Small Talk: Lola Tung Is Skipping Class

This Summer Belongs to Lola Tung

The star of Jenny Han’s highly-anticipated To All the Boys follow-up talks auditioning from her college apartment, her love affair with New York City, and landing the debut role of a lifetime.

A year ago, Lola Tung was the typical college freshman. Between classes at Carnegie Mellon, she was finding her place on campus and starting the next chapter of her life — then, she got cast in a tv series, and everything changed overnight.

The 19-year-old newcomer wasn't tapped for just any TV show — her debut project comes with a built-in fanbase, massive expectations, and the potential to make her Hollywood's next big thing. After months of filming audition tapes in her New York City apartment (with help from her college roommates), nailing chemistry reads through the barrier of a laptop screen, and playing the waiting game, Tung hopped on a Zoom call at the beginning of her second semester to learn she had landed the lead role in beloved YA author Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty — and immediately called her mom crying.

"I filmed the tapes in my apartment with my roommates and submitted them," Tung says of her audition to play the bestseller's main character, Isabel "Belly" Conklin. "And then I heard back that they had wanted me to test for the role really a few days later, and it was all very, very exciting, and very wild because I hadn't really expected it or planned for it being at school and everything."

Following the success of To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Han's new project (available to stream on Amazon Prime starting June 17) marks her first foray into television — and her first project since the three-movie Netflix deal that turned her, and the film's lead actress Lana Condor, into major Hollywood players. As if the show wasn't already buzzy enough, Taylor Swift used its trailer to surprise-debut her new single, "This Love (Taylor's Version)," generating hype among Swifties and YA readers alike.

"It was so important to me that [Han] really felt like her vision was being brought to life in the way that she wanted it to," Tung says of her portrayal of fan-favorite Belly. "And I think she cares so much about her readers and making them happy, while also making everybody else happy who hasn't read the book."

With such high expectations — both for Han's sophomore installment and The Summer I Turned Pretty's long-awaited turn on screen — it's only natural that the central role of a hit love-triangle-centered trilogy would come with a bit of pressure. For Tung, add finishing classes, tackling finals, and working through her first major acting job, and you'd be hard-pressed not to feel some nerves.

Luckily, Tung — who embodies the same sweet, girl-next-door disposition as her on-screen counterpart — says she's more than up for the challenge. And while she admits to not reading the immensely popular 2009 book series until after she got the part (we can't totally blame her, she was only in second grade when the first novel came out), it's easy to see why she nabbed the part. A charming, self-proclaimed introvert who's just trying to navigate a new phase of life to the best of her ability? It's hard to tell whether that description better fits Tung or the fictional character she portrays.

InStyle spoke to the Summer I Turned Pretty star about breaking into Hollywood, her take on team Jeremiah vs. team Conrad — spoiler alert: neither — her musical theater dream, and more.

Small Talk: Lola Tung Is Skipping Class
Photos by Grant Legan

Congratulations on your first major role. What was the audition process like?

I was actually in my first year of college at Carnegie Mellon, and I was away in Pittsburgh. My manager, who I had just started working with, reached out to me and said that there was this role that she thought I would be good for. I was like, "All right, this sounds really great. But you know, I'm very focused on school right now."

I went through the audition process and chemistry read process entirely over Zoom. I was coming home from my classes, then hopping onto Zoom, and reading with everyone and in front of Jenny [Han] and the producers. After the process had been going on for a little while, I got a call saying that Jenny, one of the directors, and some of the producers had wanted to talk with me and just kind of get to know me. So, I got on the Zoom, and they talked for a couple of minutes and then told me that I had booked the role, which was unbelievable and so exciting. I called my mom crying afterward.

That's quite the freshman year.

It was all [over] like a month and a half of my second semester, too, which was really just so wild and cool. I did get to finish my first year, which I'm very grateful for. We filmed from July to October of 2021, and I actually took the [following] year off of school for filming.

How does it feel to be taking on a character from such a beloved book series?

I feel so incredibly grateful and lucky to have the chance to do this. It's such a special story for so many people. I think that's why I felt so grateful that Jenny Han was not only the author of the book, but also our showrunner and one of the writers — and that she was on set and had such a voice in the process. Because it really felt like if I had any questions about anything or needed any help, she was always there.

Do you see yourself in Belly at all?

I think we are similar in many ways. She's only a few years younger than me, and I think this is the summer where she's figuring everything out, creating her own path, and becoming independent. I'm in the midst of doing all those things as well. She's a very caring and loving person and cares deeply about her family and the people in her life. I love that about her.

I have to ask, how do you feel about the nickname "Belly"? Because some people are not fans.

I think it's so cute! I think it's so special. Especially because it's something with Susanna and with the boys — all the people that she's close to in her life call her Belly. It's really sweet and unique.

You already talked a bit about working with Jenny, but how would you say this project relates to her first major adaptation, TATB?

I think Jenny is such a wonderful storyteller, and the worlds that she creates are always so magical and beautiful. And I think that's a similarity between To All the Boys and The Summer I Turned Pretty. We always see these beautiful, blossoming love stories that are teen love stories. And we get to see that kind of magical teen awkwardness.

Those are some of the similarities, but I think the stories are very special in their own ways and are unique. I love To All the Boys actually, I do. I used to love watching those, and I still love watching those movies with all my friends. I hope people find a love for The Summer I Turned Pretty in the same way that they have for To All the Boys.

I cannot think of a more magical setting than a beach house in the summer. I know you're a New York City native, so how did you like living in a fictional beach town while you were filming?

It was so much fun. The cast is so wonderful, and Jenny's so wonderful. We all really became good friends. To be in this beach town, filming, and doing what we all love together was just such an incredible experience, and it was a nice change of pace from the city. We got to film on the beach a lot, which was so much fun, it felt like summer camp a little bit sometimes.

After that, do you think you could ever see yourself giving up the city to move to a beach town?

I will say, I think I'm a city girl at heart. [New York City] is my home, and I love it here, but I do enjoy traveling, and I loved having the experience of living somewhere else for a little while.

When you were reading the books, were you Team Jeremiah or Team Conrad?

Oh, gosh. The big question. I always say I'm team Belly, and I'm for her making her decisions for herself and putting herself first. So, I'll leave it at that, because I think there are so many special moments with both of the boys in the show and in the books.

Who do you think that you would gravitate towards, either just as a friend or as a romantic interest in real life?

That's an interesting question. It's a very difficult question. They both have such special qualities, and Jeremiah is such a good friend to Belly, such a sweetheart, and has such contagious, positive energy, which is really lovely. But I also am a little bit of an introvert, I guess, and Conrad is similar in that way. So, who knows?

Small Talk: Lola Tung Is Skipping Class
Photos by Grant Legan

With this being your first big role, what're you hoping to work on next?

I don't know if there's anything specific. I think it's just been cool to continue auditioning and seeing different projects that are out there. I started as a theater kid, and it'd be really cool to do theater at some point again, live theater.

What's your dream theater role?

That's very difficult. There are so many. But right before everything shut down in 2020, before the pandemic, I saw Hadestown on Broadway, and it was such a beautiful show. It was so magical, and the music is so beautiful. And I think Eurydice is such a beautiful character, and that'd be really cool.

Small Talk: Lola Tung Is Skipping Class
Photos by Grant Legan

SMALL TALK

First celebrity crush?

I was a big Disney Channel girl, so I loved High School Musical. Maybe Troy Bolton, specifically. Or Zac Efron. I was just like this guy, High School Musical. This is it.

Are you into astrology?

I feel like maybe a little bit? I've never been super into it, but I do think, sometimes, it's really cool. I'm a Scorpio sun, Cancer moon (I think), and then I'm pretty sure I'm a Sagittarius rising.

Thoughts on low-rise jeans?

I honestly think if you feel comfortable and they make you feel good, totally. Like, hell yeah. I mean, I love a pair of low-rise jeans sometimes. I used to be very opposed to it, but you know what? I found a good pair of jeans, and I've been loving wearing them. So, I say yeah, whatever makes you feel the best and feel the most confident and comfortable.

What's your favorite item of clothing that you own?

These baggy, high-waisted jeans that I've had probably since my sophomore year of high school. They have too many holes in them now, but I refuse to throw them away and/or get rid of them or stop wearing them because they're so comfortable. They make me so happy. So, I'm keeping them until I really can't wear them anymore.

What's one book that you could read over and over again?

I read Crying in H Mart earlier this year by Michelle Zauner. And I kind of want to read it again because it was so, so, so good and so special. I'm a huge Japanese Breakfast fan.

Would you kill a bug, or would you save a bug?

I had to kill a bug or two recently because of construction in [my] building. So, there was a bug in the kitchen recently, but I always feel really bad when I have to kill them. Because I'm like, "Oh man, you're killing this bug. Why?" But at the same time, I'm like, "I don't know what else to do in this situation. I have to."

So, I kind of apologize before I kill the bug. But it's probably depending on the bug, also, and the size of the bug, and the environment that you're in, and all of that. But I guess kill a bug would probably be my answer.

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