Emmy spotlight on Leo Woodall: From ‘The White Lotus’ scene stealer to ‘One Day’ leading man

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Leo Woodall first came to prominence when he featured in season two of HBO’s “The White Lotus.” In that series, he played the, uh, “nephew” of Tom Hollander‘s character and made quite a splash in the role. Now, Woodall has gone from supporting player to leading man with Netflix’s new miniseries, “One Day.”

Adapted from David Nicholl‘s 2009 book of the same name (and the second adaptation overall after the much-maligned 2011 Anne Hathaway movie), “One Day” follows Woodall and “This is Going to Hurt” star Ambika Mod as two students (Dexter and Emma) who meet on graduation night. That chance meeting sparks an entwined relationship that encompasses friendship and lovers across a 20-year period as they continually meet on various July 15ths.

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The result is a swooning, epic romance that hinges on the charisma of its two leads. Thankfully, both Woodall and Mod are up to the task. Woodall makes good on his early promise as an actor and delivers a w0nderful turn that is full of complexities. He is charming, charismatic, enticing, and lovable. However, as the series progresses, Dexter becomes an unlikable one at times and Woodall is equally adept at performing these characteristics, too.

Dexter is crass, volatile, a mess — Woodall plays all this appropriately but still makes him a sympathetic character, a testament to his acting abilities. It is Dexter, and therefore Woodall, in the end, that our hearts most go out to. Critics agree, Woodall is a triumph in this role.

Proma Khosla (Indie Wire) observed: “Woodall is especially devastating, a tornado of charisma with a permanent yet never smug smirk and a romcom smolder that should send his forbears cowering at the notion.”

Neil Armstrong (BBC) explained: “Woodall, who viewers might know from season two of ‘The White Lotus,’ is also hugely impressive. He arguably has the trickier job as an actor because we’re rooting for Emma while Dexter can be – how to put this? – a monumental arse; self-centred, pretentious and shallow. But thanks to the script and Woodall’s nuanced performance, we also see his vulnerability and insecurities. He’s often reprehensible but never irredeemable and we’re prepared to put up with him because Emma’s prepared to put up with him.”

Chitra Ramaswamy (The Guardian) opined: “Of course, the whole enterprise hangs on Em and Dex, who must be completely believable and lovable, individually and together. They are extraordinary. Woodall’s wide-boy charisma and frightful yet endlessly forgivable privilege are perfectly pitched; I forgive him a thousand times. His poshness is neither glossed over nor glamorised; it is simply integral.”

As a result, Woodall is in the running for his first Emmy nomination. He’ll be competing in the Best TV Movie/Limited Series category, where he’ll face stiff competition from the likes of Jon Hamm (“Fargo”), Matt Bomer (“Fellow Travelers”), Andrew Scott (“Ripley”), Michael Douglas (“Franklin”), and Woodall’s “The White Lotus” co-star Hollander (“Feud: Capote vs the Swans”). However, Woodall should feel optimistic about his chances as his role is one that Emmy voters could really take to.

Firstly, Emmy voters seem to like charming, captivating characters brought to life by handsome leading men in this category. Sebastian Stan (“Pam & Tommy”), Oscar Isaac (“Scenes from a Marriage”), Ewan McGregor (“Halston”), and Jeremy Pope (“Hollywood”) are all such recent nominees.The previous contender Woodall is most akin to is Paul Mescal, who earned a bid in this category in 2020 for “Normal People.” That was another acclaimed romance show based on a book wherein the couple and the male lead, in particular, captured the hearts (and eyes) of its audiences. Woodall occupies the same space as Mescal here.

Plus, Emmy voters also like tragic, messy roles where the character has some unlikable qualities, too. Think of past nominees Steven Yeun (“Beef”), Stan (“Pam & Tommy”), McGregor (“Halston”), Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”), and Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”). Woodall kind of has his cake and eats it in that sense. He delivers the swooning leading man romance star qualities of Mescal in “Normal People” but also possesses the character-actor dramatic chops seen in a complex character in a similar way to Cumberbatch in “Patrick Melrose.” This could make for a powerful combination for Woodall, who is searching for his first nomination.

What also helps is the fact that he was in “The White Lotus,” which was one of the most beloved shows of its year by multiple awards groups. Woodall shared in the Best Drama Series Ensemble prize from the SAG Awards . People will absolutely remember his face and that he was a part of a show they adored. That will generate some goodwill towards “One Day.” He isn’t a fresh face trying to force his way into the mind of viewers: they already know him and will be impressed that he has now taken this step up into leading man territory with the terrific “One Day.”

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