In Mimi Cave’s tongue-in-cheek thriller Fresh, the oft-romanticised “meet-cute” is turned on its head, as the horrors of modern dating are exposed through the eyes of Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman who finds herself battling to survive her new boyfriend Steve’s (Sebastian Stan) unusual appetites.

From a screenplay by Lauryn Kahn (Ibiza) and produced by frequent collaborator Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, The Big Short), Fresh stars Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones in her first lead film role opposite Stan and Jojo T. Gibbs as her loyal best friend Mollie.

Ahead of Fresh’s UK release on Disney+, Outtake spoke with first-time feature director Mimi Cave and actress Gibbs about creating such an… unconventional romantic comedy.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

What were your initial thoughts when you read the screenplay, and which aspects were you most excited to tackle?

Jojo T. Gibbs: I was super excited about the possibility of becoming Mollie and being able to work with Mimi on it. I read the script before I met with Mimi, but then meeting with her definitely cemented it for me. In terms of being on set and having these experiences that are traumatic to some degree, over and over, you want to have a leader there that you feel safe and comfortable with. After meeting Mimi, I was so gung-ho about it.

And I do feel that Mimi did an incredible job making a film supporting women’s empowerment while toeing the line between showing women being desecrated and not exploiting that for gore. I think we did an incredible job. That was a sidebar, but yeah, when I read the script, I knew I wanted this.

Mimi Cave: I read it so much earlier than everyone else, and it was tough for me to get through it. Certain scenes were pretty rough, but at other moments I was just ripping through it. It wasn’t like there was one “what the fuck” moment in the script, there were several. I knew it wasn’t something I can ignore, even if I maybe want to because it feels a little dangerous, and I was really drawn to a lot of themes in the script as well as the challenge of combining genres.

Mimi Cave behind the scenes of Fresh with Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

A lot of what works well about combining genres, namely horror and rom-com, comes down to the chemistry between Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan. At what point in the casting process did you realise they were perfect for the roles?

Mimi Cave: We cast Noa (Edgar-Jones) first because we felt like everyone needed to then be built around her. And because of the roles she had done, and that Sebastian’s done, I already knew that they were able to have really good on-screen romantic chemistry. And so, I met Sebastian after we’d already cast her, and they didn’t do a chemistry read together but I just knew it’d be fine.

They both just have that ‘thing’. I don’t even know how to describe it and I’m not even sure why I knew that it was there. Watching their other stuff, there’s a certain type of actor who can turn on their romantic side when they need to, and it’s pretty cool to watch. They also have this magnetism on screen, which I think everyone in our cast had. I just trusted them.

Daisy and Sebastian did rehearse some stuff, but we didn’t rehearse everything because I wanted that scene where they meet in the grocery store to feel real. I wanted them to feel a little awkward, a little nervous. So, I tried to shape the scenes that we were shooting in a way that made it easier for them to get into that headspace.

And what’s interesting about Fresh is that no matter how central the relationship between Noa and Steve is, what grounds the film is the relationship between Mollie and Noa. So, Jojo, could you talk a little about finding that grounding dynamic?

Jojo T. Gibbs as Mollie in Fresh
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Jojo T. Gibbs: That’s the aspect of the script that I loved the most. I think it’s important to highlight the importance of platonic friendships and how deep they can be, how significant they can be in finding sisterhood and having each other’s back. Oftentimes as women, we’re taught to seek out a man to assist us in some way, shape or form – even from the time we’re small children watching Disney movies.

I think it’s important for women to find camaraderie in a way similar to men, you know, in terms of finding comfort and forming bonds with each other. I have personal friendships in my life where I would go to bat for these people, and I would be significantly changed if they were not in my life anymore. I love that dynamic between Noa and Mollie. I didn’t think it was unrealistic or out of the ordinary, and if you can’t relate then maybe you’re the issue.

That friendship also serves to bring a lot of humour to the film. In terms of balancing the horror and comedy – there are some truly dark moments where the audience is laughing along but, on reflection, you do wonder if there’s something wrong with you for laughing. Mimi, were you trying to encourage that as a way for the audience to feel complicit in the violence, or was it more about balancing the tone of the film?

Mimi Cave: Definitely about balancing the tonal shifts. When you’re making movies, you’re thinking about the scene but you’re also thinking about the greater picture. You’re always thinking about what scene came before, how did we get to this scene now, and how are we leaving the scene. It’s definitely a lot about balance and joining of things.

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh dance scene
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

But I also think there’s something about the concept of cannibalism that’s very ‘uncanny valley’. It makes your stomach turn just thinking about it because it’s so bizarre. And I think that feeling is something I wanted to bring into the rest of Fresh. So that confused sense of emotion or being able to feel grossed out while having fun at the same time – it’s weird having to combine the two, and there’s a lot of trial and error involved in getting the right tone in place.

And a lot of that tonal balance comes down to the visual style and the soundtrack. This being your first feature, how did you go about creating the visual mood board for this film?

Mimi Cave: It was a process. When I pitched for the film, I had a look-book with references of films that I felt had elements I wanted to incorporate in Fresh. And that changed as I brought on actors, and brought on my heads of department, because they’d bring their own ideas. Whatever seeds of ideas I had either grew and blossomed or changed a little based on others’ influences. It’s a process, and I think that’s what I love about making films. I honestly have more fun making it than having it come out – you’re in this very alive sense of collaboration, and not a lot of experiences can replicate that.

And Jojo, this being your first film role, was there anything you took away from this production and working on this set that will inform your future acting decisions?

Jojo T. Gibbs: It was my first film, and it was also a very unique experience since it happened right after COVID. I don’t think we’ll ever get to do it that same way again, but it was such a beautiful process to be able to sit in a room by myself for two weeks and read the script. I could really delve into what I wanted, how I wanted to portray Mollie – that was a privilege. Most of the time with other projects, it’s just one thing after the other, and you still have stuff going on in your personal life that you’ve got to deal with. But here I had the time and space to sit by myself. That was very different.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

And I also learned from seeing Mimi, Sebastian, Daisy, Lauryn [Kahn] and Pawel [Pogorzelski, Director of Photography] work together how important communication and collaboration is to just understanding each other. It’s a simple list of human traits but, having done different projects in the past… for instance, my first project, No More Comics in LA was just me and a bunch of friends. And communication wasn’t the best because we were homies, and I’m gonna talk to you how I want to talk to you – which doesn’t necessarily work in terms of professional collaboration and getting things done. So, it was nice to be in that type of setting, seeing people talking through things and coming to a consensus. It was a very significant learning experience for me.

As a last question, do you consider Fresh to be primarily a modern-day cautionary or is it about exposing the audience to women’s lived experience?

Mimi: I think the latter.

Jojo T. Gibbs: I just hope that people learn that you can’t assume anything. Just because a person seems intelligent, or wealthy, or popular, you still have to use your best discretion and common sense. Let people know what you’re doing, so that you have backup. I don’t think it’s too cautionary, it just is what it is. You’ve got to learn from other people’s mistakes.

Fresh is out from March 18th, exclusively on Disney+.