We had the great pleasure recently of interviewing YA author Jenny Han about her novel (and recently adapted Netflix film) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. We spoke about the scenes she got to watch filmed, her hope for actress Lana Condor, why she thinks Lara Jean and Peter work as a couple and so much more. Check it all out below!
*Warning: slight spoilers ahead*
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?
Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control when the love letters for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all– are mysteriously mailed out.
From New York Times Bestselling Author, Jenny Han, the film adaption of the popular YA novel stars actress Lana Condor (Alita: Battle Angel, X-Men: Apocalypse), Noah Centineo (Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, The Fosters), Janel Parrish (Pretty Little Liars) and John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sex & the City) and is directed by second-time filmmaker Susan Johnson.
HNS Exclusive interview:
When it was first decided that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before would become a film, what was the one moment from your book that you thought it has to make it in there?
Jenny: I don’t think I had one. I think I’ve always felt like books and movies are two separate art forms and so to me, my hope was that they would capture the spirit of the book. But I don’t think I ever felt it has to be this, to this, to that. I just want to see it as a whole feel like it was a good representation of the story.
As an author, it has to feel like your baby going off into the world. What was that like, sending it off into the world to be adapted?
Jenny: Angie Thomas, she wrote the book called The Hate U Give, she always says it’s like twins, paternal twins, or something like that. The same DNA, but through different lenses. And I kinda felt like it was the directors, producers, and the actors, that was going to be their interpretation of the book. The book is the book and will always be the book. I thought they did a really good job of capturing the spirit.
And like you said, books and films are completely different mediums. Did any of your real-life experiences inspire any of the characters?
Jenny: Well actually I got the idea for the book from my own real life, where I used to write love letters to boys when I was trying to get over them. I would just kind of pour out my heart and put all my feelings and observations in and then I would never send it. I would just put it in a hat box, so that actually came directly from my own life.
How many letters were there?
Jenny: There were four. (Laughs) And I still have them!
Jenny: Yes, I have them and they were very thick. One was like eleven pages long handwritten. And I thought it would be funny, I remember when the book first came out in 2014 I had a launch party and I thought it would be really fun if I read from one of the letters. And people were loving it, and I was reading it and I was like, ‘Oh my God’ my face feels bright red and I did not do it ever again. I was gonna do it on tour, and I was like, ‘I’m not doing that again!’ because it ended up being so… it’s such a naked thing to do. It’s almost like reading your diary to a bunch of people. Because you don’t ever have any expectations that anyone’s going to read what you wrote.
Right, it was just for you. What is the scariest and the most rewarding part about having your book adapted?
Jenny: I think the scariest part is probably finding that trust with the people that you have given it over to and believing that they’re going to be able to create something that feels like the book. For me, most of my fear was really not for myself but more for the fans. Because they love it so much, and I wanted it to be what they want it to be. So I think that was my fear. But luckily I think that the fans are going to be really happy. I really believe it because I think that the movie does capture the spirit and it’s so sweet and I think it still has the warmth that the book does. The most rewarding part I would say is – when you write a book, it’s such a solitary experience and then it’s out in the world and you’re sharing it with everyone else, but you created the book by yourself. You have people, an editor or a copy editor or the designer who come in and help shape it, but it really is your own story. So to me it was really rewarding the first day I was on set to come on and see how big a production making a movie is. When you see all the equipment and trucks and all these people who’ve come together to bring this story to life, that to me I just felt like it was such an honor to be a part of a team and think, ‘wow all these people are here doing this thing that I made.’ It was incredible.
Did you get to spend a lot of time on set?
Jenny: I went a couple times. And I was there for, I think they shot the film over a month or a little over a month, and I was there a couple times for several days, so I was there for like a couple weeks I guess.
What scenes did you see filmed?
Jenny: I saw the first kiss scene being filmed.
When they were little or the first time she genuinely kisses him?
Jenny: The first time from when they’re on the track. That part. I was there for that part. Actually, I was there for that [other] kiss too. (Laughs) I came for both kisses.
I actually read the book a couple years ago; it was recommended by one of my fellow writers who is Filipino and for her, she really identified with Lara Jean being that she is Asian American. Why is this so important that we have Asian Americans as a main character represented more in books and TV and film?
Jenny: I think it’s really meaningful to see yourself be the hero of the story. And I know that for me I didn’t ever see an Asian American girl be the lead of a teen movie before. And seeing Lana get to do it has been for me, I think extremely fulfilling and meaningful. And when I first met her, I said to her, all I want for you is to keep working and to be able to get more and more opportunities. Because I think as a YA writer and a YA fan, I’ve seen so many careers launched off of big YA properties, and when you look and see who is really successful and working today and you see Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Watson, Kristen Stewart, Shailene Woodley, all of them are at the helm of a YA book series. I want her to have the same kind of opportunities and be able to go on and have a big career. I don’t want it to be a one off.
Did you have any say in the casting process?
Jenny: I definitely gave my opinions. But ultimately it wasn’t my final decision. I think authors don’t actually get much control when it comes to that, but I was really fortunate that I was very much Team Lana from before they even came on. I saw her on Instagram when I knew she was going to be in the new X-Men and I thought she would be lovely.
I wanted to touch on the sisterly dynamic in the books, which then translates of course into the film. I loved seeing their bond and I thought that you showed it in such a unique way in the novels, why is that dynamic really important to you?
Jenny: Well I’m really close to my sister and actually the character of Kitty is very much based on my sister so I am always in my writing exploring the sister dynamics. I think it is one of the most important relationships that you can ever be blessed to have in life. It’s just a special thing. It was so gratifying to be on set and see the girls act together, but also even when they were just hanging out on set. There was a real bond and closeness there, and I think Janel really set that tone as the oldest because she very much embodied that big sister persona, and I think that for Anna and for Lana, she’s someone they can look up to and say here’s somebody who is working and successful and she’s Asian American and it’s hard to find those role models when there’s so few people, so I felt very privileged to be able to witness that dynamic.
Why do you think Lara Jean and Peter work so well together as a romantic couple?
Jenny: I think they work well together because on paper, you think of her as somebody who is really shy and introverted and he is somebody who seems like he’s outgoing but he’s also kind of careless, and maybe not the most sensitive. But I think underneath that, at first glance they appear to be that way but they are much more than that. Both of them. Because she’s very self-possessed and she’s very firm about who she is and what she wants, and he has a great sensitivity to him. So I think they were both able to embody that in their acting, and I remember there was a scene with Noah where it was like, towards the end and he has such a vulnerability that he managed to portray, that softness, which I think is a part of the character, so I was really happy.
‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ launches globally on Netflix August 17th!