If you’re a Jenny Han fan—and who isn’t—you’ve been waiting with bated breath for her New York Times bestselling romance To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to make its transition to the screen. And this week, it finally does, hitting a TV screen near you when it debuts on Netflix on August 17.
The amazing romcom follows the travails of one Lara Jean Covey when a box of letters she secretly wrote to her crushes—with no intention of ever sending them—gets mysteriously mailed to their intended recipients. Oops.
The film adaptation has been years in the making, and the process was not without controversy. Jenny was vocal in championing the fact that Asian actresses were cast to play the Song sisters, but some fans were upset that the lead actress, Lana Condor, is not of Korean descent like her character Lara Jean, but rather Vietnamese.
But in a world where actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone don’t flinch at taking roles meant for Asian Americans, it’s remarkable that the film made it to the screen with a decidedly Asian family at its center. Especially because this week also marks the premiere of another big screen romcom, Crazy Rich Asians, considered the first major studio film to hit the big screen with a mostly Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club—which came out in 1993.
We caught up with Han to chat about the book to film process, her surprising inspiration for the series, and her time on set.
One of the coolest things (to me!) about To All the Boys and its companions is that you actually had a box of letters—that luckily didn’t get sent out! What would you do if it had?
If any of my letters had ever gotten sent out, I would have dissolved into a puddle of embarrassment. Lara Jean handles it far better than I would have. Thankfully, my letters are all safely with me in my hat box. I’m not in touch with any of those guys, but I wish them well!
At the heart of the series is a family of sisters. What drew you to that subject? You dedicated the book to your sister. What’s your relationship like?
When I was writing the first book in the series, my sister was about to get married. I didn’t realize it until I was on the road talking about the book, but that’s what To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is about—the fact that our family was changing and my sister wasn’t going to be with us at every holiday, every celebration, and I was sad about it but also so happy for her. Change is hard but inevitable.
The three sisters are quite different. Do you see yourself most in one of them?
I am most like Lara Jean with strong Margot influence. Kitty is based on my sister.
Of all the boys, who was your book crush?
John Ambrose McClaren!
Take us through the process of the movie deal and production from your point of view. When did you realize it was a done deal?
It was a long and winding road, as I imagine most movie deals are. The book had been optioned early on by Overbrook Entertainment, and then about a year later, Awesomeness came on board and wanted to make it. I didn’t believe it was actually happening until I was on set, seeing it all with my own eyes.
I imagine the whole process was surreal. How involved did you get to be?
The director Susan Johnson was really quite dedicated to staying true to the book. She and I had long conversations about the story and the characters. I also gave notes on the script, I created mood boards for Lara Jean’s wardrobe, her bedroom, I talked to Lana about her character in depth.
We shot in Vancouver, and I flew out there a few times. I loved hanging out with the gang—they were all so sweet and generous and fun to be around.
What was it like watching the film for the first time? How will you be celebrating the day it hits Netflix?
I was so nervous! I just really wanted the book fans to be happy. I think I held my breath the entire first viewing—and at the end, I let out a big sigh of relief, because it’s so charming and fun and bright.
The day it hits Netflix, I plan to go offline and hang out with my family. We’ll get Korean bbq and go to a spa and just relax.
Like Lara Jean, you like to bake. What is your signature?
My chocolate chip recipe is my most coveted recipe, and I am sorry to say I cannot share it here! It is my greatest treasure and I hold it close to my heart.
There is still not a lot of Asian rep across the board in film and TV—and this week get a big dose, thanks in part to you! How does that feel?
When my readers tell me they feel seen by this book, that they see themselves in Lara Jean, that is the greatest gift. It’s far too rare an experience for Asian American girls to see themselves in media. It’s been twenty-five years since The Joy Luck Club, and now we get to see two movies with Asian American female leads—To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians—in the same week! We have a long way to go, but we are making strides.
I wouldn’t do right by readers if I didn’t ask: can we expect any more from the series? We’ve been surprised before! 🙂
I think the series is finished with a nice bow on it!
What’s next for you as a writer?
It’s too soon to say! I’m in the early stages of a new YA book, but I’m still figuring out what it will end up being.