Jenny Han, who wrote the book “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” said in a New York Times column on Friday that nearly every producer she met with to adapt it into a film wanted to cast an actress not Asian-American in the lead role. She choose the only one who didn’t.
“One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter,” Han wrote in her piece. “I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.
“I ended up deciding to work with the only production company that agreed the main character would be played by an Asian actress. No one else was willing to do it. Still, I was holding my breath all the way up until shooting began because I was scared they would change their minds. They didn’t.”
The film, directed by Susan Johnson from a screenplay penned by Sofia Alvarez, stars Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor (“X-Men: Apocalypse”) as Lara Jean. In “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” Lara Jean writes letters to all of her past loves as a way of getting over them — the letters are meant for her eyes only. But one day they’re sent out and her life is soon thrown into chaos as all the boys confront her one by one.
Han, in her New York Times piece, talked about the importance of seeing someone who looked like her in the stories on screen that she loved. Her teen idols were Alicia Silverstone and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In creating the aesthetic for Lara Jean, Han put together a mood board for the producers, pinning pictures of girls on the streets of Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai. “Asian streetwear meets the ’90s with a dash of the ’60s,” she wrote.
“What would it have meant for me back then to see a girl who looked like me star in a movie? Not as the sidekick or romantic interest, but as the lead? Not just once, but again and again? Everything,” Han wrote. “I hope teenage girls see Lana Candor and feel the way I felt about my teen idols. Constance Wu, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Kelly Marie Tran of ‘Star Wars’ — I hope they all end up on someone’s bulletin board.”