Lana Condor wants you to feel good. Surely she knows this is a ridiculous thing to hope for, as we all awaken each day in an icy sweat to face the impending apocalypse, retinas sizzling as we skim our news feeds from under the covers (it’s safer there!) to find the sort of horrors that were once rarities — serial violence of every variety, a stupefying denial of the clearly-documented deaths of 3,000 people — are arriving as regularly as the weather report. Also, the weather report is also terrifying now.
It’s all quite dire, relentlessly so, and yet: Condor thinks we all we want to “to feel happy and to see love.” She is here to oblige.
In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which is based on Jenny Han’s young adult novel of the same name, Condor stars as Lara Jean Covey, a Korean-American teenage girl whose five love letters — which she totally never intended to send and just kept addressed in a box in her closet for personal use — get signed, sealed, and delivered by a well-intentioned meddling kid sister. In order to keep one of the recipients, her older sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard), from thinking she has committed an unforgivable violation of girl code by pursuing him, Lara Jean throws herself, literally, into the arms of Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo, the internet’s boyfriend. Congratulations to you, internet! He’s a keeper).
Peter Kavinsky is the dreamiest, swoon-inducing-est, jock-with-a-sensitive-side-and-also-a-Jeep-Wrangler-est crush you ever could crush on. And, as the universe would have it, both he and Lara Jean stand to benefit from living out one of the best rom-com tropes in the canon: Pretending to be in a relationship but then falling in love for real. Lara Jean, in a very Jane the Virgin way, has a wildly romantic fantasy life that she struggles to live out in her day-to-day existence, but Peter Kavinsky helps her be her fully realized self, giving her the push — or, as the case may be, the back-pocket-twirl — she needs to live with less fear and more hot tub makeouts. Change we can all believe in.
And speaking of change: While the John Hughes movies that To All The Boys emulates starred white casts and featured Asian characters in parts that were basically just racist punchlines (Lara Jean insists Peter watch Sixteen Candles with her; Long Duk Dong does not go unremarked upon), To All The Boys centers a Korean-American girl and her sisters, with a lovely balance of cultural specificity and total nonchalance.
To All The Boys is a winning, charming entry into Netflix’s summer-long initiative to revive the rom-com. Netflix, which has oodles of user data and knows more about you than you perhaps know about yourself — best not to think about that too much, what could possibly go wrong?! — found that viewers kept rewatching old romantic comedies and, blessed with this algorithmic endorsement, decided to produce its own original rom-coms its audience clearly craved, starting with Set It Up, which came out this July, and continuing with Sierra Burgess is a Loser, starring Centineo and another up-and-comer who broke out on Netflix, Stranger Things‘ Shannon Purser. (See, they saved Barb after all!)
In a very in-character move, Condor answered ThinkProgress’ questions about romance, representation, and the rom-com’s revival via written correspondence.
I was fascinated to learn that Netflix figured out people wanted to see rom-coms because of all their user data (which is creepy, but romantic! so actually very on-theme for rom-coms). I’m curious what you think of the genre: What do you like about it? What are some of the tropes you aren’t so hot on? What do you think of the way TATBILB approaches the rom-com?
I think it’s very exciting that the rom com is coming back! I truly believe the reason why there is a demand for rom-coms is because humans, whether its conscious or subconscious, have a need to feel happy and to see love. I think right now there is a lot of crazy dark things that are happening in the world and so there’s this hunger to change that and feel something good. To see something sweet and fun. And basically, to see how the world should be. So I think that’s why people are gravitating towards watching more rom-coms and reviving the genre, and I’m definitely here for it!
What kind of responses have you been getting from fans of the movie? What’s been most surprising or meaningful to you?
The response and outpouring of love I’ve received from the fans of the movie and from the fans of the book is unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, loving, excited, wonderful group of people to be on this journey with me. They are so loving and really celebrate this film and I’ve noticed that the movie has really impacted people on a personal level which makes my heart just explode.
“Women [are] coming up to me, old and young, telling me that seeing someone that looks like themselves represented in a three-dimensional character makes them feel seen and confident for the first time.”
I think the most meaningful thing that has happened to me is just women coming up to me, old and young, telling me that seeing someone that looks like themselves represented in a three-dimensional character makes them feel seen and confident for the first time. I’ve received so many messages of girls opening their hearts to me and how the movie has helped them through different circumstances they’re in, including issues with confidence and not always feeling like they fit in, and that’s been the most meaningful part of this whole experience.
Lara Jean has such a strong sense of personal style. Can you tell me about how her look came together? It’s fascinating to see this person who has a really vivid inner life, but such a hard time expressing that to other people, really go for it with her clothes (and her scrunchies).
That’s a great observation of Lara Jean! I think just like how Lara Jean’s letters are an outlet for her to express herself, so is her clothing. Her sense of style is very unique and a really great place for her to show a little of her personality. I think although she is an introvert, she is never apologetic for it and who she is. She really owns her quirks. There were a lot of people involved with the creation of her wardrobe. A LOT.
Because we all knew that clothing and style is such a huge part of Lara Jean’s identity- so we really wanted to get it right. The producers, particularly Megan Greydanus, were very invested in Lara Jean’s look. Megan spent countless hours finding the perfect pieces and detail that would help bring Lara Jean to life and let me just say… she hit it out of the ballpark! I, along with the costume department, were really blessed to have a producer who really cared and did her homework to make Lara Jean the beautiful young lady she is described as in the novel.
What do you think is the most romantic moment in the movie? (Or gesture, or note, or spin move…)
I think the most romantic moment in the movie is the scene in Peter Kavinsky’s kitchen, between Lara Jean and Peter, when they really open up and talk about the sad things in their past that make them who they are today. I think it is such an intimate scene and really shows that their relationship is based on a foundation of friendship.
One of the things I love about TATBILB is that there’s this specificity of Lara Jean and her sisters’ ethnicity, but it’s not about race. Which feels like something we’re seeing more of than we did maybe five to ten years ago, but still pretty rare. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the movie addresses race and how you feel about being a part of that representation on-screen.
The way TATB depicts race and how it normalizes our differences, is actually one of the things I am most proud of. I think the movie does a really refreshing thing by showing the world that the AAPI [Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders] community is not an “other,” rather, we are a normal, human, functioning part of society. I think that the fact that our movie doesn’t write out our characters based on pre-existing stereotypes is really amazing and I am thrilled to be a part of this new movement.
When you first starting pursuing acting, what were your audition experiences like? What did you think about the opportunities that were out there for you?
Being an actor is hard. It’s so true…auditioning is literally our full-time job, and then if we are so lucky to book the project were auditioning for, then that project is our play. When I first started auditioning, I was so, dare I say, desperate and hungry for a job, that I pretty much went out for anything my agents sent me with a few exceptions. I’ve been very blessed that my agents have always had my back and have always sent me out on things that they think will better my career and that I’m right for.
I know you’ve talked about going into auditions that are supposedly open to actors of all ethnicities, but then you get there and it’s obvious that they don’t really mean it — that you’ve “never been more aware of my Asianness and femaleness than working in Hollywood.” Do you feel like that’s changing at all? Are you optimistic now, going into those rooms, or do you feel like you need to brace yourself for those stereotypes to persist? (Is the sense that it IS changing just people getting really excited about the summer of TATBILB and Crazy Rich Asians?)
Hahah yes, that’s something I always say. And to me it’s very true. I’ve never ever been more aware of the way that I look, until coming into the industry. However, I feel like that is going to change. I think we have a long way to go, but I do believe the industry is being forced to change and go into a new direction of genuinely casting based off of who is right and talented for the role and being more open about true “open to all ethnicity” casting. But only time will tell!