Warning: This story has spoilers for "From Scratch."
Viewers unfamiliar with Tembi Locke's 2019 memoir "From Scratch" may be surprised by where the Netflix miniseries's plot — which is based on a true story — goes.
Based on the miniseries's sepia-toned, whimsical trailer, you might think you're in for a love story, with Amy Wheeler (Zoe Saldana), an American artist, falling for Lino Ortolano (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a Sicilian chef, during a trip to Florence.
Speaking to TODAY alongside her sister, the novelist Attica Locke, Tembi said that audiences are in for a love story, but not the one they may initially anticipate. Certainly, Tembi didn't predict this turn of events for herself when she married her first husband Saro Gullo in 1995 — whose presence she felt on the set.
"They are in for a love story that, like life, is surprising and ever changing. A love story that deepens in ways that perhaps you don't know could happen. They're also in for a love story that goes beyond romantic love – bigger and more expansive than just romantic love," she said.
Below, the Locke sisters — who co-wrote the script — walk us through the true story that inspired the show, as well as the major differences.
Tembi met Saro while studying abroad in Italy in college
While writing the memoir, Tembi said that revisiting the early stages of her relationship with Saro was one of her favorite parts of the process.
The same went for creating the TV show, though Tembi said she chose not to actually watch Amy and Lino fall in love in Italy for a specific reason.
"I didn't watch the visuals because I want to maintain and protect my own memories. Suddenly you start to remember the thing that was made, and you forget the original images," she said.
In a meet-cute moment, Saro helped Tembi try to retrieve her stolen bike. “I think we could be something great,” Tembi quoted Saro saying in the book in the early stages of their relationship. She said he had “a vision of an us and greatness so effortlessly that it suddenly seemed as right as butter on bread. I was taken aback by his boldness, his certainty.”
They stayed connected even after Tembi moved back to the U.S. and Saro stayed in Florence to work as a chef. They reunited in New York — not L.A., like in the show — then moved to Hollywood together for Tembi's career.
Tembi describes their relationship in the book with luminous prose: “He soothed the places I hadn’t known needed soothing, seemed perfectly willing to embrace the parts of me that were wanton, unsettled, unfinished, and contradictory. Together we had engaged life as two forks eating off one plate. Ready to listen, to love, to look into the darkness and see a thin filament of the moon.”
Tembi and Attica say they're different from their 'From Scratch' characters
Speaking to TODAY, Attica Locke said she doesn't have much in common with her TV equivalent, Zora, played by Danielle Deadwyler. For one, she's the younger sister in real life.
"I very much feel like a little sister. But people frequently think that I'm the older one," Attica said.
In the show, the siblings' order was switched for plot purposes. The writers had to devise a way to get Amy to L.A. from Italy. "What if Zora is already there? Oh, but that would make her the older one. Then we kind of went with it," she said.
Attica said her personality is different from Zora's — mostly. “I also have a caustic sense of humor. I’m mouthy. I think that Zora is a good sister, and I hope that I’m a good sister. And I’m not a teacher,” Attica said.
More changes abound. With credits in "Castle," "NCIS," and "Never Have I Ever," among others, Tembi is an actor, not an artist like Amy is in the show.
The characters' names are changed, but have a message
Tembi explained that the writers changed the characters' names to give "psychic distance" between the real figures and their fictional portrayals.
"I needed the space to allow the character to grow, to bend and to fictionalize things," Tembi said.
However, the characters' names pay homage to the real people, especially in Amy's case.
Amy's full name is Amahle, a South African name; Tembi's full name is Tembekile. Growing up in Texas, Tembi said people would often change her name to "Tammy," or another Anglicized version. Tembi is her "shorthand name."
"Amy's name was a wink and a nod to having an Afrocentric name and the ways in which it changes," she said. "But her parents always call her Amahle."
Attica explained the name Zora — a nod to writer Zora Neale Hurston — was chosen for its literary nature. First, Attica said it demonstrated that the sisters' parents had "intention" in selecting their daughters' names. It also connect to Zora's profession as an English teacher and Attica's as a novelist.
Saro was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer
Much of the series deals with Amy and Lino as they adjust to his cancer diagnosis.
Indeed, Saro was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that starts in the soft muscle tissue, in 2002. Tembi cared for Saro for the next 10 years.
Tembi and Saro adopted their daughter Zoela
The couple adopted their daughter, Zoela, in the years Saro had cancer. In the show, Amy and Lino's adopted daughter's name is Idalia.
“Zoela came to us during that time,” Tembi told TODAY of her adopted daughter in 2019. “And I think one of the things that I learned is life is still happening all around us and for us, we’d always wanted to be parents.”
Speaking to TODAY in 2022, Tembi said Zoela was involved in the show.
"My daughter picked the name of Idalia, the character based on her. We had fun creating these alternate versions of us," she said.
Tembi added that the show contains a message only for Zoela to notice — one the rest of us will pass by. "There's an audible easter egg in the series for her so that when she watches it, she's going to hear a message from her dad to her," she said.
Attica said that her own daughter, who was five when Saro died, is finally getting to know her uncle.
"I think she's really beginning to understand who this person is that she's seen her mother have a moment in the kitchen, stabbed by grief," she said. "The way she looked at me when it was over — I feel like she could understand her own life, which has been so informed by the loss of her uncle."
Tembi said Sicily was a healing place for her: 'Love lasts'
The final episode, which takes place after Lino died, is set in Sicily, where Amy travels with Idalia to bury Lino.
In the memoir, Tembi tracks three summers spent in Sicily after Saro’s death (incluidng one summer with her whole entire family, like in the show). Tembi said that Sicily was an essential part of her healing journey, offering her hope and sunshine.
"All of the reminders that we are still living, that there is still live and abundance. We see it in the natural world, but we also see it in interpersonal relationships and community," she said.
As she put it in the book, "Sicily was the water and sun that fortified me to stand stronger in my life after loss."
Tembi is still close with Lino's family, who were once so estranged from her, as the show depicts. For Tembi, this is one of the lessons.
“Love lasts and transmutes. It doesn’t leave us. Lino’s love doesn’t leave Amy and it doesn’t leave Idalia. That is what Sicily offers me and what I hope is communicated in that finale,” she said.