something is going to be really exciting, chances are it’s also going to be a bit anxiety-inducing.
If it’s scary, you should do it.
Yeah, I know. I remember hearing this years ago, simply, if something makes you feel outside of your comfort zone, that’s probably where you’ll get the most growth. I like the comfort zone, though. The comfort zone is so nice.
This is obviously a very personal project for you. You have produced television before, I imagine that experience was quite different.
They are completely different. When I was working on, Made in Chelsea, I was a story producer, which just meant hearing from the producers what was actually going on with the cast members, and then trying, with the help of another person in a larger team, to shape these actual events in an episodic structure. While it was, of course, about building a world from scratch.
Not quite from scratch, it has an excellent source in the form of your book.
Yes exactly. It’s funny, actually. I was thinking the other day, ‘God, what’s it going to be like if I write a series, and it doesn’t come from source material?’ Adaptation is, I think, difficult in a way, because you can feel limited by what the original source material is. But, it’s also kind of great, because it gives you a loose backbone for the story, and for the characters, and for the world itself, like you said. I wonder what it’ll be like when I write something that completely came out of nowhere.
Probably a little scary, out of your comfort zone.
Yeah. It’s semi-fictional, not exactly a straight-for-straight adaptation. Were there aspects of your book, your memoir, your life story, that you wanted to keep true for the screen?
I definitely wanted to keep this romance between the two best friends. I wanted to keep that, and look at the ups and downs of that relationship, and that shifting dynamic, like you traditionally would, in a romantic comedy, between men and women.
I knew I wanted to keep a rowdy girl gang, which I think people reacted well to in the book, what’s it like to be four wild young women in a town, finding out who they are, and experimenting, and looking for a good time.
I wanted to keep the specificities 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 child growing up at the beginning of the internet. These are the main things I wanted to keep, and I hope I did.
I got a real sense of what it was like to be in the early 2010s, London in particular. Did you have a lot of conversations about capturing the energy of this moment in this city?
Lots of conversations. A lot of the research we did before we started writing was about current events, local events, world events that were happening that year. Talking a lot about where people were coming from then, talking a lot about how people dressed, talking about internet trends back then.
It was very important to me that Maggie was someone who benefited from this golden age of hot takes online. As a young writer, it was exciting to be in the world of ezines and blogs at that time.
How did casting Emma Appleton and Bel Powley go? These are characters that I imagine you come to know so naturally, and Emma plays a younger version of yourself. Were you looking for specific characteristics or energies? What was it like when you saw her portray this character, say those lines?
The thing with Emma that we loved is that she managed to make a character that could potentially be quite unlikable or inscrutable, she managed to really humanize that character.
She played all these different contradictions of Maggie simultaneously. She could play her hidden vulnerability alongside her hardened forehead. She just managed to humanize it, and she managed to invite all of us into her heart, really.
It wasn’t until we started auditioning Maggie, and I heard Maggie’s lines, that I realized that, in the wrong hands, she could be quite obnoxious. This disparity between her low self-esteem and the way she presents herself to the world, this disparity must be there, but all is not said.
Without it, she’s just a 24-year-old blogger in vintage coats, making humorous sentences. She’s just not a girl you want to fall in love with.
[Director] China [Moo-Young] always said of Maggie, “You have to fall in love with Maggie like you fall in love with those romantic female roles in romantic comedies, classic romantic comedies, like Julia Roberts in The wedding of my best friendor 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 these actors around. When we saw Emma playing Maggie, I think we knew that. She really has that energy. She has flaws, but she’s adorable.
What motivated the choice to semi-fictionalise it? Was it a bit of a shield to keep you out of your personal experiences a bit? Or is it just better drama?
A combination of both. It definitely liberated me, so I felt less embarrassed, because I didn’t want to do a documentary about my life. It was just too revealing, and it would make me too vulnerable.
Also, a documentary about my life just wouldn’t be very interesting, to be completely honest. It would be an unsatisfying story, and a pretty one-note world, and a lot of very similar characters. Why wouldn’t you dramatize this, just to make it as entertaining, dramatic and expansive as possible?
I imagine when you were writing your memoirs there was a bit of a catharsis, maybe an exorcism of demons in being able to work through your experiences. Did you experience that again – but differently – adapting it for television?
I didn’t feel like it was therapeutic, because I feel like the things that I was going through, and the issues that are explored on the show 10 years ago are so not [what I’m going through now]. I have brand new overall issues now that I’m going through.
And it’s not the problems of “I’m afraid of losing my best friends to love”. I wonder how to get boys to like me. I worry about what my purpose in the world is”.
I’m very lucky that like most people, as you go through your twenties from year to year, you deal with them, and low and behold, you get to your early thirties, and you’re just facing a whole other pile of problems that you never thought of before.
My psychiatric problems are in a totally different world now.
I’ll tell you what it did, which wasn’t therapeutic, but it was definitely satisfying and peaceful. It really felt like I was saying goodbye to a period of life.
I remember, on the last day of shooting, I knew the set was ready in two days, so I walked through this house, the set of this house which is the house where it all started for me as a young adult, and it is so similar.
The house looked so much like the house I was in when I first moved to Camden, when I first moved to London. It was quite a moment, to walk through these rooms and to thank whatever high force I choose to believe in that day for the time I spent there, and what it gave me as a person. , and what she gave me as a writer, and say goodbye to that, in a way.
It was a very privileged experience.
Everything I Know About Love is streaming now on Stan