Last fall, Los Angeles-based director Olivia Accardo launched her Seed and Spark campaign for her web series, One True Loves, in which she retells the semi-autobiographical stories of everyone she’s ever fallen in love with. Olivia successfully accomplished her campaign and has released the first four episodes out of the total eight. The series starts off in the year 2002, when an 11-year-old Olivia (or rather Lydia, played by Maddie Rien, since this is technically a work of fiction) experiences her first kiss and betrayal.
This interview has SPOILERS!
Ambar Navarro: Hi, Olivia! I really enjoyed watching every episode and seeing how as you get older the person you fall in love with changes, yet the feelings remain the same. What was some of the research required to walk back down memory lane and recap some of these moments in your life?
Olivia Accardo: Thanks! I think a lot of these stories are pretty vivid memories, ones that stuck out to me, always with people who had a lasting effect on me in one way or another. I also have never not been a little angsty writer, writing down every seemingly “pivotal” moment in my life, and luckily (or not so luckily, some embarrassing stuff is in this book) I still have my diary from middle school and high school, and my book of CDs from when I was a teen. They were good points of reference to figure out what specifically influenced me during those years. I also did a lot of research surrounding the sort of trends and electronics (computers, cell phones, TVs, game systems) that existed during the specific years I was recounting.
Ambar: Your first kiss was during a game of spin the bottle and was the result of peer pressure, specifically after your friends accused you of “being a lesbian” because you didn’t like-like anyone—how did that affect your feelings?
Olivia: I was so wildly insecure and always afraid of seeming even more “different” than I already felt like I was. The threat of being “different” for not having a crush on somebody, and for not having kissed anyone yet was scary for my 11-year-old self. I so desperately wanted to be Cool and The Same as these girls who I was convinced were my “real friends.” I felt the only way to be Cool was to change my behaviors and do what they thought was Normal and Good. They were so good at coercing me into changing my ways, that I ultimately owned my newfound crush on “Tommy” as if these feelings were really my own. And when these girls took Tommy away from me, I was very genuinely heartbroken and crushed by both them and Tommy.
I had a lot of back and forth on whether to include the line “if you don’t like-like anybody, then that actually makes you a lesbian." I just remember it so vividly from that time, and the girls’ threat was more specifically that they would “tell the whole school I was a lesbian.” The line doesn’t really have much to do with sexuality. It’s more of a symbol of the fear of being different. Whether being different meant being gay, having a “weird” sense of humor, being raised differently, whatever it was. I remember feeling mortified if I ever made a comment that no one else agreed with—I would immediately backpedal and change my mind. This one line, in the opening of episode one, just represents that anxiety as a whole.
Ambar: What was it like directing a young actress in a kissing scene?
Olivia: It was a funny experience. I knew the kids were nervous, because for the most part it was legitimately their first kiss. Which was sort of ideal, because they were just as nervous as one would genuinely be in the moment of your first kiss. Everyone’s parents were also on set, and a father pulled me aside and said “She’s not really going to… actually kiss him, right? You’ll just make it look that way?” to which I had to confidently and calmly respond, “Yes, they will actually be kissing” and reassure him that it would be okay and “quick” and “just a peck.” I think for the kissing scenes, we tried to keep the takes to a minimum. At the most we did three takes for those shots, but I think the best takes were the first ones because their feelings were very genuine.
Ambar: The first episode ends with you having a moment of self righteousness that in fact your bff Dominique had used you and didn’t deserve to get ice cream with you. How would you say that influenced the rest of friendships?
Olivia: I was super trusting as a kid (and maybe still am?). I was bullied on and off by these girls for many, many years and wanted to see the good in them, even though flickers of “you really shouldn’t trust these people anymore” would come in and out of my mind. I tried to mirror those feelings in the episode with the voiceover about Dominique “not deserving me,” but in the actual moment on screen, Lydia tells her that she’ll go get ice cream with her anyways. I lived with this internal/external conflict with these mean people for many years.
Ambar: The second episode—the one about Josh Wessell, who would repeatedly draw Basset Hounds—captures the comedic awkwardness of unreciprocated obsession. The mourning period lasted two years—do you still wonder what happened to this bus stop boy?
Olivia: Haha! I am actually friends with this bus stop boy on Facebook and know exactly what he’s up to. So much so that I was really nervous he might see this episode and put two and two together. We don’t, uh, engage with each other’s Facebooks particularly, so I’m sure my stuff doesn’t even show up on his feed. But any genuinely romantic feelings for this person have faded. I did run into him a couple of times as a teenager unexpectedly and nearly fainted or would exit the building at top speeds because I was so anxious around him.
Ambar: Beast seems like such a cool cat! Pets play such a significance in relationships. Can you describe the difference between your heartbreak regarding Beast and Liam?
Olivia: Ultimately, the heartbreak I felt over the loss of Beast was so much more significant than any human-related heartbreak I’d felt at that time. As I say in the episode, I truly did love that cat a lot. Liam and I stayed very close friends for many years. We lost touch for awhile, and he weirdly just came back into my life. We got dinner after like an eight year gap, and I told him I had just wrapped shooting a short film about him. He was very flattered. The heartbreak I felt with Liam was so fleeting because I think we were ultimately better friends than anything else, but as kids we definitely played the “will-they-won’t-they” game for a long time.
Ambar: How has it been reliving these past relationships, and how do you feel now?
Olivia: It’s kind of been a whirlwind! My mentality around it wavers in and out of this blurry it’s-fictional/it’s-autobiographical universe. It’s both fictional and autobiographical. I try to approach it as fiction as much as I possibly can (for my own sanity). It’s definitely been funny though, because right as I was gearing up to launch my crowdfunding campaign I met my current boyfriend. I think on our first date, we were both talking about ourselves and what we “do” and I sort of wanted to avoid the “I’m-writing-eight-short-films-about-every-single-person-I-ever-loved” topic. It inevitably came up, and he’s been the most supportive, greatest person throughout the whole thing. We’re both very open about past relationships and experiences, and I think it only gets weird when his parents call and ask when I’m going to write about him.
Ambar: In episode four, we jump into you playing the current character! At what point did you decide it would be fitting to do so? How has it been playing this character version of yourself?
Olivia: I had originally written the first four [episodes] in anticipation of having Maddie play “Lydia” in all of them. When we were casting for the part of “Manny,” the only actors that showed up were 18 and over. We ultimately cast a 21-year-old, and obviously couldn’t have the actually-14-year-old Maddie playing “Lydia” alongside a 21-year-old, especially because that specific episode was always going to end with a lil make-out scene. I love working with Maddie and was truly sad when we made the ultimate decision to bring me in as “Lydia” an episode earlier than I had planned. It was funny playing this fictional version of myself. 17-year-old Lydia is far more confident and certain about what she wants than the real 17-year-old me. I felt it was important to show Lydia learning from her experiences and sort of coming out of her shell much quicker than The Real Me.
Ambar: I love the line in the fourth episode about wanting the one to be “out of this world” and Manny not exactly living up to your expectations. There’s also a fun Dominique cameo when she texts you—I was surprised to see the friendship lasted! Can you talk a little about the evolution of your crushes and self-worth?
Olivia: My (Lydia’s) List of Significant Crushes, AKA One True Loves, kicks off in a coercive manner when Lydia is bullied into a “relationship”—and then Lydia organically develops feelings for Josh at the bus stop, an obsessive, unrequited, and generally scarring experience. As far as the conversation of “self-worth” goes, I think the mid-season finale episode, Manny’s episode, speaks to the evolution of my/Lydia’s self-worth. The on-screen Manny relationship is probably the most fictional of all the episodes so far. The real Manny and I dated on and off for so much longer than I’m willing to admit, even though I had always known that we weren’t a good fit. From the time I spent with him, I learned that I did indeed deserve someone who I felt was “fantastic,” and I wanted Lydia to experience something similar and move forward with herself, and her relationships, seeking something truly “out of this world.”
Ambar: What and when can we expect in the next four episodes?
Olivia: The next four episodes navigate Lydia’s late teens and into her mid (to late) 20s. Lydia thinks she’s finally found confidence through alcohol, and gets her heart broken in an embarrassing, drunken attempt to confess her feelings. Lydia tackles online dating, gets broken up with, and falls in love with someone else’s boyfriend. For the finale, I am planning on making a longer-form short film where we get to breathe and spend time with Lydia as she seems to have finally found some comfort in her own skin and maybe is finally making some more sane non-relationship-based decisions. “When” is a great question. My production team and I are figuring out funding at the moment. Our last resort is to launch another crowdfunding campaign, but if push comes to shove and that’s what we need to do to finish this project, then so be it! I would say you can expect the final four to be online sometime in 2019. Sooner than later, I hope!