A love triangle made Lana Condor famous. The 22-year-old actress played dreamy teen Lara Jean Covey in Netflix’s coming-of-age romance To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before—a girl so purely herself that the world seems to peel back its sharp edges around her. Somebody finds five love letters she had written, one for every boy she’s ever had feelings for, and Lara Jean faces a quintessential dilemma: the school heartthrob or her sister’s boyfriend? Based on Jenny Han’s bestselling young adult novel of the same name, the charmingly executed film became one of the streaming service’s most-viewed original films. As a result, Condor did that fabled thing: She became a star overnight.
Her Instagram following exploded (from 100,000 followers to 5.5 million). Hundreds of people turned up in Lara Jean’s pink cardigan and plaid skirt, or her Pink Ladies-esque satin bomber, for Halloween. Gossip mounted about whether the chemistry between Condor and Noah Centineo, who played Lara Jean’s sensitive-jock love interest, Peter Kavinsky, originated from a real-life romance. (It didn’t; Condor’s been with her boyfriend, Anthony de la Torre, for four years.) One fan paid $7,000 to stay on the same floor of a hotel where Condor was staying; another fan once tried to get into Condor’s actual room. “No one can prepare you for that. There’s no manual,” Condor—sweetly perky, an Oh my gosh brought to life—said on a visit to Vogue last month. “You’re like, what the heck is happening right now?”
The sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, dropped on Netflix in February; it makes heartening, gentle viewing in our present moment of change and uncertainty. It was hard to believe anything could match the swoonworthy first act—only another high-stakes romantic dilemma could hope to compete. “A lot of people are very invested in Lara Jean and Peter,” says Condor. “When we were making the movie, we had a joke. The director and I were basically like, ‘Let’s just break everyone’s hearts.’” In the sequel, Lara Jean volunteers at a retirement home, and who should be there but her erstwhile Model U.N. buddy, the sensitive, piano-playing John Ambrose McClaren, also a recipient of one of those pesky love letters. Soon, Lara Jean is writing him love notes again, this time in her head.
With their perfect chemistry and tender rapport, Condor and Centineo were both immediately embraced by viewers as Hollywood’s new It Teens. A love story so far from norms of teen romances past—an Asian-American lead, a jock who wasn’t a jerk—To All the Boys signaled a new direction for the genre, and viewers swarmed to it. So how to convince an audience who swooned over Lara Jean and Peter that this interloper was worth entertaining? The answer is Jordan Fisher, possessed of a smile seemingly designed to make teenage girls feel reckless, and the irresistible appeal and softness of, say, a puppy’s folded ear. His careful forays into Lara Jean’s confidences make Peter’s goofy adoration seem positively Joey Tribbiani-esque. From the beginning, Condor says Fisher was the one. “I just loved to watch him,” says Condor. “I mean, you could mute it and it would still be the most charming thing you’ve seen.”
Watching the film, it’s impossible to disagree. Condor laughs, recalling a friend’s reaction to a cliffhanger scene in the teen romance. “I brought one of my friends to the premiere with me. He’s in his mid thirties, on a television show that’s really macho—you know, guns and fighting, all that stuff. He’s watching the movie, and he turns to me screaming. He’s the last person that you would think would be vocally invested in our movies.” She drops her voice an octave, evoking all the recalcitrant men who have confessed to her how much they enjoyed the films. “I’m, like, not your demographic, but uh, it’s really cute,” she rasps.