After We Collided stars on the sequel's 'untraditional love triangle' and 'toxic relationship'
What comes after heartbreak? For the After franchise, that's only the beginning of the story.
The 2019 teen romance film — based on author Anna Todd's series, which in turn was based on her Harry Styles fan fiction published on Wattpad — is like 50 Shades of Grey for the YA crowd, and ended with college student Tessa (Josephine Langford) breaking off her turbulent love affair with British bad boy Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). And the upcoming sequel, After We Collided, doesn't shy away from the dark aftermath of the end of "Hessa." Directed by Roger Kumble, the follow-up film explores how Tessa and Hardin cope with the sudden loss of their unexpected and passionate relationship, both in healthy and extremely unhealthy ways.
"People criticize it for advocating, like, a toxic relationship, and we need to stress that this is entertainment," Fiennes Tiffin tells EW of the franchise's controversial couple. "It's not a rulebook for people to follow and take into their lives. But I think it is super entertaining to watch people try and get through that because Hardin and Tessa don't want it to be toxic, they're trying to fight through it, and it is for whatever reason."
The actor, who first rose to fame playing the young Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, explains that Hardin and Tessa's mature relationship is actually what sets the After franchise apart from all other YA romances. "A lot of the time, other scripts may have shied away from that because of the scrutiny that you may get for people saying you're promoting a toxic relationship," he says. "It's the realness behind the fact that this is the case sometimes, unfortunately, and hopefully you can make it work and if it's not good, it shouldn't be. It's super complex topic but that's what is so interesting about it."
And Langford adds that "Hessa" is more than just their worst moments. "There's an x-factor, a certain quality to it where you almost can't explain it," she says of why the first film garnered such a massive fanbase. "For the most part it's because there's things that everyone can relate to in these characters or in this relationship, how crazy it is filled with obstacles and what a rollercoaster it is, and how these two people are attracted to one another like magnets and they can't just seem to get away. It's the intensity of the relationship that keeps people coming back."
While Tessa and Hardin ended the first film very much broken up, the actors promise the sequel will explore even more of their relationship because "it's the obstacles they face but also the never say die attitude that they take into it" that makes them so special, according to Fiennes Tiffin. "Ultimately you want to find out if they can make it work and if they do, how they do, and if they don't, why it didn't work."
Neither of the two stars expected the response that After received, earning best drama movie at both the Teen Choice Awards and the People's Choice Awards as well as the legions of screaming fans following them around. "I was super overwhelmed at first a little bit and then just nothing but grateful," Fiennes Tiffin says. "They're super supportive; we've got the best fans in the world. We're really lucky to have them."
But the newest addition to the After franchise might not get the same kind of welcome: "F---ing Trevor." Introduced in After We Collided, Tessa meets Trevor at her new internship at Vance Publishing. Played by Dylan Sprouse (yes, that Dylan Sprouse), he has an instant spark with Tessa who is still reeling from her breakup with Hardin. What complicates matters even more? "He starts to take an interest in her both romantically and professionally," Sprouse tells EW, before adding with a laugh, "Don't tell the HR department!"
For those who haven't read Todd's books, Langford warns that Trevor is yet another obstacle for Tessa and Hardin's relationship. "He is threatening to Hardin in the sense that he seems perfect," she says. "He has very opposing qualities to Hardin; he has his s--- together, he's a little older, and he's got a great job. He presents as a threat to Hardin and also, just very, very deeply and subconsciously as an, 'Could I go back in this direction?' to Tessa, because pursuing Hardin is a massive diversion to what she's usually done in her life. Usually she takes the safe route, and he's the opposite."
Sprouse laughs at how different Trevor is from his real-life persona. "It was hard being responsible for so long," he says with a laugh. "He's a very upwardly mobile, go-getter of a guy, and he's trying to make a better life for himself. In many ways he's the antithesis of Hardin and his mannerisms which complicates things and confuses Tessa. Inside of Tessa’s heart and mind there’s a dilemma between having stability in both her workplace and romantic life and having passion and emotion, and how she can find that balance. That’s pretty universal for everyone."
Even though Trevor comes in as an immediate foil for the franchise's central relationship, the former Disney star wasn't worried about the fans hating him. "I was just excited because anytime the fanbase is as large as the one is for the After series, it means that they're really connected to the work," he says. "Even if you're playing a potential bad guy which in this case Trevor is not, but still coming into a large fanbase like this they usually see you for who you are as a person and not the character, hopefully. And if I do my job well then it means that I do frustrate them a little bit, and I do frustrate the dynamic between Tessa and Hardin in a way that makes sense for them."
So does Trevor's debut make "Hessa" into a love triangle? "I wouldn't describe them as a love triangle, because I think it's always Tessa and Hardin," Langford says. "There's characters who come in and out, and they each present a new and unique dilemma for the relationship. But the movie is a bit different from the book, [laughs] so maybe? The movie is a new take on the story from the books, but the intensity from the books is really there. But we do get to really get more into Tessa and Hardin’s relationship in this film."
Sprouse agrees that "it's hard to say," adding, "As a very surface-level reading you could say yes, but I don't think Trevor's trying to be malicious in including himself. So I don't think that it's necessarily a love triangle in the way that one might deduce it because Trevor isn't pushing. Just him being who he is and being there, it's complicating issues for Hardin and Tessa's relationship, so it's an untraditional love triangle."
As for that "F---ing Trevor" nickname, as he's lovingly referred to by the fans, Sprouse laughs again. "I loved it. I thought it was hilarious," he says. "I relished the opportunity to be able to be the best F---ing Trevor I can be. Hero and I joked about it on set and it just adds character and life to the role."
And while both Fiennes Tiffin and Sprouse wish they'd had more scenes together in After We Collided, there is one scene that delighted them while filming — and it's one that fans are most eagerly awaiting.
"I enjoyed the hotel scene because it involves Hardin, Trevor, and Tessa, which is the dynamic that we know fans wanted to see and we wanted to play," Fiennes Tiffin says, noting that it's that infamous scene where he got to bring the iconic line of "F---ing Trevor" to life. "I did feel a slight responsibility to make sure I said it right but the fans are so supportive I could have said it any way and they would have got behind me. That was really fun to do. And anytime fans ask me to say it [to them], I'm never one to shy away from that. They love it, and it's nice that we were able to up the rating so that we could bring that to life and not have to say like 'friggin' Trevor' or 'fudging Trevor' or something like that."
Sprouse walked away from filming that scene with a very high appreciation for Fiennes Tiffin's leg strength. "Hero's got a very hard kick," he says with a laugh. "He was busting down plenty of doors, I think we had to replace like two or three doors while he was kicking them down. It's because he plays a lot of soccer!"
After We Collided is in theaters and on-demand beginning Oct. 23.
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