Lana Condor walks into the InStyle photo studio in an oatmeal-colored waffle knit set, coincidentally on-theme for our ‘cozy’ shoot and, frankly, ready for a break from uncomfortable and constricting outfits. “I just want to look huggable!” she says endearingly. (Hugging strangers, by the way, is now a part of her normal day-to-day.)
She’s straight off a non-stop circuit of morning and late-night shows to promote her latest project, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the much-anticipated sequel to the 2018 Netflix hit, To All the Boys I Loved Before, which dropped on February 12th. The adaptation of the YA trilogy by Jenny Han instantly catapulted the then-21-year-old actress into the spotlight, making Lana Condor a known entity.
But while fans know Condor as Lara Jean Covey, a timid teen fumbling through her first pseudo-relationship with the school’s popular jock, Peter Kavinsky (played by Noah Centineo), in real life, she’s talkative and full of energy — red-eye flights and 4 am wakeup calls be damned.
In many ways, Condor is your typical 22-year-old: In the hair and makeup chair between shots, she listens to Halsey’s new album, sips a matcha latte, scrolls Instagram (where she now has over 9 million followers), and shows me photos of her beloved puppy, Emmy, whom she adopted early last year. As millennials do, we talk about what we’re watching on Netflix (at the time, a combination of Cheer and Grace and Frankie for her). She just happens to also star in one of the streaming platform’s most viewed — and re-watched — original films of all time.
It goes without saying that Condor works hard, but when she says she rests hard, too, she’s not kidding. “When we're doing all this press, I get tired of listening to my voice. So when I go home, if I have a week off, I literally won’t talk to anyone. I honest to God will not leave my bed for the week. If I leave the house, it’s to walk my dog. But I'm really good at doing nothing. Like, really, really good.”
So we dressed her in the kinds of clothing you could do absolutely nothing in. “This is very representative of the things that I wear in my real life,” she says, gesturing to the neon green Sandy Liang sweatsuit and fluffy Oak + Fort sweater. “I love to dress up. That can be really, really fun. But I much prefer things that are more effortlessly comfortable. I'd much rather just be able to breathe and still look good.” To all the brands we’ve loved before: This goes for us too.
It’s no wonder she’s been able to play a teen romantic lead that’s relatable to people of all ages. (Just a few months after the first movie's release, hundreds of little girls, teens, and adult women dressed up as Lara Jean for Halloween — and the social media buzz around the sequel hasn't been limited to a specific gender or age group.) Condor’s own rom-com foundation was based on films like How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days and The Devil Wears Prada (“even though no agrees with me that it’s a rom-com,” she says.). She didn’t know of any with Asian leads, but found inspiration in one particular film nonetheless: “I really love anything Jennifer Garner does, particularly 13 Going on 30. She really had that childlike spirit and I remember watching that and wishing I could play a character like that,” she says. Now, with Lara Jean, she has. “She’s very innocent and very stuck in her own head. She definitely sees the world through a filter of hearts and flowers.”
Condor’s own upbringing was similarly sheltered in a certain sense, she says — until it took a plot turn straight out of Gossip Girl. “I grew up in Whidbey Island, Washington, a hippie island in the Puget Sound. I packed my lunch in a basket and literally didn't know what a designer was. And then we moved to the Upper East Side,” she says. “The girls at my private school had Marc Jacobs wallets and lived in really big, beautiful townhomes and took limos to school every day. It was such a huge culture shock to me.”
Her all-girls Catholic school wasn’t exactly conducive to finding her own Peter Kavinsky or getting caught up in any messy love triangles — the storyline for P.S. I Still Love You. “I had one boyfriend for like two months, but he told me that I liked him more than he liked me. So that didn't work out.” But there’s one key similarity she draws between Lara Jean and her own teenage self: “I was totally fine being on my own,” she says. “I would eat lunch with my English Lit teachers or just hang out with my parents when all my friends were partying. Now, almost all of my greatest friendships are [with people] a lot older than me.”
One such friendship is with fellow Netflix rom-com star and comedian Ali Wong, who has become something of a pseudo older sister to Condor. “I'm very, very grateful for her friendship because she’s a really, really good listener,” she says. “She's highly intelligent and she's hilarious, but to me she's more nurturing. When I see her she's always so concerned about me. She'll be like, ‘Are you sleeping?’”
She also gives her solid advice on how to deal with the overnight fame and pressure a Netflix hit can bring. “She’s taught me the importance of conserving my energy, and that I don’t have to say yes to everything. That's a hard thing to learn because when you're young and it seems like your time, you want to overextend yourself,” she admits. ‘You're like, ‘These things come in waves, and I don't know when the next wave will be so I should just ride it right now.’”
As her current love affair with sweatpants can show you, she’s gotten better at occasionally stepping off that ride. She recently moved to Seattle in an attempt to escape the pace of Los Angeles and be closer to family. There, she spends her free time cooking and, as of late, collaborating with her boyfriend, musician Anthony De La Torre. While fans tried to ship Condor and Centineo after the film’s release, in real life, she’s been happily in love since 2015. After teasing the project for months, the couple released a music video for their electro-pop duet, “Raining in London” (ironically, about a breakup) for De La Torre’s debut EP. “I don't consider myself a musician, but he pushed me out of my comfort zone and ultimately I'm happy he did because I'm really proud of what we did together,” she says. It's Condor’s first foray into singing and — based on critics' and fans' reception since the February 19 release — probably not her last. Collectively, they seem to disagree with her modest assessment of her vocal ability.
Maybe there will be more singing in Condor’s future, but she isn’t quite done with Lara Jean yet; the third installment in the To All the Boys franchise is set to come out next year. She’s also eager to return to her athletic roots as a dancer: Condor trained with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, and her first big acting break was in the 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse. “I love action. I did a television show, Deadly Class, where I did so many stunts, so I really want to go back into action,” she says excitedly.
But her goals for her acting career transcend any specific role or genre: “The most important thing for me is to normalize the Asian American experience,” she says. “I think that's what's so cool about Lara Jean — she’s just your normal, everyday girl next door. For me, there's so many stories that I want to tell, not just one. I want to normalize seeing Asian American leads and not be like, Oh, this is some groundbreaking thing but rather, This is just normal.” In other words, she hopes that soon the fact that she’s an Asian-American lead in a rom-com will no longer be a talking point.
Off camera, she’s channeling that passion into her activism. Condor recently traveled to her native Vietnam with Michelle Obama for Girls Opportunity Alliance, an invitation she received after creating a scholarship for girls there in 2018 after To All the Boys came out. “With every job that I do, I have to put another girl through high school. That gives me a little bit more purpose,” she says.
This is all to say she’s well aware of the responsibility that comes with her visibility — and welcomes it. And with that, she’s headed back to bed.
Photographs by Ashley Soong. Hair by Bradley Irion. Makeup by Clarissa Luna. Styled by Samantha Sutton, assisted by Tara Gonzalez. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello.