Lana Condor could barely keep it together for her final scene as Lara Jean Covey in To All the Boys: Always and Forever. The scene was quite simple: Lara Jean shops for character socks for Peter Kavinsky during her family vacation in Seoul. But she was a wreck. This was her last time playing the beloved protagonist in Netflix’s wildly popular rom-com trilogy, which launched her and her costar Noah Centineo into stardom.
“I was so distraught, because I knew it was the last time that I would be getting to play her. And so, I was just beside myself,” she tells BAZAAR.com. “It didn’t make it into the movie and that’s okay.”
Adapted from the best-selling YA books by Jenny Han, the series began with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in 2018, introducing Condor as the lovably awkward high schooler and bookworm who fakes a relationship with lacrosse player Peter (Centineo) to make their respective crushes jealous. But, of course, they end up falling for each other instead. By the third movie, Lara Jean and Peter are trying to figure out how (and if) their relationship will survive in college.
Premiering two days after Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys, which centers on a biracial Korean-American girl as a romantic lead, was a big win for Asian representation on-screen. And the fact that it was warmly received by all audiences was even bigger. (In conjunction with fellow genre films on the platform, it earned more than 80 million viewers worldwide.) “Anyone can fall in love. It doesn’t have to be what we’re used to in mainstream media,” says Condor, who is Vietnamese. “Obviously, we’re making a lot of great leaps and bounds, but when I was growing up, you really only saw one specific person being given the opportunity to fall in love on camera, and they were typically white.”
Lara Jean’s wholesome love story is an even more welcome balm in a moment when a global pandemic has sparked hate and xenophobic discrimination against the Asian community. Watching a young woman who looks like us bask in young love, follow her dreams, visit her homeland, and be supported by her family is a necessary dose of joy.
Saying goodbye to a character that made Asian girls feel seen, that she’s nurtured for upward of three years, and that catapulted her to fame was no easy farewell for Condor. Luckily, she got another chance to say goodbye to Lara Jean during the Always and Forever reshoots. She and Centineo have a moment on the bench where their characters signed their famous contract in the first film, right where it all started. That seconds-long clip, Condor’s actual last shot as Lara Jean Covey, did make it into Always and Forever. It’s in the closing montage.
As for what’s next, Condor’s upcoming roles are nothing like Lara Jean. Soon, she’ll be a first-time executive producer for Netflix’s series Boo, Bitch, in which she’ll also star as a high school senior who realizes she’s a ghost. The actress was “on the floor laughing” reading the script, which she says boasts the same irreverent humor as Deadpool (one of the show’s executive producers worked on the superhero franchise).
“It’s kind of raunchy and blunt and wildly cunning,” Condor gushes. “It was the first time that I found a project that I felt like, ‘Oh, this will show more of my darker, sarcastic sense of humor that I’m sure I picked up from my mother, which is very different from Lara Jean.’”
She’s been working on the show over the past year with the team, which is “predominantly women,” she says. Erin Ehrlich (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Lauren Iungerich (On My Block) are executive-producing and adapting the script from the original version by Tim Schauer and Kuba Soltysiak, fresh talents who created the show with Condor in mind.
As much as she loves comedy, Condor wants to return to action, too, after appearing in X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadly Class, and Alita: Battle Angel. She’s inspired by Jennifer Garner's successful, multi-genre career. “I don’t want to just do one thing,” Condor declares. “I just want to do it all, which is a lot to ask, but it’s what I want.”
Speaking from her home in Seattle, where she moved in early 2020 to be near her family, Condor chats with BAZAAR about saying goodbye to Lara Jean and what lies ahead.
The character of Lara Jean has stuck with so many young Asian girls and even young Asian women, including myself, so it was fun to watch you grow in this role. Even though To All the Boys is a universal story, it’s great to just be able to see yourself through her. Did knowing that would add an extra layer when you said goodbye to this character?
Yes. One thousand percent. I think that To All The Boys has been the ultimate gift in many, many ways, but one of the biggest gifts that I've gotten through this experience is it has brought me closer to our community, and that has been paramount for me. I'm adopted, my parents are white. My brother was adopted with me. But my childhood, just the way that I was raised, was an Asian-American experience, and it was a different experience. I think oftentimes people are like, "What is the Asian-American experience?" And I'm like, "Well, it's vastly different for everyone." ... It's so close-minded to just group it as just one.
In my life, my brother and I had an adoptee experience that was different from someone else right next to me. And I feel incredibly grateful for these movies, because it's only deepened and opened up my relationship with our community and what it means to represent our community, and what it means to make people feel less alone and feel seen. And to me, that's the most important part of these movies. … I've met quite a few people who've been able to share with me their high school experience or how they could relate to the films. Mothers have come up to me and been like, "I watched this film with my daughter, and I'm so happy that she had a film that she felt seen in. And I wish I would've had that when I was younger."
So, it's been the most ultimate joy to be able to tell Lara Jean's story and just represent our community. It means the most to me. We were in Brazil, Noah and I were doing this big panel, and there's, like, thousands of people there, and it was quite overwhelming. And then I saw this girl in the first couple of rows, and she had a little sign and it was a handwritten sign that just said, "You saved my life."
And in that moment, I realized if we can impact just one person, that is all that matters to me. The rest of it is just noise, you know? So, I feel very grateful and overwhelmed with the opportunity to be able to just make people feel seen and less alone.
Absolutely. I feel like it's common for Asian-Americans or first-generation immigrants in the United States that when you're growing up, you maybe aren't completely in touch with your identity, or there are times when you try to suppress it so you can fit in. And then, it's not until you're in college or when you’re coming of age as an adult, where you go back and embrace and reclaim where you come from. Which is something my friends and I did. Is that something that you feel like you experienced too?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I've spoken about this, but I do think that in middle school and then a little bit in high school, even down to makeup, I would use makeup to be someone who I was not and change the way that I looked. And obviously, it goes much deeper than that, but it's an example of a way that I remember being like, "I don't want to be different. In fact, I just want to go under the radar. I really don't want to celebrate what makes me unique."
And now, as an adult, I am so beyond proud and thrilled of who I am. Me being Vietnamese and an Asian-American actress, all of that, I'm beyond proud of [that]. But it's definitely what you said, like in childhood. And that's one of the reasons I love Lara Jean so much, is because she grows a lot, but she never lets the world change her and take away her little isms or her quirks or what makes her Lara Jean. She doesn't change her heart because of the outside noise. That's what I love the most about Lara Jean.
I think in my personal life, it's definitely been a journey of self-discovery and just identity in general. And I think age is a huge factor, obviously, of that journey, but I also think being in the film industry has helped me in my identity and shown me who I am and who I am not.
In the third movie, Lara Jean is discovering herself, her own identity, and her own hopes and dreams, especially when it comes to choosing a college. As much as the whole trilogy is about her and Peter, this film felt like she was really catering to what she wants and trying to identify herself outside of the relationship.
I'm so happy that you [picked that up]. That was the most important thing for me going into the third movie. And I talked to the producers and the writers and the director and everyone ad nauseam, because I was like, "Okay, we have seen in the past two movies that all of her choices and her conflict typically revolve around guys." And it's appropriate, it's a rom-com, it's part of growing up. Your first crushes and your first loves, it does feel like that's your world. So I’m not knocking that, but also, I really want to show Lara Jean now as the young woman she has grown to be and who she will become. And I want to see her choosing herself and making choices that are for herself and her future, regardless of whether or not it might impact her relationships when it comes to boys. That was important to me.
I remember when we were talking about Team Peter or Team John. And listen, I'm biased because I am Lana and I play Lara Jean, but I remember being like, "Well, what about Team Lara Jean?" And granted, I love love triangles. I loved the story that unfolded because of the choices between the guys and it's called To All The Boys I've Loved Before, so I get it. … So going into the third movie, I was like, "Okay, let's see her where her identity isn't sculpted around a boy."
And I think we did it. I'm going to watch the movie again, but I think we did it. I feel like the way that she chooses herself and her future, I'm so proud that she didn't change her mind. Because I think that Lara Jean from the first movie would have never even, ever in her wildest dreams, imagined she would be the one being like, "No, I want to live in New York alone." She didn't even want to go out to a party. … And I think the Lara Jean that we leave with is like, "Well, if we can make it work, we're going to make it work. But regardless, this is what I know is going to bring me to life. This is the choice that I want and that I love."
It was also fun to watch you and Noah as Lara Jean and Peter growing together. In this film, it felt like your body language was so much more comfortable, and it seemed like you were, at times, just two friends hanging out.
So, our director actually was the person that made me aware of this. He was like, "Wow, shooting the third film with you guys and watching you guys work together, you always see Lara Jean and Peter and the third film wrapped around each other." They've been together, properly, for a year now, so we pick up like a year after the sequel. And it's very clear, they're always kind of wrapped around each other. They're always physically touching if they're near. And it seems very, very comfortable. And I think it is. I think that's what it truly was, because Noah and I spent so much time together and we've been through a wild ride together. And we have gotten so comfortable around each other, kind of like when you can be next to someone and not have to fill the empty space with chatter. And you can just sit with someone quietly, but also know what they're thinking or feeling, it's really special.
Noah and I really got to that place where we were just super comfortable around each other. And we've always had good communication, and we've always kind of been on the same wavelength, but I think that after three movies, countless hours, and been through so much that it's just like we understand each other in a way that I'm really grateful for. Because it's really nice to have someone who's been on the same journey and ride as you have, and it's a weird ride that's very hard to put into words and articulate to anyone.
So, yeah, I think that our friendship shows in the third movie. Well, I hope it shows in the third movie. I couldn't imagine doing it with anyone else. I really couldn't.
Personally, do you think that LJ and Peter make it through college?
I've always known that they are going to be endgame. In my heart, I know that they're going to get married, I know they will be together forever. I mean, in the second movie, I was like, I love John Ambrose, but they're not going to end up together. It was very clear to me just as a fan of the books and as a fan of the movies and as a fan of Lara Jean, I was like, "There's no way. Lara Jean and Peter will end up together."
I think that they're going to try their very best to make it work in college, but I think ultimately, they are both going to realize they do need to grow as individuals and apart, and know what it's like to live life and figure out who you are alone. And then, I believe that they will come together after college and almost reintroduce themselves as adults. I think that they have a lot more growing to do. And I think it would be so cool for them to run into each other outside of college—they now have a job, they know what it's like to live alone and to find their individual voices. It'd be so cool to see them come together and be in their mid-to-late 20s, and then really be ready to spend the rest of their lives together.
But I think they will break up in college. I know it's such an unpopular opinion, and it's heartbreaking. And I know people are not going to like it, but I do think that they need to figure it out apart.
No, that makes sense. I also like that postgrad reunion idea. I'm picturing it in my head already, and I need it.
I know, I do too. And this is not a conversation I've had with anyone, but I will say that if it's made, you heard it here first. I came up with the idea.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photographer: Jonny Marlow. Makeup artist: Melissa Hernandez. Hairstylist: Kat Thompson. Manicurist: Thuy Nguyen. Stylist: Tara Swennen.
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