Stylist exclusive: Daisy Edgar-Jones on the horrors of modern dating and why Fresh is really a love letter to female friendship

With feminist thriller Fresh now streaming on Disney+, Christobel Hastings spoke to its star Daisy Edgar-Jones about the horrors of modern dating, dance scenes with Sebastian Stan and the real love story at the heart of the film. Warning: this story contains spoilers.

In the era of modern dating, nearly everyone you meet has a horror story to tell. A self-obsessed person, perhaps, who didn’t ask a single question. A clueless individual who asked every offensive question. A date who tried to buy you dinner with a magazine coupon. A date who got drunk and started sobbing about their ex. A string of people who looked absolutely nothing like their selfies. The list goes on.

But there are horror stories and then there are horror stories. And Disney’s twisted new thriller Fresh is a cautionary tale that might just persuade you to swear off dating for good. That is, unless you’ve got a cast-iron constitution.

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Written by Lauryn Kahn and directed by Mimi Cave, Fresh follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a weary twenty-something who has endured an exhaustingly bad run on dating apps. Case in point: Chad, a crashingly dull man who Noa has the misfortune of having dinner with in the opening scene. Not only does he drape his scarf all over the noodles, but he insults her dress sense (“The women in our parents’ generation just cared more about how they looked”), takes food home in a doggy bag without paying and takes rejection so badly that he calls Noa a “stuck-up bitch” when they part ways.

Noa’s luck appears to take a turn, though, when she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan), a handsome, slightly goofy doctor in the fresh produce aisle of a Portland supermarket. He offers her cotton candy-flavoured grapes, flashes a charming smile, and before we know it, our unlucky-in-love heroine is heading off for a romantic weekend with a seemingly normal, kind, single fellow. 

Fresh: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Noa

Needless to say, Steve isn’t remotely normal or nice – or indeed single. Fidelity is the least of Noa’s worries, though. If you’ve seen the film poster – a severed human hand packaged in the style of supermarket meat – then you might reasonably assume that Steve has some unusual appetites. But that’s only the beginning of the story. While the less you know about the plot the better, Steve’s dark secret is secondary to a truly monstrous business venture. People have actually passed out during screenings of this film, so it’s safe to say that it’s not for the faint-hearted.

So when I speak to Daisy Edgar-Jones about the making of the thriller, I’m curious to know what she made of the script when it first came into her hands. After all, it’s a very different role to the lockdown phenomenon that was the BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

As it turns out, her management kept the premise closely under wraps so as not to spoil the crazy reveal. “My agents didn’t tell me a huge amount of the storyline, which I thought was quite clever,” she explains. “Because, you know, I think one of the joys of it is coming to it not quite knowing.” The balance between the dark subject matter and playful elements instantly caught her attention, though. “Lauren had written this brilliant 80s soundtrack throughout, so I knew it was going to have a real kind of juxtaposition of the darker themes with a really great bit of fun poppy music. And I thought that was really cool.”

Fresh: Sebastian Stan as Steve

I’d have to agree. A mix of blood, sex, fetishism, dancing and humour might sound strange, but the different genres are masterfully woven together by Cave. In one scene, a cannibalistic dinner date turns into a synchronised bop (if you haven’t watched Sebastian Stan’s audition tape, I’d urge you to do so with haste). “They were really fun,” Edgar-Jones says fondly. “I mean, the one at the start was like our second day working together. And it was great because they’re meant to be a little bit awkward and silly and we definitely were a bit shy and awkward.” Truly authentic, then, I say. “I was just like, oh my gosh, the world’s gonna see my terrible dancing”.

I put it to Edgar-Jones that much of the horror of Fresh comes from the idea that something so monstrous could actually be happening in real life. What did she make of the twist? “You know, that was what was the sort of joy and terror of reading the script. I had no idea where it was going to take us.” It has to be said, too, that putting the title sequence 30 minutes in is a truly brilliant move. “I love that they did that half an hour in, suddenly you’re like, actually, this is the film we’re in. I thought that was a really clever device because it does really does feel like the film splits into sort of the first act, second and third, and it gets increasingly chaotic and mad as it goes.”

Fresh delves into the horrors of modern dating

Fresh isn’t only about the horrors of modern dating, though. The film cleverly subverts common romcom tropes while addressing themes of predatory male behaviour, the commodification of the female body, and notably, the power of female camaraderie. It is Noa’s no-nonsense BFF Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) who raises the red flag about Steve’s non-existent social media presence. It’s Mollie who discovers through a savvy Google search that an image Noa has sent her of Cottage Grove is simply a stock photo of a waterfall from a random website. It’s Mollie who becomes suspicious when she texts “love you” to Noa and Noa replies with a heart emoji instead of responding “love you more” as they’d usually do. And is it Mollie who tracks down Steve’s home – complete with wife and children – and ascertains that Noa is indeed in captivity by calling Noa’s phone.

“What I love about the film is it does really celebrate female friendships and the importance and power of them,” Edgar-Jones says. “And actually, through sort of collective female experience, they [Noa and Mollie] overcome their situation. I think that’s a really cool sort of twist on the usual tropes of romantic films, you know? The real love story really is between Noa and Molly almost. So I love that.” 

Fresh: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Noa

Noa’s ride-or-die relationship with Mollie is definitely the kind of bond you’d hope to have in real life, I tell Edgar-Jones. Was it as fun working together as it looked? “It definitely was. I think that Jojo is just such a great actor and such a lovely person. And, you know, I was very lucky that we got on incredibly well. The laughter that you see between Molly and Noa is genuine. And, you know, similarly, she’d had a background in stand-up and was very, very funny and very good at sort of improvising. And I really enjoyed that.”

Noa’s relationship with Mollie isn’t the only significant female bond in the film. When Noa wakes up disoriented and discovers Steve has drugged and handcuffed her, she screams for help. No one comes, obviously, but she makes friends through the wall with Penny, another one of Steve’s victims who’s being slowly eaten. It’s especially moving to watch, which is quite something given that we never actually see Penny until the end of the film, when Noa liberates the half-butchered woman from her hellish cell. “I’m really glad you found them moving and I remember reading them and thinking that too,” says Edgar-Jones. Knowing that Penny was a source of strength for Noa was a great help in bringing the scenes to life. “Through that strength that she gets from her shared experience with Penny, she is able to ultimately find the strength within herself to overcome Steve. I think that’s really important to kind of celebrate that kind of championing of each other.”

Fresh: Sebastian Stan as Steve

Female friendship becomes vital too, as the captive women work to overcome Steve in his Hannibal-esque lair. Feminist revenge soon becomes meal of the day, and it’s fair to say that the meat cleaver comes in very handy towards the end. What has it been like seeing the reactions to the film? “It was so different to anything else I’ve ever read or seen before, but you never know if that’s also going to resonate with other people. So it’s been really lovely to see that people are really enjoying it and finding it fun.” As wildly entertaining as Fresh is, though, I also wonder if there’s anything that she hopes might stay with people after they’ve watched it. “Yeah, definitely; the importance of celebrating female friendships,” she says confidently. “And I hope that also unpicking the kind of tropes that we’re so used to when it comes to romantic comedies in the fact that these women sort of saved themselves. I love that.”

Fresh: Daisy Edgar-Jones and Jojo T. Gibbs

All joking aside, the film does an excellent job of speaking to the everyday anxieties of existing as a woman in public space. After Noa’s terrible date, she rushes to her car with her key in her fist after suspecting that she’s being followed; a scene that Edgar-Jones hopes will prompt people to think more about women’s safety. “I hope that it will make people think about this – the general sort of experience that we do go through day to day of wondering if the person walking behind you late at night is going to be someone to be worried about,” she says.

I have to ask, of course, if Edgar-Jones has any dating horror stories of her own to share, from one millennial woman to another. It’s a minefield out there, after all. Mercifully, the only source material she drew upon for Fresh was her imagination. “I’ve never experienced anything that Noa had,” she laughs. “So I felt just very grateful that I’ve not been any on any dates with Chads or Steves. And I hope that remains the case.”

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Images: Disney+