Dolly Alderton on turning her life into streaming series Everything I Know About Love

Dolly Alderton’s memoirs about the headiness of her 20s 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 squeal in delight.

The British writer, podcaster and journalist is a superstar to millennials for her honest and fresh perspectives on everything from geopolitical conflicts to the Sex and the City revival.

Her podcast with Pandora Sykes, The High-Lowwas wildly popular before it was wound up in late-2020 and her memoirs about her 20s, Everything I Know About Lovewas short-listed for a National Book Award in the UK.

She wrote and talked about the world as if it was you and a friend catching up for a brunch session. For a certain generation – and women of privilege – Alderton was one of them. She got it.

The messiness and heartbreak of friendship is at the core of Everything I Know About Lovewhich has just been adapted into a streaming series on Stan, a semi-fictionalised version of Alderton’s memoirs.

And the “love” in the title refers not to some all-consuming romance but the sometimes even more complex love dynamics between best friends and what happens when that love fractures and fades away.

Set in London in the early 2010s, the series captures youthful rebellion, discovery and optimism, of that intoxicating moment in your life when everything is changing – not always in the way you want it to – and everything is possible.

Alderton is one of the executive producers on the series, and talked to news.com.au about the sometimes scary experience of turning her life into a TV show.

Are you feeling nervous about seeing your story told on another platform, to a global audience?

Yes. Thanks for putting it in those terms! Yes, I am. But, I’m really excited as well. That’s the thing I’ve realized, great risk, great reward, that old phrase. If something’s going to be really exciting, there’s a high likelihood it’s going to be a bit anxiety inducing as well.

If it’s scary, you should do it.

Yeah, I know. I remember hearing that years ago, of just, if something makes you feel outside of your comfort zone, that’s probably where you’re going to get the most growth. I love the comfort zone, though. The comfort zone is so nice.

This is obviously a very personal project for you. You’ve produced TV before, I imagine this experience was quite different.

They’re completely different. When I was working on, Made in Chelsea, I was a story producer, which basically just meant hearing from the producers what was happening in reality with the cast members, and then trying, with the help of another person in a larger team, to shape those real life events into an episodic structure . Whereas, this was, obviously, building a world from scratch.

Not quite from scratch, it does have great source material in the form of your book.

Yes, exactly. It’s funny, actually. I was thinking the other day, ‘God, what will it be like if I write a series, and it’s not coming from a source material?’ Adaptation is, I think, hard in a way, because you can feel constrained by what the original source material is. But, it’s also kind of great, because it gives you a vague spinal structure for the story, and for the characters, and for the world itself, as you said. I wonder what it will be like when I write something that’s completely out nowhere.

Probably a little bit scary, out of your comfort zone.

Exactly. Yet again.

Yeah. It is semi-fictionalised, it’s not exactly a straight-for-straight adaptation. Were there aspects of your book, of your memoirs, of your life story, that you wanted to keep faithful for the screen?

I definitely wanted to keep that romance between the two best friends. I wanted to keep that, and examining the ups and downs of that relationship, and that changing dynamic, like you would traditionally, in a romantic comedy, between men and women.

I knew that I wanted to keep a raucous girl gang, that, I think, people responded well to in the book, of what is it to be four young, wild women in a city, working out who they are, and experimenting, and looking for a good time.

I wanted to keep the specifics of the millennial experience, and the nostalgia of that, of what it was to be a young woman in the early 2010s, what it was to be a teenager, and a child growing up in the beginning of the internet . Those were the main things that I wanted to keep, and hopefully, I have.

I got a real sense of what it was like to be in the early 2010s, in London, specifically. Did you guys have lots of conversations about capturing the energy of that moment in that city?

Lots of conversations. A lot of the research that we did before we started writing was looking at the news events, local events, world events that were happening in that year. Talking a lot about where people were going out then, talking a lot about how people were dressing, talking about the internet trends then.

It was very important to me that Maggie was someone who was benefiting from this golden age of hot takes online. As a young female writer, how exciting that was to be in the world of online magazines and blogging at that time.

What was it like casting Emma Appleton and Bel Powley? They’re characters that I imagine you would know so innately, and Emma is playing a younger version of yourself. Were you looking for specific characteristics, or energies? What was it like when you saw her inhabit that character, say those lines?

The thing with Emma that we loved is that she managed to make a character who could potentially be quite unlikeable or impenetrable, 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 front. She just managed to humanize her, and she managed to invite us all into her heart, really.

It was only when we started auditioning Maggie, and I heard Maggie’s lines, that I realized that, in the wrong hands, she could be quite obnoxious. That disparity between her low self-worth and how she presents to the world, that disparity has to be there, but it’s all unsaid.

Without that, she’s just a 24 year old blogger in vintage coats, giving pithy one-liners. She’s just not a girl you want to fall in love with.

[Director] China [Moo-Young] always said about Maggie, ‘You need to fall in love with Maggie like you fall in love in with those female romantic leads 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 that we had to find, and there’s a reason why there are so few of those actors around. When we saw Emma play Maggie, I think we knew. She’s really got that energy. She’s flawed, but she’s loveable.

What was behind the choice to semi-fictionalise it? Was it a bit of a shield to keep yourself slightly removed from your personal experiences? Or is it just better drama?

A combination of both. It definitely just freed me up, so I felt less self-conscious, because I didn’t want to make a documentary about my life. That just felt too exposing, and it would make me too vulnerable.

Also, a documentary on my life would just not be hugely interesting, to be totally honest. It would be an unsatisfying story, and a pretty one-note world, and lots of characters who were very similar. Why wouldn’t you dramatize that, just to make it as entertaining, and dramatic, and expansive as possible?

I imagine when you wrote your memoirs, there was a bit of catharsis, maybe an exorcising of demons by being able to work through your experiences. Did you go through that again – but differently – adapting it for TV?

I didn’t feel like it was therapeutic, because I feel like the stuff that I was going through, and the issues that are explored in the show 10 years ago are so not [what I’m going through now]. I’ve got whole new set issues now that I’m going through.

And they are not the issues of, ‘I’m worried I’m losing my best friends to love. I’m worried about how to make boys like me. I’m worried about what’s my purpose in the world.

I’m very lucky that, as most people, as you get through your twenties year by year, you process those, and low and behold, you get to your early thirties, and you’re just handed this whole other stack of issues that you’ve never thought about before.

My psychiatric problems are in a totally different world now.

I’ll tell you what it did do, which wasn’t therapeutic, but it was definitely satisfying and peaceful. It definitely felt like it was saying goodbye to me to a period of life.

I remember, on the last day of shooting, I knew that the set was being packed up in two days, so I walked through this house, the set of this house that’s the house where everything began for me as a young adult, and it’s so similar.

The house looked so much like the house that 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 whatever high force I choose to believe in that day for the time that I spent there, and what it gave me as a person, and what it gave me as a writer, and to say goodbye to that, in a sense.

That was a very privileged experience.

Everything I Know About Love is streaming now on Stan

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