Original-Cin Q&A: The stars and author of After, a Young Adult phenom that was born online

The next Young-Adult lit phenomenon to hit the big screen,  After  is the brainchild of author Anna Todd and the progeny of digital media.  

In 2013, Todd wrote a story, on an Internet community writing app called Wattpad, about a girl named Tessa who falls in love with a punk named Harry Styles. (Yes, based on THAT .) 

After about 80 chapters, the story started becoming wildly popular. A year later, it had already racked up more than a billion reads (yes, a billion).  After soon became a five-book series that is now a major motion picture, directed by Jenny Gage, with the Harry character’s name changed to Hardin for obvious reasons.

Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Josephine Langford are young, in love, and… yeah, that about covers it

Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Josephine Langford are young, in love, and… yeah, that about covers it

The After followers are wildly rampant on social media, calling themselves “Afternators” and are counting down the days until the release of the film. 

The story centers around  Tessa Young (Josephine Langford), a dedicated student, dutiful daughter and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart. Entering her first semester of college, Tessa's guarded world opens up when she meets Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a mysterious and brooding rebel who makes her question all she thought she knew about herself -- and what she wants out of life.

Our Bonnie Laufer sat down with stars Josephine Langford (whose sister is Katherine Langford - star of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why), Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (his uncles are Ralph Fiennes and Joseph Fiennes) and author Anna Todd to discuss the world-wide phenomenon of After.

 Original-Cin: Anna, let’s start with you.  You wrote this story, turned it into a book and, ‘Poof!’ - it has become an insanely popular worldwide phenomenon.  Has this all sunk in yet? 

 Anna Todd:   “I don’t think so to be honest. Even when it was on Wattpad and was contained there, I got constant comments and messages. And so, when it became a book, it got more attention and now it’s become full blown. I feel like, at this point, I don’t want to take a step back and really think about it, because if I did I think it would freak me out.“

 OC: Josephine, playing Tessa came with a built in audience so there were some big imaginary shoes to fill. What was your initial reaction to the story when you first got it to read? 

 Josephine Langford: “This was one of the only things I auditioned for without having read the script first because i always like to read the script first to get a sense of the character and the story. 

“I had originally auditioned for Molly, another character in the film, because when they were casting for Tessa I was unavailable. So I did audition for Molly, got a call back and was asked if I would like to read for the lead Tessa.  I got on a plane and that’s when I actually read the script for the first time and now I can’t remember what I initially thought!”  

 OC: Well, it obviously must have grabbed your attention.

 JL: (Laughs) “Yes, it did!  I guess I initially thought it was a good story and I feel with these sorts of things, I hate the word “good-girl”  but when you have a “good-girl” there’s the tendency to be a caricature. And so when I read it, it was really important to me that she wasn’t portrayed in that way and was more three dimensional.  So that’s why I wanted to be the one to play her.” 

 OC: Hero, how about for you? Your character Hardin may initially be portrayed as the brooding “bad-boy,” but as we quickly find, out he’s got a lot of depth and is a pretty sensitive and caring guy.  How did you connect with him? 

 Hero Fiennes-Tiffin: “I just  loved the complexity of the character and the time I had on screen to slowly reveal that to the audience. I strongly put air quotes on the fact that he is a “bad-boy.” But that persona is somewhat justified. Still, it’s fun and interesting to be able to  try and explain why he is that way. The complexity and getting to slowly reveal why a character is like he is, is pure gold for an actor.” 

 OC:  Anna, how much did you love having Josephine and Hero as your leads? 

 AT: “I really loved it.  I knew pretty much immediately that  they should be cast. So  the further we got into filming, it just validated what I felt from that gut feeling on the first day.” 

 OC: Plus, watching your characters come to life through these two had to be exciting.

 AT: “During the filming process I was so deeply involved with the technical side of everything, I didn’t have the time to sit back and think, ‘Wow – we’re turning my book into a movie!’ 

“I was more concerned about getting facts from the book right for the fans who have imagined these characters for the last few years. Overall, it has been such an amazing experience to have something that  so many of my readers have been waiting for, for so long.” 

 OC: Josephine and Hero, when did you know the chemistry clicked between you?   Sometimes you can get on a set and it’s not there and especially for these two characters the chemistry is pretty instantaneous. 

 JL: “Good question. (To Hero) When did we click?  I don’t know!”

 HFT: “Yeah, we have always got on.  We actually met about a week before we started shooting. I don’t know, she didn’t do anything to  annoy me!” (Laughs) Look, Jo is obviously an excellent actor.”

 JL: “ Awww… shucks.” 

 HFT: “I just think doing some of those steamy scenes with someone so professional  made it easy. We had a lot of rehearsal time and a great acting coach so it didn’t feel at all awkward or weird. It was just  a job that we were both really willing to do.” 

OC: The attention and anticipation for this movie is extraordinary. Are you guys ready for the attention that is coming your way or is there even a way to prepare for something like that?  

HFT: “I don’t think so. You just have to stay grounded and take it one step at a time. Appreciate the good things and don't dwell on the bad things. I don’t think you can be prepared. Just take it as it comes.” 

 OC: How about you Josephine? 

 JL: “I think my answer is yes and no. To a certain extent you can never be fully prepared  for something when you don’t know what it’s going to be. 

“However, also, we were really lucky that Anna let us know the extent of  what this film might be, about the attention, and what we can expect. So  I feel like I have had a little bit of time to mentally prepare for it. But at the same time, who knows?”