After isn’t just a movie, it’s a movement. You could describe After as a romantic drama, or you can tell people it’s based on a series of New Adult novels, but you would be doing the After phenomenon a disservice. It’s a pop culture juggernaut that could only exist in the social media era, and the movie has one hell of an origin story.
So, if you’re not in the know about all things After, let’s get you up to speed.
After is directed by Jenny Gage and adapted from Anna Todd’s mega-popular novel. It tells the story of a goodie-goodie teenager named Tessa who heads off to college and meets a “bad boy” named Hardin. Tessa already has a boyfriend, Hardin has tattoos, and they both have chemistry. A tumultuous relationship ensues.
Back in 2013, Todd began writing One Direction fanfiction on Wattpad, an online platform that connects readers and writers. Her stories about One Direction hotties Harry Styles and Zayn Malik attracted a large audience and landed Todd a book deal. Her fanfiction underwent changes for legal reasons. Those One Direction stories became After, and Harry’s character became Hardin Scott. Today the After series spans several books, including a prequel, a spin-off, and now a feature film. So how popular is Todd’s work? According to online metrics, it’s been read over a billion times.
Now that you’re all caught up…
After Interview with Anna Todd, Josephine Langford, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin
Todd is currently touring the world promoting After’s theatrical release. She swung through Toronto last week along with the film’s two stars Josephine Langford (Tessa) and Hero Fiennes Tiffin (Hardin). We met up in downtown Toronto and discussed After’s fandom, adapting the story to film, and as always, what they’ve got on their shelves.
With so much of the conversation surrounding the film’s two young leads, I asked the trio about which aspects of their film have gone under the radar. “There’s so many people involved in making a film. So many wonderful people,” Langford told me. “We haven’t been asked much about costumes, about our wonderful cinematographers.”
“I think it’s interesting that each character had their own colour palette,” Todd added. “I think they [viewers] notice it visually, but they don’t actually clock it.” It was a conscious decision for Tessa to be in pastels and Hardin to be decked out in all black. But pay close attention, and you’ll notice even the supporting cast have consistent colour combinations; Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) is in red, Molly (Inanna Sarkis) in pinks, Noah (Dylan Arnold) in light blues.
I asked Todd how she matched characters with their colour palettes. “Just what the stereotype of a colour is,” Todd replied. “Steph, she has red hair, she’s very fiery, she’s very deceptive, she’s kind of loud. With Noah, he’s sweet, and kind, and calm so, he’s light blue. Hardin is just a black soul,” she added with a laugh. “No, I’m just kidding. It’s a joke from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. He wears black a lot. Tessa is sweet and kind pastels.”
The anticipation for After’s adaptation is at a fever pitch. Calling the series’ fans passionate is like saying Steph Curry can ball. Like Curry’s shooting touch, After fandom exists on a whole other level. That next-level fandom comes with its share of drawbacks; the site of our interview stayed under wraps to avoid attracting a mob. I asked the trio about the positive changes that come with After reaching a whole new audience. “Just huge amounts of support from fans who are going to support you in everything you do,” Fiennes Tiffin quickly answered. “Just the encouraging, flattering support.”
“It’s like having a thousand or however many thousand little marketing companies,” Todd said. “We’ve had fans go across [their] college campus and hang up posters of After all over the campus. So, it’s like a street team who just do this for the passion of it, and they’re not concerned necessarily with numbers or any of these things. They’re just passionate.”
“I feel like the way Anna has been so interactive with [fans], there are a lot of things about the film where she presented them with a question, and they answered the question,” Fiennes Tiffin added. “They genuinely have a say in the film. They are more than outsiders who appreciate it. They’re genuinely in it.”
The After series has been gaining traction for over half a decade, and fans have spent most of that time with their own notions of the book’s cast of characters. I asked Langford and Fiennes Tiffin how they stayed true to Tessa and Hardin’s origins while still making the characters their own.
“When I read the book, I was really lucky that it was all from Tessa’s perspective. And so immediately reading it I felt like I could connect with her and understand the way she thought,” Langford said. “And so reading the script, I went back to the script, and I went into it with the character that I already had in my head from the books.” She later added, “Having the book was incredibly helpful in translating the character.”
Fiennes Tiffin later followed, “I would say having Anna on set every day was a perfect, kind of like… It gives you so much freedom to test the boundaries of the character, and she would just be there to say, ‘Yes, that’s where that aspect stops.’ That constant dialogue that we had gave me so much freedom to explore and push the character to its limits [while] staying true to the circle that he’s actually in.”
“That’s a great question about putting your stamp on something where there’s expectations involved with the material,” Langford said. “And I think you just have to make choices and be confident in those choices and not feel pressured or insecure about what you’re doing and make sure that you’re making the character your own.”
After’s cast and crew went to work every day with the franchise’s massive expectations in the back of their minds. For this film, success means pleasing the studio, book readers, and now moviegoers. I asked about what kind of doubts they faced while shooting the movie. “I like to be quite realistic with myself, and I’m genuinely, I don’t think I would say doubting myself, but I think every day, I need to do my best, Fiennes Tiffin said.”
Fiennes Tiffin added, “This is something that a lot of people would kill to do and to make sure that in everything I do, I do my best that I can. So I feel like understanding that you’re never going to reach perfection reminds you to always strive for it, if that makes sense? But yeah, 100% I don’t think we’re about to spill all our doubts and insecurities on to a page that will be shared around the world, but I know I can speak for these guys. Everyone does whether they admit it or not.”
I couldn’t let Todd, Langford, and Fiennes Tiffin go without asking them what prized possession sits on their shelves. “I’ve collected a lot of things throughout my life, and I think that’s more being a hoarder than being passionate about them and so I’ve tried to stop that,” Langford said. “Just films. I love films, I have a collection of DVDs on my shelf.”
Fiennes Tiffin followed with, “Well on this tour I’ve been given a lot of football tops from each place that we’ve been to. It’s so nice to have those, just a little you know, novelty, nice memory of it. So yeah, I think I’ll continue that tradition and get a football top from wherever I go.”
Todd told me, “I have a million books on my shelves, but I have a thing where when I first started travelling, or if I go to a place I haven’t been, I get a copy of my favourite book in that language. And I have this whole kind of shrine to this one book by Cassandra Clare that’s in every language on my shelf. I would get my son a t-shirt and then a book from whatever country, in that language. If I would go to Spain, I would get the Catalan version, if I was in Barcelona; get the Spanish version in Madrid. So, I have a lot of that.”
I asked Todd what about her favourite book speaks to her. “It just has everything,” she said. “It has romance, it has this intense, intense romance between intelligent characters. Sometimes in romance, it’s hard to find. I think authors try to make stereotypical characters and so the characters in that book series, everyone is so intelligent in their own way, and they each have their own set of hobbies, and they’re alive and they also literally save the world.
It’s fantasy, it’s romance, there’s a lot of family depth, it’s Clockwork Princess. It’s the Infernal Devices series but this book specifically. And you will laugh, cry, literally want to rip the pages apart. I think I’ve thrown that book across the room a lot of times. Like I’m done with it. And then I would run over and pick it back up. It literally has every emotion told in such a detailed way.”