It all started with Lara Jean’s secret love letters, which got unceremoniously sent out to every one of her past crushes — a premise that sparked our female lead’s romantic journey, as well as the global phenomenon that is the To All The Boys I Loved series. Save your eye rolls though, this isn’t your average rom-com.
Don’t get us wrong, the trilogy does check all the boxes for a feel-good romantic comedy, one we’d binge with unabashed glee. An unnecessarily complicated meet-cute. Charming leads with impeccable chemistry. First love. Heartbreak. Varsity jackets. The feeling of the world at your feet. Yep, that’s about everything. So it’s no surprise that Jenny Han’s novel, To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before, debuted on Netflix in 2018 to much resounding success, as did the second book-to-screen adaptation, To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. And on 12 February, we’ll be treated to the third and final film of the series — To All The Boys: Always and Forever, starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo.
You see, what’s different about these coming-of-age films is that they’ve captivated young, and even mature, audiences; we’re all swept up in a whimsical world that invites us to suspend our jadedness and despair. Instead, we’re rooting for the nuanced and utterly relatable leads of Lara Jean, a quirky and idealistic introvert on a journey to find herself, and Peter Kavinsky, a jock with a heart of gold. We’re ignited by their pure, precious take on love — and just this time, we don’t mind. In the words of Internet boyfriend, Noah Centineo, who talks about their relationship, he said, “We got to do it in Jenny Han’s way, which is in this vibrant and articulate world, rather than a shattered, depressing version of it. It’s a very uplifting version of your first love — even in the heartbreak, it’s still magical.”
The final instalment though steers slightly away from the romantic plot in favour of Lara Jean’s journey of self-discovery. Set at the end of high school and at the cusp of adulthood, we see her learning to prioritise herself, which is a big moment of growth for the character. On this, actress Lara Condor vividly expressed her delight in taking on this tumultuous transition. “We need to make sure that this film shows Lara Jean choosing herself and how much she’s grown throughout the years,” she said, describing conversations with the filmmakers. “All her choices had revolved around her relationships, so it was important in the third movie, for her choices to revolve around her future and where she feels she will be happiest and grow the most.”
In the lead-up to the movie, we spoke to Condor and Centineo on love, choices, empowerment, and what young audiences can take away from the series.
The title of this third film is “Always and Forever”. How do you think that defines the movie?
Lara Condor (LC): “Lara Jean’s so in love with love, and everything she does is driven by her love. I feel like she fully believes that Peter is her forever — and I actually do believe they are endgame. There’s a real world where life gets in the way and you can’t plan anything out; they go apart, so that they can grow and become the best versions of themselves, that when they finally meet up again, as adults, they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together.
There’s never any doubt in my mind that they’ll never be endgame — so “always and forever” feels like a promise. I know we’re kids, I know that the odds are stacked against us, but I can promise you that my love for you is never gonna go away.
And then of course, when Jenny Han wrote the books, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You, Always and Forever, Lara Jean, that’s how you write a letter. It’s a sign-off, and this also feels like a proper sign-off [to the series].”
It’s safe to say that the world’s been obsessed with Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. What’s so relatable about their relationship?
Noah Centineo (NC): “I think because it covers first love, it’s relatable to everyone. A big part of why people love Lara Jean so much is because of how afraid she is of love. When you have these intense feelings, it’s scary at first, and you really get to watch her process of letting Peter in and trusting him and I think that’s something that is extremely relatable.
We got to do it in Jenny Han’s way, which is in this vibrant and articulate world, rather than a shattered, depressing version of it. It’s a very uplifting version of your first love — even in the heartbreak, it’s still magical. That’s really Jenny’s doing, she created these characters and this dynamic of love that we respond to because we kinda fantasise about it and love to see it.”
While the first two films focused on Lara Jean’s romantic relationships, this final movie takes us to her other relationships as well. What was it like to explore that?
LC: “It was awesome! When we went into the third movie, I specifically remember having conversations with our director, producers, and writers, and Jenny of course, being like, we need to make sure that this film shows Lara Jean choosing herself and how much she’s grown throughout the years. We need to show her as a young woman, who’s now, instead of choosing boys, which she has in the first and second movie, which is great and part of why we love to watch rom-coms. But all her choices had revolved around her relationships, so it was important in the third movie, for her choices to revolve around her future and where she feels she will be happiest and grow the most.
And so, it was really exciting for me to do that, because it felt more grounded, this universal feeling, as a young woman, to ask: “What the heck am I going to do for the rest of my life?” When Lara Jean’s in New York, you see her in a very different way. She comes to life, she wants to experience a night out in New York, she wants to take chances and is eager to try all these new things, and she knows she has to chase these feelings. That’s the major difference.
It was exciting for me to do, because I feel the same way — I’m growing up and trying to figure out what I want to do for my future, and make choices that are good for myself, regardless of the popular opinions around me, I want to take care of myself. It was a very fun parallel and learning journey for me as well, I learnt a lot through her!”
How do you think Peter has grown from the first movie?
NC: “I think in the first movie he was a little naive on what it took to maintain a relationship. He still has issues communicating, but he’s gotten slightly better at it. But more than anything, I think he’s learnt to surrender to the things he’s afraid of. At the end of the third movie, you see him overcome his fear of abandonment, and kind of just release and surrender to life a little bit, which is definitely a mature quality.”
What do you like most about Peter’s personality?
NC: “I like how he’s very nurturing to Lara Jean, like 90% of the time unless he’s really upset. I like how he makes her feel so special, and pays attention to her even for the little things. I like how he wants to protect her. And how he has his friends too, he’s very confident, and he fights for love. I think that he tries. He tries to do his best in everything, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
In the film, Lara Jean was conflicted between choosing love and going to NYU. Was there a moment in your life you had to choose between two things you love?
LC: “My first job ever was X-Men, and I booked that as a second-semester senior, when I had been preparing myself for college the whole year. I always thought my future was college. Once I booked my first job, I was obviously very excited but it was also a whole new world I didn’t know anything about. And in this industry, nothing is guaranteed; jobs are not guaranteed and it’s quite difficult to work consistently as an actor.
I remember sitting there with my parents and being like: “Is this going to be a one hit wonder?” I don’t know if I’m making a poor choice not going to college, so I gave myself a year. Every single day when you’re auditioning, you’re putting yourself in a position to be judged, and that’s very tough. So I kind of had to make that choice — do I believe in myself enough and am I brave enough to take this unconventional route? Just that choice of going on a path that has literally no stability was a pretty big one for me. And then, luckily, I’m so happy that I did! So I understand that anxiety that Lara Jean feels about making that huge, life-altering decision.”
Rom-coms often have a bad rep. How would you convince someone who’s not into rom-coms to watch this film?
NC: “I wouldn’t try to! If you don’t wanna watch it, don’t watch it! I would say, listen, clearly there’s a lot of people that like it and it’s created a little bit of an audience, so if not for the genre, maybe to have some sort of understanding to why people like the film. So try watching it, and if you hate it, just turn it off.”
How do you think the film appeals to young audiences, and is there something you wish they’d learn?
NC: “I really hope young men look at the way that Peter goes about respecting Lara Jean with her losing her virginity. Some people think having sex for the first time is sacred, intense, and a special moment. And to those who feel that way, that needs to be respected, and I love the way Peter does that with LJ, going so far as to stop when it doesn’t feel right. And also, taking on what fears you the most. If you’re afraid of something you should look at it, you shouldn’t avoid it, you should dissect it and try to figure out why it scares you so much. To me, what I found is the fear of something is a lot stronger than the actual something you’re afraid of.”
As explored in the film, choosing between love and self-empowerment can sometimes be conflicting. How do you find a good balance between them?
LC: “I think to love unconditionally is empowering, and to know how to receive love is a powerful thing. I’ve met people who love, love, love, love, but the moment any comes back to them, they’re like, whoa! They have a hard time receiving it. So I think the fundamental aspect of love is empowering.
When it comes to rom-coms, especially in the YA (Young Adult) genre, there is a responsibility, at least in our movie, to show love and young relationships in a healthy way. Communication is so important in relationships, so to have conversations when you’re not feeling comfortable, or when you want to take your time.
With these three films, and particularly the third movie, Lara Jean’s virginity is a huge conversation for her. It’s something she thinks about all the time. What I love the most is that Peter and her openly talk about it, and Peter listens to her and respects her feelings about it. When we finally tackle the loss of virginity, we do it in a way that is a partnership, it’s been talked about — we wanted to show sex to young people that is soft and kind and passionate and love-driven. That’s a way we’ve been able to be role models of love, and show a healthy way we can navigate our relationships as young people.”
What have you learnt from playing Lara Jean as a character and how has she changed your life?
LC: “I’ve learnt so much — she’s changed my life, and playing her has changed my life, night and day. I think what I’ve learnt from her, that I now try to apply in my real life, is that Lara Jean is completely fine with not growing up too fast. I think that these days, particularly young people, they grow up so, so fast and it’s because of influences of social media and everything. But I see 12, 13 year olds who look like they’re 30, and I remember when I was 12, I looked like I was 2!
I think that the charm of Lara Jean is that she wants to take it slow, and she wants to take it day by day. She’s not trying to grow up and skip all these things that make you a child, and throughout the three films, she’s always had that child-like wonder. I don’t think I’ve been the greatest at that, my instinct is that I want to be somewhere else and I’m thinking about my future. But then I miss all the awesome things that are happening in the now, so she’s really taught me to slow down a bit and enjoy every moment we’ve been given.”
To All The Boys: Always and Forever will be available on Netflix from 12 February 2021.