The actor shares the story behind her gruesome new film, Fresh: a sweet girl-meets-boy story that abruptly descends into chaos
In Fresh, the debut feature from Mimi Cave, Sebastian Stan’s body is treated like a mouth-watering dish to be served in Michelin restaurants. Just look at an exercise montage in which Stan’s calves and muscles, all dripping with sweat, are lusted over by a camera zooming in on the good stuff. Though food pornography is tough to define, you know it when you see it. Is this food pornography, with humans as the ingredients?
The relationship between hunger and desire, at least, is established early on in Fresh when Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is chatted up by Steve (Stan) at a grocery aisle. After a series of woeful internet dates (dick pics, rude dudes, etc), Noa’s landed an IRL hunk’s phone number while purchasing grapes. “It’s shining a light on the perils of contemporary dating,” says Edgar-Jones, sat in The Soho Hotel in late February. “It’s consumerist, the way we swipe left on people. Shopping for a handbag is the same as shopping for a partner. It’s strange.”
I tell Edgar-Jones, 23, an actor who came to fame in 2020 for Normal People, that Dazed had just run a feature on how dating apps might be dying. Perhaps, then, supermarkets will become the new Tinder? You go to Tesco, pick up an eggplant, and realise you’ve accidentally flirted with everyone around you? “I didn’t know dating apps were going out of fashion! It feels like it’s the only way people meet nowadays. I’ve never heard of anyone actually having a real-life meet-cute.”
At Sundance, critics referred to Fresh as a satire on modern dating, which is a bit like calling Scream a satire on answering the phone at night. Written by Lauryn Kahn and produced by Adam McKay, the mischievous romcom-horror starts as a sweet girl-meets-boy story and then abruptly descends into chaos. The opening credits arrive around the half-hour mark, practically declaring: now the movie really starts. As for what happens next, it’s best to go in cold. Which makes discussing the film with its lead actor extra tricky when no one wants to spoil the surprise.
“So much of the joy is not knowing the twists and turns,” Edgar-Jones says. “(A satire on dating) is one way of describing it. It’s also an allegory for so much, like the commodification of female bodies. The social-thriller aspect means you can take away something deeper when you leave, and it’ll spark ideas in your head.”
For Edgar-Jones, Fresh marks her first big-screen lead (theoretically, as it’s debuting on streaming platforms in the UK and US). While it’s possible that Cave later studied Edgar-Jones’ supporting roles on Cold Feet and the 2018 indie Pond Life, it was Normal People that brought the actor to Cave’s attention. During the pandemic, Edgar-Jones’ raw, tender depiction of Marianne’s silent struggles resonated all over a confused, lonely world; with society collapsing and reckoning with itself, Normal People proved to be cathartic and thought-provoking.
Fresh, I suggest, could do the same. Flirting with strangers has been at an all-time low these past two years. Going to the supermarket, too, hasn’t been the same since 2019. Some of us have also altered our eating habits. “It’s cool to think it’s going to make people excited about buying some vegetables,” she jokes. “Although maybe not when they watch the rest of the film.” Just as Normal People started conversations about consent, what does Fresh elucidate about dating from a woman’s POV? “It definitely explores the day-to-day anxieties that women have to live with, and the quick judgments on whether someone is a safe person or not.
“Even the scenes at the start when Noa is walking home with a key in her fist. There’s a general awareness of threat that is so ingrained that we don’t think about it.” And even if Noa deletes her apps, she can’t avoid the supermarket? “Yeah. Steve’s very endearing and self-deprecating. He says he’s a doctor, so he has a good job. She runs it past her friends. She does everything right to make an assessment as to whether he’s safe. Then unfortunately it goes the other way.”
As for whether Edgar-Jones researched the intricacies of Steve’s deep secret, she shakes her head, stating that it’s more a question for Cave or Stan. Her preparation, she says, involved perfecting an American accent and considering how the story “celebrates and champions female friendship”. When I rephrase the question and ask if Noa identifies with Steve’s hidden passion on a metaphorical level, Edgar-Jones replies, “Noa’s really an everyday character. But my friends and I talked a lot about this. Why is it that women seem very interested in true crime? So often, the victim is a woman, and so you want to know: ‘If I were in this situation, how would I react?’ Noa’s quite meek at the start, but she gets to a place where she finds such power and strength to overcome her situation. It was fun to play someone who’s unassuming and underestimated by Steve, and through her shared experience with these women, she really outsmarts him.”
At the very least, Fresh may prove a shock to Disney+ users who pick the film expecting a Normal People-y drama about normal people. If they don’t spot the clues, that is. The score is foreboding. A car journey is framed like a homage to The Shining. Steve also has no social media accounts (to clarify: in the movie, this is considered a red flag, not a healthy lifestyle choice). But the opening act still delivers what you want from a rom-com: two likeable leads, fizzling chemistry, and an obstacle to overcome. “We made sure to ground it in something truthful,” Edgar-Jones says. “That meant we really earned our moments of levity and surrealism.”
So what would she tell people who love Notting Hill but are worried Fresh sounds a bit like Saw? “If you’re squeamish, definitely don’t dive in. But if you want to watch something that’s definitely its own film, there’s enough lightness and fun within it that you’ll be able to grin and bear the rather darker moments.” And what about the gorehounds who love Saw but are worried Fresh sounds too much like Notting Hill? “I would say just keep watching! Just wait until you get to the second act. After that, you’ll be fine.”
Fresh is streaming exclusively on Disney+ under the Star banner in the UK & Ireland on 18 March