TV & Movies

Dash & Lily Star Midori Francis on Netflix's Newest Teen Romcom

We spoke to the up-and-comer about filming in NYC, sharing secrets with her co-star and why she thinks a notebook correspondence romance could—and should—happen IRL

In a time when romantic connections are mostly forged via cliché one-liners and carefully curated Hinge photos, the idea of falling in love with someone you’ve never even seen a pic of seems pretty out of this world. Yet, it’s the world of Netflix’s newest romantic comedy, Dash & Lily. Streaming on November 10, the film follows New York teens Lily and Dash (played by actors Midori Francis and Austin Abrams of Euphoria fame) in the Big Apple for the holiday season. But they couldn’t have more different outlooks on the experience. While Lily carols and bedecks sweater dresses with tinsel and Christmas tree ornaments, Abram’s Dash hides out, yelling at said holiday carollers, pining after his ex-girlfriend and trying to avoid any familial interaction whatsoever. Think another pair of NYC lovers—Gossip Girl’s Dan Humphrey and Serena Van Der Woodsen, for example—only more wholesome and with a whole lot less adult paraphernalia. But the metaphor remains: Two people who wouldn’t typically cross paths find themselves entwined after Lily leaves a red notebook at the famous Strand bookstore. Dash, trying to escape the merriment outside, picks it up and the pair begin corresponding with each other through written notes, exploring their city, re-learning the joy of the holidays, stepping out of their shells and *SPOILER ALERT* falling in love.

Just before the premiere of the show, FLARE chatted with Francis via phone from South Africa—where she’s currently working on another film—about what makes the film unique, and why she thinks that in 2020 you could fall in love the same way Lily and Dash.

Filming in New York was a special experience

Set in New York City, the series, which is based off the book Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, treats the Big Apple like another character. Throughout the show, viewers are taken into different corners of the city, from an underground club beneath a Jewish delicatessen to a suburban street in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn; and as the main characters fall in love with each other, the audience is invited to fall in love with the city and its idiosyncrasies. Having lived in NYC for six years, Francis says being able to film where she lives wasn’t only convenient (allowing her to work from home, explore the city and sleep in her own bed at the end of the day), but also romantic, allowing her to re-fall in love with her own city—something that’s especially meaningful given the current state of the world.

“I was used to the daily grind and when I had an off-day I might just stay in my studio apartment and not venture too far away from home,” Francis says of her time before shooting the series. “This show made me rediscover the city that I live in; I’d never had a slice of Two Boots pizza. I’d never been to McSorley’s. So it was so cool to have the opportunity to rediscover the place I already live in and kind of feel that magic for the first time [again] even though I lived there.”

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Lily is unique in the romcom genre

While a romantic comedy set in New York is far from original (cc: When Harry Met SallyHow to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, we could go on…), the characters in Dash & Lily, specifically Francis’s Lily, aren’t cut from the same cloth as the romcom heroines who’ve come before her. While Francis says she, in prepping for the role, looked to other romantic comedies, taking in the messiness of films like 500 Days of Summer, the beautiful shots in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the multiple storylines in Love Actually and the letter writing in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, when it came to her actual character, she didn’t want to draw from what audiences had previously seen on screen. “I thought that the key to making this character fresh was to be as specific as I could and bring myself to the role,” Francis says. “I knew that if I just really drew upon my experiences of being a 17-year-old hopeful, loving, excitable person who’s not quite comfortable with negative feelings, if I could really draw upon that and bring it to the table that that would be a lot. In terms of how I approached the character, I just wanted it to be my own take on that.”

Another way that Lily is different from those characters we’ve seen on our screens in the decades past? She’s not white. Throughout the series, Lily’s Japanese heritage is put on full display, as an integral part of who she is: a Japanese-American teenager. Whether it’s via her dare to have Dash get in touch with his inner calm, making Mochi with a group of DGAF Japanese grandmas or through the New Years celebration Lily attends near the end of the film, her heritage is as much an integral part of the show as it is Lily’s identity.

Of course, it’s not the first time we’ve seen diversity in a romcom. 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave us a Korean-American romcom lead in the film’s Lara Jean Covey, a refreshing change for the genre that hopefully will soon become the norm. And while Francis sees the similarities between the two films—especially when it comes to Lara Jean and Lily’s backgrounds and love for letter writing— “I think Lily is so much of own character and so very different from Lara Jean and all the other characters I’ve ever read,” she says. “What I love about Lily is that she’s complicated,” she continues. “She presents like she’s fine and she doesn’t want to hang out with people her own age and she loves playing board games with her grandpa, but deep down there’s so much more to Lily that she has yet to let out.”

Another way the film is unique, Francis says, is that despite the pair ending up together at the end of the series, Lily and Dash’s coupling is not the ultimate goal of the story. “What I think is unique about this story is that it’s not just a love story,” Francis says. “It’s a love story which promotes personal growth and development. And this is really a character study about a girl named Lily and a boy named Dash and the love that they have for each other only enhances who they are and their individuality.”

Like Lily, Francis knows about stepping outside of her comfort zone

Throughout the series, both characters are being pushed to their limits in the best of ways, stepping outside their respective comfort zones by, first, sharing their innermost secrets with each other through their notebook, and then encouraging each other to try what scares them the most—all in the name of personal growth. It’s something Francis knows well from her time on set, during which she and Abrams who, by the very nature of the show, didn’t spend much time together, and passed their own IRL notebook back and forth during filming. “At the time I didn’t think much of it,” Francis says. “You’re busy filming; but in retrospect I’m reflecting back and I think it helped [their performances] so much. “I didn’t know Austin, so this notebook between us was a way to build trust.” While Francis says she doesn’t *quite* remember what she wrote in the notebook (she also swore Abrams to burn the book after filming), “I want to say [it was] stuff that I don’t really want out there. And so the fact that we were both able to be honest and share secrets and share our deepest thoughts, the fact that we were able to build that trust and reveal things to each other only brought us closer. And then when we got on set and acted together, I think we both looked into each other’s eyes and knew that we knew something about the other that everybody else didn’t get to know, and that was super helpful.”

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And, like Lily, who in the series both emotionally and physically steps outside her comfort zone (there’s a dance scene that will simultaneously make you cringe *and* cheer Lily on for living her best life), Francis recently stepped outside her own comfort zone, in a pretty big way: skydiving alone on her birthday. “I had wanted to go for a long time and my birthday is in April, and the weather that day was horrible. I was supposed to go with friends but it got cancelled.  The next time it was available, [my friends] both had to work and couldn’t come with me,” she recalls. ” So I thought, ‘My mind is set and I’m going to do it.'”

After driving three and half hours to an “obscure” airport somewhere in California (she can’t even remember where it was, that’s how small), “I got in the plane and I jumped out.” And, like Lily in the show, Francis too had a brief moment of doubt before taking the leap, after she confidently got to the jump point via helicopter, and was about to walk out on what she described as the “pirate plank” you jump off of. “There was a moment where I was like, ‘OK, I am jumping out of a plane, I could die.'” She jumped, and now she’s looking to do it again once her film wraps in South Africa.

And she 100% thinks Dash and Lily’s adventure could happen IRL

And what about those who are looking to take a leap in love? While the idea of sharing notes back-and-forth with a secret soulmate as you both explore a vibrant and intoxicating city like New York sounds romantic as heck, it also sounds a little bit unrealistic, especially given that we’re currently in the middle of a pandemic. So, does Francis think the romance the show’s main characters share could happen IRL? 100%. “I think that all of this can happen in real life,” she says. “The other day I was in my car on my way home from filming, and I saw the most gorgeous rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life here in Cape Town; it was like [something] out of a painting. Amazing, surprising, wild things happen to us when we least expect it.”

“So, do I think it could happen?,” she says of Dash and Lily’s encounter. “Absolutely. New York is so jam-packed with people—especially pre-COVID—so could someone leave a note at The Strand and could the right person pick it up and could they have a correspondence? One hundred percent. Is it commonplace? Probably not, but could it happen? Yes, definitely. I wish it happened more.”

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So maybe it’s time for us to delete those apps and purchase a notebook. Preferably a red one.