In Netflix’s teen romantic comedy “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Lara Jean Song Covey (Lana Condor) was torn between her feelings for her two of her crushes: popular jock Peter (Noah Centineo) and boy next door Josh (Israel Broussard). The film’s director Susan Johnson was similarly undecided at first about which guy would eventually win Lara Jean’s heart.
High school junior Lara Jean has never had a boyfriend, preferring to admire boys from afar and, when her feelings are intense enough, write a love letter that she never intends to deliver. Except that they do get out, and the resulting chaos leads to her sister Margot’s (Janel Parrish) ex-boyfriend Josh and middle school crush Peter to regard Lara Jean with new eyes.
“When we did chemistry reads, I knew I loved Israel and I knew I loved Noah, but I wasn’t sure who would play which role,” she said in an interview with IndieWire. “I initially was thinking of Noah for Josh, because I thought, ‘Oh, he seems like boy next door,’ but then once I saw Lana and Noah’s chemistry I knew we had to go that direction. Israel was great with Janel. I thought that fit really well.”
In the movie, Peter challenges Lara Jean, joking with her and pushing her outside of her comfort zone. In real life, Centineo and Condor didn’t hit it off right away, which sounds like a meet-cute straight out of a romantic comedy.
“For my first audition for ‘To All The Boys,’ I was sitting in the waiting room and Lana was in there as well. This was before either one of us were cast,” he said. “I looked at her and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to run lines?’ And she said no.”
The rejection wasn’t necessarily personal, according to Condor. She was so focused on getting the role — “a project like this doesn’t come along often for a girl like me,” she said — that when she saw this “gorgeous, tall guy” approach her and ask her to read lines with him, she had to turn him down. “I was like, ‘No, sorry. I’m still trying to memorize mine.’ I did not want to be disturbed.”
“When I had gotten the role and I was chemistry reading, you get a list of guys that you’re going to read with. At the very bottom was Noah, and I was like, ‘Oh my, god. This is the guy I denied this chemistry read. It’s going to be horrible.’ It was the best one.”
Centineo said, “It’s always interesting when you throw two people in a room and have them try to biologically, immediately connect, but that’s biology’s job. You know when you meet someone if you guys are going to get along, usually. It was actually immediate.”
It’s clear that Centineo has affection for his character, whom he describes as “emotionally a teddy bear” when it comes to wanting love. That said, he didn’t have a preference for which role he’d play, Peter or Josh, especially since he’s also friendly with Broussard.
“I’ve known Israel for almost seven years, and being able to work with him professionally, it was incredible,” he said. “I remember we were talking about it when we got to Vancouver, where we shot the film. We both were kind of laughing at the fact that we both felt that we could play either one, but we were both very happy with where we fell.”
Josh and Peter don’t interact much until the end of the film, when they confront each other during Christmas during an argument over Lara Jean.
“It was very fulfilling for both of us to be able to have some sort of dynamic between us that was engaged and charged that moment,” said Centineo. “We did it maybe seven times I think, maybe more. And it was fantastic.”
The actor is a diehard rom-com fan, citing “Failure to Launch,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “What Happens in Vegas,” and “13 Going on 30” as being among his favorites.
“I think everybody’s into love. I think when you’re young, being in love for the first time is like this fantasy,” he said. “It’s this concept that no one quite understands, but everyone thinks about it all the time. And these films really give the younger adults and the younger kids a chance and a peek into that world, maybe prematurely, before they’ve been able to see it.”
Fortunately for Centineo, the love stories aren’t ending for him anytime soon. The actor can be seen in two more upcoming rom-coms. He describes “The Stand-In” as a film “about a young man who’s very enterprising and comes from a low-income household, and decides to create an app that allows anyone to hire him for a stand-in date. And he does this in the hopes of making enough money to get into his dream college, and then hopefully learn who he is in the process.”
Continuing his relationship with Netflix, he also stars as the love interest in another teen comedy, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” a modern retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac” in which his character Jamey falls for what he thinks is the popular cheerleader texting him, but is actually high school loser Sierra (“Stranger Things” breakout Shannon Purser).
“Jamey is soulful, he’s pensive, he’s a deep thinker. He’s also a star athlete, a high school quarterback of his team,” said Centineo. “And he gullible, he’s naïve. I think he should’ve figured out something was happening before, but he didn’t. It was a text, it wasn’t social media. It’s just words, and so I can understand how maybe it’s harder or easier to fall for.”
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is currently streaming on Netflix. “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” will be released on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 7.