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Lana Condor says it wasn’t until recently that she realized she could pursue acting as a career.
“You never know what your next job is going to be so in my head, every job I would get would be, ‘Is this my last one? Am I a flash in the pan?’,” says Condor. “Just recently I started thinking, ‘Wow, I think I can do this as my career, and it’s something I hope I can do.'”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before certainly played a role in that. Netflix’s YA romantic comedy, which stars Condor in the titular role, became a cultural and Netflix phenomenon when it released over the summer. The movie, adapted from Jenny Han’s book trilogy, became one of the streamer’s most-watched and re-watched original films of the year and catapulted her and co-star Noah Centineo into overnight fandom.
Less than six months later — after swirling reports and fan clamoring — Condor made the news about a sequel official when she posted a video announcement on her burgeoning social media accounts as an early Christmas present to the fervent TATBILB audience.
“I didn’t know there was going to be a sequel until maybe a couple weeks before everyone else knew,” the 21-year-old rom-com breakout revealed during The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV Talks series at New York’s 92nd Street Y. Condor was in Africa with no service and had given her team the OK to post the announcement on her behalf if they got the greenlight. “I woke up the next day in Africa on safari and one of the camp supervisors came up to me and said, ‘This is so exciting! Did you see? You’re getting a sequel! You posted it!’ My phone did blow up when I got service, which was like a week later. All I wanted was to get on wifi to see what everyone was saying!”
TATBILB stars Condor as Lara Jean Covey, a teenager who begins to find her voice and fall in love after her sister secretly mails love letters she had written — but never intended to send — to five of her crushes. One of those crushes is Centineo’s Kavinsky and after faking a relationship to help each of them out of personal binds, the pair end up falling for each other.
The role of Lara Jean Covey specifically called for an Asian-American female lead. “That was huge for me because they were very specific and knew exactly what they wanted,” said Condor to THR during the chat. “I’d seen when they want Asian-specific roles, but in terms of a lead love interest? I’d never seen that before. When I read it, my heart just expanded and I felt like I so aggressively needed to have this role because I really believed I could do a good job so maybe more opportunities like this would come for other people.”
She continued, “Lara Jean is your average girl who happens to be Asian. That was very, very important. I wanted to tell a story of an Asian-American girl, but also that it had nothing to do with the way she looked. A lot of girls have come up to me since to say, ‘Thank you so much for telling this story.’ Because our story is not just one story, we have so many stories to tell. And now we’re going to get to do the sequel.”
Condor said she has yet to get a script for the sequel and she’s still waiting on a start date, but that she and the cast are anxious to get back to set — even if it means that beloved couple Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky, who fans have dubbed #Covinsky, could be headed for more complicated times.
A mid-credits scene in TATBILB introduced Peter’s competition in the books, the character of John Ambrose McClaren. After reading Han’s books, Condor knows a love triangle is ahead. “It’s upsetting to me because I’m like: Lara Jean and Peter should be together forever! But I’m not really in a place to be so put upon, to say, ‘I have to be with another guy,” she admits, begrudgingly. “I think Noah is really excited because he wants more drama and conflict. I guess, so do I.”
Condor said she knew Centineo would be cast as Peter the moment he opened his mouth. And after experiencing the explosive success of the film side-by-side, she has leaned on her co-star throughout the last year. When put to the test, Condor is still rooting for Lara Jean and Peter, over John Ambrose, the good-hearted guy her character had met at Model UN. But she admits that the question keeps her up at night as they look to cast the high-profile role.
“John Ambrose is a really good person, his character. So I really want to guy who plays him to be a good human being, have a good head on his shoulders and have a lot of love in his heart, which I don’t think is a lot to ask. You know I’m going to crack that whip during chemistry read!” she said. “Here’s the thing, I love Lara Jean and Peter together. I think Lara Jean challenges Peter and makes him a better person and the same way around. I haven’t spent any time with John Ambrose so I don’t know — I get anxious about it! But right now, I want her to be with Peter because I think they’re really great together.”
Boys aside, Condor hopes that Lara Jean will find more of her voice in the sequel and hopes to see more of the sisterly relationships (with the characters played by Janel Parrish and Anna Cathcart), what she calls “the true love story” of the film. “I’ve told them I want it to be even better than the first, but this is Jenny’s story. She wrote the most beautiful book. Whatever she wants I’m willing to do. All I want to do is be with my sisters and kiss pretty boys. There’s not much for me to ask for!” she said.
TATBILB released the same week that Crazy Rich Asians took over the big screen and box office, making for a groundbreaking summer in Asian and Asian-American representation in both film and TV. For her part, Condor says she has seen a “genuine” shift in Hollywood since.
“I don’t think Hollywood is stupid. When they see the success of TATBILB and Crazy Rich Asians, you can’t ignore that,” she said. “I’ve seen more and more writers wanting to write roles that have people like us as the leads. I’ve seen directors who are so excited, filmmakers who just want to do it. I have seen a change and I will continue to be positive and believe. We’re so lucky because kids my age, we’re very smart and vocal about if we have an injustice or if someone on television doesn’t look the way real life looks. We’re just so loud, you can’t really ignore that. The scripts that I’ve gotten have been so positive and amazing and really inspire me that I think there is a genuine change. This should already have happened. But I really think now is the time and it’s really exciting.”
Next up, Condor leaps out of the rom-com world to play an assassin-in-training in another adaptation for Syfy’s Deadly Class (premiering on Jan. 16) and will hit the big screen in Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming sci-fi adventure Alita: Battle Angel in February.
“One of the reasons I took the role as Saya [in Deadly Class] is because Saya is so different than who I am as a person. She’s not expressive, she’s very guarded, a lone wolf and deeply unimpressed. That was a challenge for me,” Condor says of the major departure from Lara Jean, a role that also challenged her with stunt work and fighting choreography. “I had spent months promoting TATBILB in Lara Jean’s head and then all of a sudden I went into someone who is completely different — I spent three hours getting my tattoos done every morning, they cut off my hair and she kills people and rides motorcycles.”
The 10-episode series is Condor’s first foray into television, and she admits the long-term commitment (including the potential of more seasons) is nerve-wracking but also exciting: “I love features because I know there’s an ending and I know the arc of the character. In television, you don’t know if this is your one season or if you could be on it for a long time. As a control freak, I just want to know what happens. So this has really taught me to be in the moment and be OK in the moment.”
Looking down the line, Condor closed out the chat by sharing the one story with an Asian-American theme that she hopes to one day be able to bring to a screen.
“I’m adopted and so I’ve always thought that it would be really fun to create a story loosely based around my adoption. Because adoption is such a beautiful thing, but people tread lightly around the topic because they don’t know if they’re being respectful,” said Condor, whose parents were front row in the audience. “I want people to know how beautiful of a thing adoption is. I want more people to have this conversation and I want more people to inevitably feel that they can adopt, too, if they would want to. I definitely want to do some story like that.”
And she has an idea for who she would want to see cast: “An unknown Asian actress because God knows a lot of people gave me a chance, so why can’t I give someone else a chance to experience this awesome life.”
Watch the full THR TV Talks chat with Condor, here.