By Rachel Epstein published
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix's To All the Boys: Always and Forever
When I hop on the phone to chat with Jenny Han ahead of the premiere of To All the Boys: Always and Forever (out February 12)—the third and final installment of the To All the Boys I Loved Before series—I can't help but feel a sense of comfort. It's the same comfort I felt while watching the first To All the Boys in 2018, reimagined from Han's New York Times bestselling trilogy of the same name, and wishing there was a film like this released in my early high school days. Who wouldn't want a movie dedicated to the wildly exhilarating, intense feeling of a teenage crush in the middle of, well, their teenage crush? I didn't know what I was missing.
Before I get nostalgic about the final film, Han and I discuss the pandemic, and somehow the conversation turns to whether or not I'm going to re-sign my lease in New York City. Han seems genuinely interested in my decision, noting the magic of the city in the fall and how "nice and cozy" the snow is in the winter, despite the freezing temps. My thoughts instantly turn to Lara Jean (Lana Condor), who discovers that same magic in Always and Forever while on a high school senior trip with Peter (Noah Centineo) and her classmates, ultimately forcing her to make a tough decision—choosing between Peter and the "perfect" college life on the West Coast, or her new crush: New York City. Although New York wasn't one of the original settings in Han's books, these subtle parallels between Han and Lara Jean's love for the city serve as a reminder of Han's unequivocal influence on her characters—that without Han, who is also an executive producer on the films, there would be no Lara Jean and Peter.
As we prepare to say goodbye to Lara Jean and Peter's love story, Han opens up about key differences between the third book and the final movie, where she sees Lara Jean and Peter 10 years from now (spoiler alert: Han couldn't actually tell us because she thinks that "it could go any number of ways, so I like it to be a little open-ended for people to have their own interpretation of what happens next"), and, yes, that sex scene.
Marie Claire: How does it feel to (almost!) have this final installment out to the world?
Jenny Han: It feels like a long time coming because we wrapped the third one right after we did the second one. We started filming [To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You] in March 2019. Then we started filming the third one in early June, and we were done in September. So, it's been a minute of us working on it, but it's exciting to finally be able to share it with everyone else.
MC: While watching the scenes of Lara Jean and her family in Seoul, I was feeling nostalgic about our pre-pandemic world. Were you able to travel with the cast while they filmed those scenes?
JH: Yeah, I was there in Korea and I was there in New York. I only was in Vancouver briefly. Both Korea and New York are personal to me because my family is from Korea and I live in New York. So, it was really fun to be able to be in these special places with the cast and crew, especially because nobody had been to Korea before. And for many people filming in New York, that was the first time they were filming in New York as well.
As somebody who's been living in New York since my twenties, I always remember walking around and seeing the signs saying you can't park here because something's filming there. You're always curious what they're filming. It was really fun to be able to have my thing filming. In Korea, my parents were on set and so were my relatives, so it was special to be able to show them what I've been working on and for them to be able to experience it. Both my parents felt very proud to be able to come back to Korea and have that moment.
MC: I thought Lara Jean's love for New York was perfectly captured in the film. It didn't feel cheesy. It was one of those "if you know, you know" moments for anyone who has ever fallen in love with New York at first sight. How did you help reimagine that for the film?
JH: Well, it's interesting because the book takes place in Virginia. [Netflix] decided to set the movies in Portland because we filmed in Vancouver and those places look similar. Virginia really doesn't. At that point, we hadn't filmed in another city before for these movies. We'd always been in Vancouver in Lara Jean's house or her school. Her world had been really small. New York is such an iconic place. When you say New York, it means something to people. People remember the first time they visit New York and what it makes them feel. There's such an energy to it. We really wanted that moment of magic for her being in New York.
One of the cool behind-the-scenes moments is we lit up the Empire State Building in our colors: teal, magenta, and yellow. It's something that people might not notice in the background of the scene where she's looking over the whole city, but that was for me, as a New Yorker, a really cool moment to look up and know that it was lit up for us.
MC: Let's talk about virginity! What was the thought process behind the scene where Lara Jean assumably loses her virginity to Peter? Was it important for you to not have that be a center focus of the film?
JH: Well, it doesn't happen in the books. So for me, personally, there's something really lovely about being able to see her go on that journey because we've been with her from the beginning. In so many ways, she's really grown up. I think for a coming of age story, it was nice to be able to show it. I also felt like we could have gone either way. I certainly wouldn't want young people to walk away and feel like that's something that's essential to the high school experience. Everyone is on their own timing when it comes to that.
Overall though, it's nice to be able to show a moment like that and have it be...it was not, in my mind, gratuitous or super sexy. It felt like Lara Jean and Peter to me. Hopefully, for anyone watching, it felt like a positive experience that Lara Jean, from the very beginning, had been really clear about—what she wanted, what her boundaries were, going at her own tempo. It was something that she'd given a lot of thought to. I think it was really well done.
MC: I appreciated when Peter said at first, "This doesn't feel right" and then saved it for that other moment.
JH: Yeah. There are just so many emotions tied to that and everyone goes at their own pace. I don't think you have to have sex to show someone's coming of age. I don't think that's tied to growing up. But it's also valid and normal to have that as well. For me all along, Lara Jean's story has been so much about the idea that there's so many different ways to be a teenage girl and you don't have to hit certain milestones in order to have that valid high school experience. It wasn't like you have to do that in order to feel like you've grown up.
MC: Over the years, you've helped a lot of young Asian girls feel seen. Are there any highlights from this journey that have stood out to you?
JH: Definitely Halloween the year the [original] movie came out was really special because so many people dressed up as Lara Jean. It was really cool to see—especially young Asian-American women taking up that space like, This is my character, this is my moment to own.
MC: Looking back at the three adaptations, is there anything you would have done differently?
JH: No. For me as the author, I go into it like, "The movie is the movie and the books are the books." The movie for me is the vision of the director and the filmmakers and it's a more collaborative process. I keep them separate in my mind in a way. To me, the most important thing was feeling like you get the same sort of cozy and warm feelings that you get from reading the books...that you would watch the movie and walk away with that same feeling. I think the movies accomplish that.
MC: What's next for you? What are you working on now?
JH: I'm working on a script for Shonda Rhimes's new anthology show about love for Netflix. She tapped different creative people to write an episode, so my episode is one of those. [Editor's note: After this interview was completed, it was announced that Han's YA novel, "The Summer I Turned Pretty," is being adapted into an eight-episode series on Amazon. Han gave the following statement to MC after the announcement.] I've been working on the Summer television adaptation for the past few years, so it's kind of fitting that when one story ends, another one begins.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever premieres on Netflix February 12. Watch it here.
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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