Lana Condor On Inclusivity In Hollywood, Landing That Lead Role And Always Trusting Her Instincts

Intro Text Hanan Khair Interview #TeamCLEO Main Photography Jessica Castro/Headpress Additional Photography Everett Collection/Click Photos; Instagram Special Thanks To Persona PR

Even though 21-year-old Lana Condor has been on your radar forever, in Hollywood it seems that she’s still the new girl. Born in Vietnam and raised in Chicago by adoptive American parents, she had her first blush of international fame when she appeared in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, playing Jubilation Lee (or if you’re familiar with the comics, Jubilee). From playing with her powers, soon after, she appeared in Patriots Day and romantic thriller movie High School Lover co-starring James Franco — but it was Netflix’s mega-hit and coming-of-age film To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (adapted from novel of the same name by Jenny Han) that skyrocketed Lana into everyone’s radar.

And this year, the spotlight on her is about to get even brighter with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s sequel which is currently in production. Lana plays reluctant romantic heroine Lara Jean Covey in To All The Boys…, and her Asian-American background has been a major talking point since the movie’s release. But it isn’t crucial to the plot — it’s just a part of who Lara Jean is, a refreshing take for Lana, who feels she’s always been seen as Asian first and foremost.

There’s been an upheaval in Hollywood’s ranks regarding representation and diversity, and Lana’s casting as the lead in To All The Boys… has been a golden opportunity for her to represent her identity as she sees it herself, signalling the next step for Asian representation in the industry. Wise beyond her years, she has already realised not to take things so personally in Hollywood.

The rising star spoke to CLEO about her acting debut, how it feels to be your average girl-next-door Lara Jean and the challenges she faced when getting into character and how it’s “about damn time” an Asian gets to be on the big screen as a lead role instead of a sidekick.

Hi Lana! We want to know, how did you get the opportunity to play Lara Jean Covey in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before?
The same way most actors get their jobs… by auditioning. I first received the pre-read audition for the role, and then once I past that, I got the actual audition. Then the call back. Then the producer/director session. Then chemistry reading… it was a very thorough audition process.

Was there a lot of pressure playing Lara Jean, a character so well-loved?
While shooting the first movie, I actually didn’t feel a lot of pressure. Most importantly I wanted [the author] Jenny Han to be happy, but other than that I felt okay. I knew that Jenny trusted me with the job and that’s really all the validation I needed. If she trusted me, I felt fairly confident that her fans would trust me as well. I, of course, wanted her and her fan base to be happy… that was and is my literal goal. The fan base has been so lovely and amazing since the very beginning and I am forever grateful.

Did you expect such a positive reaction from fans?
One always hopes that the project that they work on will be successful, but you never actually know for sure if it will be; it’s impossible to predict that. I think we all knew that we were a part of something very special but we didn’t know to the extent how the fans would react to it. The overwhelming positive reviews were truly such a gift and definitely more than we could’ve ever expected or hoped.


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How did you prepare for the role?
I got really lucky because I had Jenny’s novel to reference and study while I was becoming Lara Jean. Her writing is so beautiful and detailed that it was truly like having an actor bible to refer to when I had questions regarding the character or story. So I read the novel a million times. And then just thought back to when I first fell in teenage love.

What was your interpretation of Lara Jean’s character based on the novel?
My first interpretation of Lara Jean was that she truly has the purest heart. She is so innocent and kind. And she loves her family more than anything. And I’ve always wanted to play a character with a genuinely good heart, so of course it was a no brainer for me to accept the part. I also really wanted to bring in her adorable quirkiness to the movie and her subtle humour because I really love that part of her.


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What were some of the challenges you faced in getting into character and how did you overcome them?
I think the biggest thing for me was remembering that Lara Jean is young and inexperienced, particularly in love, and so maintaining that sense of wonder and nervousness was something I definitely needed to remind myself and check in once in a while.

How involved was Jenny Han in the film?
She was very involved. All we wanted to do was make her happy and be true to her amazing novel, so we definitely always felt her presence on set, even when she wasn’t physically on set. And of course she played a huge part in how I portrayed Lara Jean because this is her character. This is her baby! But she really did trust me with Lara Jean and that was amazing. She was always so supportive and encouraging.

How has playing Lara Jean shaped you as an actress?
Since Lara Jean was my first lead role I’ve ever gotten to play, it truly shaped a lot of who I am as an actress. She taught me how to hold a set together and how to maintain my energy as an actress. She also taught me to trust my instincts.

Could you tell us about how you got into acting?
I first started acting in high school, when I joined the drama class. I absolutely loved it and I loved making people laugh. So I took my acting outside of school and started taking more classes out in LA for fun. And that’s when I was first discovered.


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Who do you look up to in the film industry?
I look up to so many people out here in Hollywood… definitely Emily Blunt, Sandra Oh, and so many others.

What is your favourite movie ever?
The Devil Wears Prada!

Many Asian Americans have spoken about how happy they are to finally have a teen rom-com with an Asian female lead. How did you feel about the story being made into a film?
I am completely overjoyed. It’s honestly a dream come true, and about damn time!

As a young Asian actress in Hollywood, what are your thoughts on the state of Hollywood right now? Do you think it’s truly inclusive or do we still have a long way to go?
Let me start off by saying that we will always have a long way to go. Inclusivity and diversity is something we should always continue to fight for, no matter how much progress we’re making. However, I do believe we are making real strides in the industry and I am truly seeing so much more inclusivity and scripts that are deeply more rich in colour. And more than anything, I think Hollywood is finally taking us seriously as performers.


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How did you feel when you found out that you were cast as Jubilee for X-Men: Apocalypse?
I had auditioned for X-Men and then waited for months to hear if I was going to be cast or not. Every night I would pray that I would get a call that was positive from my agent. I guess I thought that I could maybe wish it into fruition and put that energy out into the world to make it happen. Then one day I got a call during the middle of class and it was my agents, and they told me that I had booked it! But I wasn’t allowed to tell any of my friends until the press release came out. And that was the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep! I was completely overjoyed and over the moon. It was an unbelievable feeling and I was shaking and remember thinking how once in a lifetime this opportunity would be.

How was the filming experience for that?
X-Men: Apocalypse was my first movie that I had ever done. It was my first professional job. So everything about that movie was a first for me. I had no idea how to act on a set whatsoever, so it was so incredible that I had so many amazing legendary actors to look up to and learn from. The sets were absolutely incredible and massive and I made a lot of friends from that experience. I love the X-Men family and I hope to be able to revisit it.

You also star in the brand-new Alita: Battle Angel as Koyomi — what was the most memorable thing about filming that?
The incredible sets that Robert Rodriguez built in his back lot in Austin, Texas at Troublemaker Studios. The sets were so grand and he built a fully functioning practical city in his back lot. Every single detail was thought of. Working with Robert was a dream come true because he’s truly a visionary and a legend. I also had such an amazing time just watching the veteran actors perform in their element. I learned so much from them and admire so deeply the love for their craft and respect they have for everyone on the crew and cast.


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What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
The biggest thing I’ve learned in my short career as an actor is to not take anything personally when you aren’t cast in a job. Sometimes, you were simply not right for the role. And it has nothing to do with you or your worth as a human being!

Is there a dream role you’d like to play?
Honestly, I feel like the roles I have been getting thus far are my dream roles, and I feel so lucky and blessed to be able to say that. I hope to continue doing
action-heavy roles and we’ll see what else the future brings! 