Noah Centineo Talks 'To All the Boys' Sequel and Saying Goodbye to Peter Kavinsky

Noah Centineo - Publicity - H 2020
Vladimir Weinstein/Michael Priest Photography

The actor opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about filming the final installments of the Netflix phenomenon and parting ways with the character that catapulted him from TV star to rom-com king: "I felt like I had really given it everything I could."

It was just weeks ago that Noah Centineo attracted more than 400 fans into New York's 92nd Street Y for its 92Y Talk series, which has welcomed a succession of notable figures — from Robert De Niro to Ruth Bader Ginsberg — over the course of decades.

The audience, significantly younger than what's typical for the venue, couldn't have been more excited to see Centineo, their deafening screams resounding throughout the theater once he stepped onstage. But despite the warm welcome, the 23-year-old star — whose stop in Manhattan was to promote To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the second installment in Netflix's wildly popular book-to-film franchise — had nerves to quell.

"Can you just do me a favor?" Centineo asked the audience before a conversation moderated by The Hollywood Reporter even began. "Because I get nervous before this stuff, can we just take a cumulative breath in together? Is that cool?"

Of course, the crowd was eager to comply — and loud cheers soon transformed into quiet, synchronized respiration as Centineo led them in a breathing exercise. After one final exhale, the actor was ready to talk, and the room was prepared to absorb his every word. Asked how he feels about the intense fandom To All the Boys has generated since the first movie premiered two years ago, Centineo said the nonstop attention is still surreal. 

"It's crazy. It feels like it's overwhelming at times, but then it's not, right? Because I feel pretty whelmed right now — not overwhelmed or underwhelmed. I'm whelmed right now. My heart beats fast," he said, before directly addressing the audience: "But it's just crazy to know that you guys were impacted, you're such big fans of the film and I can be a part of that. It's wild."

To All the Boys I've Loved Before, adapted from Jenny Han's bestselling trilogy of YA novels, became an immediate cultural phenomenon following its 2018 release. One of Netflix's most-watched and re-watched original films of that year, it catapulted Centineo into an unexpected level of fame, helping him transition from TV star to rom-com king and burgeoning leading man. The Florida native — previously best known for his work on Freeform’s The Fosters — has fronted several more romantic comedies for Netflix, including Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, Swiped and The Perfect Date.

But, as Centineo told THR, he has an extra soft spot for his To All the Boys character, Peter Kavinsky — flaws and all. "Peter is fantastic and he's emotionally intelligent, but he's not, like, super emotionally intelligent," Centineo said with a laugh as he described his counterpart to Lana Condor's Lara Jean Covey. "He makes mistakes, and mistakes that you would be pissed at if you were a girlfriend, you know what I mean?"

Peter's charm is challenged in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, as another love interest — John Ambrose McClaren (played by newcomer Jordan Fisher) — enters the picture. John Ambrose, one of five recipients of Lara Jean's love letters in the first story, eventually responds to her note, reigniting a spark that originated in middle school. Peter, whose once-fake relationship with Lara Jean has now materialized as something real, suspects that his girlfriend is distracted by someone else. While Peter seems intent on keeping Lara Jean's focus, Centineo admitted that, as a viewer, he is totally #TeamJohn.

"Here's what I'll say. Jordan is #TeamPeter and I am #TeamJohn," he said, later clarifying his thoughts when the 92Y audience communicated an unmistakable preference for Peter over John Ambrose. "I believe that Peter and Lara Jean are perfect for right now. I think they're together, they're in high school, it's passionate. So, I'm #TeamPeter for now — but I think, you know, maybe after college, later on in life, it's possible that maybe John will come back around. John is super sweet."

And, according to Centineo, Fisher was the perfect pick to play his competition. "Jordan got the role because he was the greatest actor, hands down. But beyond his acting ability, which is clear, he's the kindest soul, and that's who John Ambrose is," he said. "Every time I see Jordan onscreen for our film, I just swoon, I swear. And he's like that in real life. You see him, and he's just so connected and with you when he's talking to you and gives you all of his attention and his heart. And you just feel warm, you know? So that's why I think he got it."

There's also overlap between Centineo and Peter. As director Susan Johnson has explained, many of Peter's most prepossessing moments are the actor's own ideation. Fan-favorite behaviors from the first To All the Boys film include Peter's delicate protection of a bowl of a popcorn during a pillow fight with Lara Jean and her younger sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart); plus, the way he effortlessly twirls Lara Jean in the cafeteria, a spontaneous piece of choreography that came after he affectionately tucked his hand into her back pocket.

"When you're channeling something, you can't really describe where it comes from," he said of his improvisations. "Honestly, I don't know where it comes from."

Centineo then stood up to physically demonstrate how the beloved pocket-twirl came to be. "We're standing there and then we got the camera coming behind us … and I'm like, 'There should be something there. All right, we'll put the hand in the back pocket.' And it just hit me. I was like, 'I'll just spin her around when we do it.' And then we walked, and she was just like, 'Whoa!'" Centineo said before spinning around himself. "You can see [onscreen that Lana] is kind of surprised when it went down."

Centineo's Peter remains equally irresistible in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, and his dreaminess will presumably carry through to the franchise's closing iteration, To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Both films completed production last summer, meaning Centineo has already said goodbye to the part that has left an indelible mark on the hearts of countless teenage admirers, and his as well.

"Everybody cried," he said of his last day on set, before comparing the end of his run as Peter to a Buddhist parable he once heard about a father who'd lost his son in a war: "He's solemn, but he's not crying. And someone goes, 'Dude, you loved your son more than anybody. You were with him all the time. You gave him everything. How are you not crying?' And he goes, 'You just said it. I made every single moment count with him. I gave him everything I had. I loved him with my whole heart. And I was OK before he was here and I'm going to be OK after.'"

Though he was tearful at the time, Centineo elaborated, "And so when it came to the end of the series, I felt really calm. I felt like I had really given it everything I could, and I felt ready. I felt calm and I felt super, super grateful that I had the opportunity to make the friends I made and to try to honor Jenny's books the way that we tried to."

In the next chapter of his career, Centineo is looking forward to taking on projects that challenge him — including a foray into action, starting with his portrayal of He-Man in an upcoming Masters of the Universe film — and concentrating on philanthropy, which fulfills him in a way that he says working in Hollywood hasn't. "To be selfishly selfless is something I learned. If I'm giving to others, I feel good," he said. "It makes me want to get out of bed in the morning, you know what I'm saying? That is the gift of life."

That's where Favored Nations, the nonprofit he recently launched after two years of planning, comes in. With 17.6 million Instagram followers, Centineo understands his influence and hopes he can use it to make the world a better place.

"One hundred percent of the proceeds you spend on the hoodies, the T-shirts, whatever you purchase on the site goes to a charity that you choose," he said of his merchandise, which is emblazoned with the organization's "Give a Shit" slogan. "We give you a list of verified charities that are out there doing things in different categories. It's real simple, man. You don't have to be this or that. You just got to give a shit."

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You begins streaming on Netflix on Wednesday. For more from Centineo's 92Y Talk, watch the video below.