Lana Condor is excited. She’s excited about her journey as an actress. She’s excited about using her platform to raise voices for the Asian community. She’s excited about building a positive community on her social media challenges. And she’s maybe most excited to play her next role as an assassin on SyFy’s Deadly Class.
The burgeoning actress may be one country away–she’s currently filming the upcoming series in Vancouver– the effervescence in her voice neverfalters. With every sentence, Condor seems to radiate: she’s unflinchingly optimistic, and while we’re separated by 2,000 miles, it’s as if she produces verbal exclamation points with every thoughtful response. Condor is genuinely bursting with joy. And, she should be. 2018 has arguably been a groundbreaking year for her.
On August 17, Condor’s career seemingly transformed overnight when the Netflix original romantic comedy To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before premiered on Netflix. It was the 21-year-old actress’ first leading role, and it went viral. The film, based on the young adult novel by Jenny Han, chronicles the drama that ensues after the private love letters of high school junior Lara Jean Covey are mysteriously sent to all of her crushes. Too nervous to act on her feelings, Condor’s Lara Jean instead fantasizes about them until she’s forced to deal with the aftermath of her penned confessions going public. To All The Boys details the impact of the letters of Lara Jean, her family, friends, and crushes.
But the notes also lead her to forge a bond with one of her childhood crushes: vulnerable jock Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) who ultimately ends up helping Lara Jean open her heart to love. Maybe it was the tumult of the grim political landscape or a lack of quality rom-coms– or perhaps the world just needed something pure – but a steamy hot tub scene and a thoughtful gesture of a boy buying his crush the Korean yogurt smoothies she loves ignited an internet frenzy.
It was as if everyone in the world experienced the exhausting, addictive butterflies in their stomach feeling of having their first crush all over again. But the ways in which To All The Boys managed to create such a diehard fan base doesn’t matter: it graciously fulfilled a universal sense of longing for something pure, and it came just when everyone seemed to need it. In seeing To All The Boys’ impact, you would thinkit was Condor’s first acting role, though she had really made her debut as Jubilee in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. While Condor had under 100,000followers on Instagram prior to the premiere of To All The Boys, it’s quickly surged to nearly 6 million followers since mid-August. The film’s cult-following mimicked the rabid fan base of past teen sagas Harry Potter, Twilight and Pitch Perfect. But the hype behind To All The Boys was different due to the film’s female Asian-American lead, a rare sighting in Hollywood where Asian actors are often cast as secondary or tokenized characters who don’t fully develop.
A 2017 study from the University of Southern California even revealed that 37 of the top 100 grossing films in 2017 had no Asian characters. In many instances, like in the unforgettably terrible casting of Emma Stone as half-Asian Captain Allison Ng in Aloha or Scarlett Johansson’s controversial role as Major Mila Killian inGhost in the Shell, Hollywood has chosen to whitewash characters who have been written for Asians.
The release of To All The Boys, in many ways, rewrote Hollywood’s outdated canon of casting. It, along with the releases of Crazy Rich Asians and Searching this summer, proved that the need for diversity in Hollywood could no longer be ignored. In fact, Crazy Rich Asians marked the first all-Asian film cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. But out of the Asian-led films this summer, Condor’s character Lara Jean was perhaps the most impactful, as she emerged as a role model for young Asian women who wanted to see themselves on-screen. “She’s definitely my favorite, I love her so much,” Condor gushes.
The feeling has been mutual, considering the adoration Condor has received from the film’s fans. “I’ve had so many young and old Asian women who have come up to me and really poured out their hearts about how meaningful it is to see a lead character that looks like them in a romantic movie,” says Condor of the response she’s gotten to the film. “Lots of mothers have said they’re so excited for their children to see it because when they were younger they didn’t have a role model or face that they could see that looked like their own on film and television.”
The actress has her own theory about what has accounted for the shift in representation this summer. Millennials, who have been accused of spending all of their money on avocado toast, seem to be making a difference. “I think millennials, in particular, are a very vocal group,” she says. “We’re very steadfast in our beliefs, and I think that with streaming content so readily available to us and millennials being a huge audience with those streaming platforms, I think we’re just seeing so much content and knowing when it’s not representative of what it looks like outside and so then we speak up about it.”
She also thinks social media is the catalyst for the change too. “I think they’ve been able to ignore it for a while, but now with social media and everyone’s reach and influence, in the world, there’s more of a demand for a diverse cast. Millennials knowingand wanting to use their voices is probably the reason why we’re seeing more representation in film and television,” she says.
Condor, who was born in Vietnam and adoptedby two Caucasian parents, found her passion for acting in high school, first immersing herself in drama class and then summer courses on her own. By her senior year, she booked her first acting gig. From there she took whatever jobs she could. While she acknowledges the instability of having employment as an actor, she remains brimming with positivity. “It’s been fun,” she says, smiling through the phone as if she mastered a challenge.
The impact of To All The Boys has been palpable, especially on Halloween when Condor and I connect. She’s been inspired by the Lara Jean costumes she’s been seeing on social media this year. I posted a picture of a little girl dressed as Lara Jean and she wrote this amazing caption about representation, and I was just saying this is the full reason why I want to perform and why I want to entertain and act, so that people can see themselves in characters that aren’t stereotypes,” says Condor passionately. Representation hasn’t just changed things from the outside, Condor has seen internal changes happening in Hollywood as well. “It’s quite fascinating because I’ve made so many more friends who are Asian-American or Asian-Canadian actors through the process because they’re always coming up to me and saying, ‘we’re so excited for you, and we’re so excited that we can be seen as a leading role in the industry,’” she explains. “So, it’s been fascinating to see how my network has grown within the Asian-American and Asian-Canadian actor, director and producer communities.”
Since the film’s release, both Condor and Centineo became internet obsessions, but after Centineo’s doe-eyed heartthrob status landed him a role in the new Charlie’s Angels and the dust from the film’s success had settled, fans began seriously advocating for Condor to get as much recognition and opportunity as her on-screen beau. But Condor doesn’t see herself being overshadowed by the hype surrounding Centineo at all, “I’ve been receiving so much love from all these girls and from the whole experience, and I want the best for both of us,” she says without hesitation.
“I completely understand why everyone is so obsessed with Noah and Peter. At the end of the day, it is a romantic comedy and the majority of the viewers are female, so of course they’re going to love Lara Jean, but they’re really going to love Peter because Peter comes off as this seemingly perfect boyfriend that these girls would like to see themselves with, so I completely understand the hype, and I’m supportive of it 100%.” Condor’s admiration doesn’t end there, in fact, she seems as in awe of the actor as the film’s first-time viewers. “I’m really grateful for the support I’ve gotten and I’m really grateful for the support Noah has gotten because I think he deserves it all,” she says lovingly.
Condor and Centineo’s chemistry on-screen was so convincing that it fueled rumors that the duo was dating, which could be frustrating for some people, but not Condor. Instead, being genuinely optimistic, she sees it as a strength. “I think it means we did our job right if people want us to be together in real life,” she says. Even Condor herself watched the film as an outsider and felt the need to root for them. “I love when I watch a romantic movie like Twilight and there’s a believability when they get together in real life, so I totally get the fandom,” she confesses. “More than anything, I’m just flattered.”
While a sequel for To All The Boys remains up in the air, it’s definitely a possibility. “I feel like we’ll find out soon, but I don’t know,” Condor says coyly. “That’s the goal, right?” In the meantime, Condor does have her own theory for one of the burning questions left by the film: who shot the video of Lara Jean and Peter in the hot tub. “I still think it was Genevieve,” she says. “I know she said she didn’t, but I’m dead convinced it was her, and I will be dead convinced forever.”
In January, Condor will take on a new challenge, starring as the “badass” assassin Saya Kuroki in SYFY’s new series Deadly Class. The day after To All The Boys came out, Condor moved to Vancouver to shoot the show, which she’s been doing non-stop. “I haven’t been able to sit down and unpack everything that’s happened, because I’ve been so busy on another project, but I do think that distraction has been really good,” she notes.
Based on the DC Comics graphic novel by Rick Remender and Wes Craig, Deadly Class is a dark, coming-of-age drama that follows a group of young assassins as they study the deadly arts at a high school called King’s Dominion. Condor won’t be playing a sweet Lara Jean.
“My character on Deadly Classis completely different from Lara Jean,” says Condor. “She strives to be valedictorian, but she’s a really deadly assassin, so I get to learn fight combos and sword work, and I get to ride around on a motorcycle all the time, which is really exciting.” Sure, there might be some typical teen drama, but King’s Dominion isn’t your standard high school: it’s an amalgamation of teens who are the children of various gangs, syndicates, and crews. “You can imagine the drama that would happen in a school-based off of all rival gangs,” Condor hints.
However, Condor (who loves rom-coms like HowTo Lose A Guy In 10 Days) isn’t quite done with rom-coms just yet: she’ll be starring in a romantic indie film in 2019 called Summer Night alongside Analeigh Tipton, Justin Chatwin, and Victoria Justice. “It basically follows a group of kids over the span of one summer night and examines their lives and what it’s like to be a kid in a small town during the summer,” says Condor. “And [it] examines their relationships and them trying to figure out what they want to do before they go off to college.”Once again, she’s beaming: she’s crossing her fingers for a sequel to that one as well.
Despite her upcoming rom-com role, Condor definitely doesn’t want to get typecast. In fact, her dream role may surprise fans from To All The Boys. Condor is obsessed with war films– Hacksaw Ridge, specifically. “I would actually really love to be the female version of Andrew Garfield’s character in Hacksaw Ridge,” she says. At the same time, she dreams of working with Emily Blunt because she’s been able to besuch a versatile actor.
With her newfound fame, Condor emphasizes repeatedly that she wants to use her platform to lift up other people’s voices. But she’s been warned not to have the “burden of all representation” on her shoulders. She doesn’t see it that way though: “To that I say, it’s no burden for me to have. I’m just so excited to use my platform to normalize having Asians be in leading roles as fully-fleshed characters that aren’t based on stereotypes or what we look like.”
Article initially published in print, December 2018