TO ALL THE COVER STARS WE'VE LOVED BEFORE...
Photography by PIER ALEXANDRE-GAGNÉ
Styling by CAITLYN BEATTIE
Words by ELLY WATSON
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We all know the formula very well by now. Girl meets boy. [Insert a mild catastrophe to overcome]. Girl and boy live happily ever after. And on plays a sugary score of pop smush to soundtrack their triumphant aversion of disaster. Queue the credits, right? But the truth is, growing up, whenever my teenage self would sit down to absorb the latest romcom offering, and listen to Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” swell for the billionth time to a kiss between a honey-haired couple that looked like Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey – I’d often wonder why no one looked like me.
It’s taken some time. But it finally happened, years later – this summer to be exact – with Netflix hit teen film, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Enter Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor.
Based on Jenny Han’s bestselling book of the same name, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Beforetells the story of Lara Jean Covey (played by Lana), a high school student whose private love letters are one day mailed to all her crushes. The film has since enjoyed deafening success – thanks only in part to Lana’s self-assured onscreen presence, a whip-smart script and a distractingly handsome male lead: one Noah Centineo (more on that later). But it’s also so much more, Lana tells me over the phone from Canada – where she is currently shooting another project. The role is “rare.” Why? Because, believe it or not, Lana is one of the first Asian-American female leads to star in a mainstream romcom in the last 25 years (since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club). Yes, really. And along with glitzy box office success, Crazy Rich Asians, which also hit screens this summer, it seems representation is the word on everyone’s lips right now.
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I ask her how it feels to know that young girls will be able to watch a romcom for the first time and see someone that looks like them? “I could cry thinking about that,” Lana sighs. “For me, when I was younger, I would have loved to have seen something like this. I mean, there was High School Musical! I had a dad come up to me the other day, and he said ‘I know I’m not the obvious target for your movie, but I just want to tell you that I’m really excited for when my daughter is a little older to watch it because I’m so happy that she has someone she can see go through life that looks like her.’”
Born in Vietnam, Lana was adopted by her Irish mother and Hungarian father, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and moved to America when she was just two months old. She puts down her initial interest in actingto the fact that her dad “wanted [her] to do it,” but also that she has “always loved entertaining and making people laugh.” “I think I’ve been very blessed to have such an amazing family,” Lana gushes. “My family is very representative of Lara Jean’s because my brother and I are Asian, but we’re still an American family.”
And these aren’t the only parallels between the film and real life. It turns out that articulating emotions through the medium of love letters is something that the 21-year-old actress is very much trying to keep alive. “I was the girl in middle school who would write those little letters, like ‘Do you like me? Do you not like me? Check yes or no!’” Lana laughs. “I am a hopeless romantic. I still write love letters now and so does my boyfriend. He even draws pictures on the front. I would say he’s more romantic that I am!”
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Boyfriend? Instantly springing to mind is onscreen love interest, aka the internet’s boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky (played by Noah Centineo). Noah and Lana are currently at the centre of hysterical fan-fiction and memes, with major fans of TATBILBrallying for a real-life romance – but unfortunately for them, the boyfriend Lana is talking about is fellow actor, Anthony De La Torre, who Lana has been with for three years. “It’s so funny, I feel like I’m living every girl’s fantasy, because I have this beautiful relationship with Noah, he’s a great friend of mine in real life,” she giggles. “I would say that we probably did our job right if people like us together. I mean, when I watched the film back, I wanted Peter and Lara Jean to be together! So I completely understand that. And then I have this beautiful relationship with my real-life boyfriend. I don’t know how I got so lucky!”
Some might say that lucky is an understatement. The film has rocketed Lana, and her on-screen beau, Noah, to household name status. Lana now has five million followers on Instagram. But lucky isn’t the right word to use here at all. “I feel like the reason why the movie did so well was because it was something that girls like me had never seen before,” Lana reflects. “It brought girls that look different together and united them. And something that’s so special about Lara Jean is that she’s been written as a three-dimensional character, not based on stereotypes. I think Hollywood is going to try harder now.”
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With such a meteoric start, plus an army of doting teen fans, it would have been so easy for Lana to fall into the endless trap of romantic-comedy typecast roles. But that isn’t her plan at all. Prior to TATBILB,Lana had scored her film debut in Marvel’s beastly X-Men film franchise, 2016’s Apocalypse, as firework-crackling mutant, Jubilation Lee (aka Jubilee). Her upcoming projects include James Cameron’s futuristic, cyborg epic, Alita: Battle Angel,and she’s currently in Vancouver filming Syfy series, Deadly Class, about a school of assassins. “I want to work across all genres,” she explains. “I love the more intimate side to a romcom, but also the action aspect of doing sci-fi. I’d like to do a thriller, or a horror movie. I’m really open and I want to challenge myself.”
It’s really hard not to fall in love with Lana Condor. She’s sweet and disarming – in fact, many people have likened her endearing voice to that of a Disney Princess (I can confirm) – but she is also headstrong, and well aware of her potential impact in the industry, plus what her vocality on representation now could mean for future generations of actors and actresses. But you don’t get the feeling that she is burdened by the responsibility. If anything, she seems exhilarated about what is to come and the important part she has to play. When I ask her if her life’s changed much since the success of TATBILB,she is unfazed, but grateful. “I’ve had so many conversations with girls who have come from biracial families, or who are adopted, or who are Asians but grew up elsewhere. It’s really exciting to have people relate to that experience and I’m so happy to be a part of telling a story. Yes, for the most part, things have changed. But I like that.” Lana Condor, everyone – if you haven’t already, prepare to fall head over heels.
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Hair by ERIN KLASSEN
Makeup by PAULA LANZADOR
Photography Assistant LAURA BALDWINSON