The festive genre is a tough nut to crack, with plenty of heavy hitters already representing the holiday season just as much as Santa himself. Getting the perfect balance of festive cheer, romance and comedy is no easy feat, and one many fail to pull off. With the holiday period set to look a little different this year, Netflix’s latest seasonal foray, Dash & Lily, makes staying in this holiday that little bit more enjoyable. In the titular role of Dash, a self-confessed Grinch, actor Austin Abrams takes on the festive greats in this unconventional holiday rom-com.
Set in a postcard perfect New York in the holiday season, Dash & Lily is a Christmas romance in which the two protagonists barely spend any time together. After leaving a notebook with the words ‘do you dare’ emblazoned on the front cover at her favourite literary haunt, Dash and Lily embark on an adventure around the city, anonymously swapping challenges and dares as they push each other to figure out who they really are. With near misses and half chances, the audience is left eager to see if they will ever meet in person. It’s this idea of “two protagonists that barely ever interact in person” that Abrams considers to provide a unique take on a traditional holiday rom-com.
While the series is an uplifting tale ideal for a cosy night in, it was Dash’s ennui that Abrams found most intriguing. He muses, “Dash has a very deep sadness about him that I found compelling. Years of being ignored by his parents really shaped his world view, and I wanted to understand that more.”
Based on the successful young adult novel Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, balancing fan expectations with an actor’s own interpretation of a character can be tricky. For a book with such a loyal fanbase, it could have been a daunting prospect. But for Abrams, it was a challenge he relished.
“A lot of it takes knowing what you’re making. I knew we were making something that was trying to capture the spirit of the book as best as possible,” he shares. “When it came to Dash, all I could do was try to translate his essence from the book to the screen. There’s pressure with every project, and I tried to represent Dash the best I could. Ultimately, you have to let the pressure go.”
Igniting that romantic chemistry on screen can be a test for the most seasoned actor – doing so with someone you share very little screen time with even more so. One novel way Abrams and co-lead Midori Francis sought to overcome this was by following in their characters footsteps and passing their very own notebook between them.
Abrams explains, “I always like to search for some way to understand the characters more and it seemed like something that would facilitate that. Our notebook helped create a bond between us that was similar to what the characters experience in the show. Keeping that notebook between us helped, especially since our characters were going through the same thing. Thankfully, we had a natural chemistry and respect for each other.”
And while Abrams is keeping tight-lipped about what he and Francis shared in the notebook, he’s not one to shy away from a dare. He enthuses, “I love dares. Jumping in the Hudson during winter is one in particular that comes to mind.”
In these trying times, we’re reminded how film and TV can provide a welcome respite from reality. For Abrams, this is a feeling that has stood the test of time. “It reminds me of hearing stories about people going to see Shirley Temple during the Great Depression. When times are rough, entertainment can be a way to release anxiety and restore hope.”
With so much uncertainty at the moment and holiday plans still left up in the air, people are finding solace and comfort in bingeworthy box sets more so than ever. And while Abrams is eager to get back on set, we can all enjoy a touch of escapism in a festive fantasy.
Dash & Lily is currently streaming on Netflix.