Everyone has a go-to sushi spot. Lana Condor’s is Sushi by H, an unassuming mom-and-pop joint in L.A.’s Beverly Grove that she promises me has some of the best Japanese food in the city (and a woman head chef!). “It’s one of my favourites,” she says as we inch our way through Friday-night traffic following our cover shoot. “I don’t like ‘the scene,’ and this is very neighbourhood-y.”
Inside, there’s a handful of regulars, but Condor still creates a “this is a somebody” stir when we walk in. She’s wearing a sparkly Miu Miu minidress with a Peter Pan collar and a berry lip because she’s going to an event after our dinner—though I get the sense she’d rather be heading home to hang out with her 10-week-old puppy, Emmy. “I’m not a partier,” she admits. “I mean, I love events. But I’m there for work.”
Condor has good reason to be so focused: Her calendar is all business these days. She currently stars in TV action-assassin series Deadly Class, had a supporting role in February’s James Cameron-backed sci-fi flick Alita: Battle Angel and has leading roles in two more movies set to hit theatres in a year or so. That’s on the heels of a breakout 2018 thanks to her turn as lovelorn Lara Jean in the Netflix romcom To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The movie—about a dreamy teen whose secret love letters to her past crushes are, unbeknownst to her, mailed to them—was the hit of the year. Netflix doesn’t release streaming data but has said that it is one of its “most viewed original films ever.” It reinvigorated our love affair with romcoms, gave us the Jordan Catalano of Gen Z—Peter Kavinsky (played by your new crush Noah Centineo)—and made Condor a household name, especially among the under-21 set. Her Instagram following went from thousands to millions—now 6.5 million, to be exact—in a matter of months. But she seems to take it all in stride (read “without a hint of ego”), displaying a disarming sincerity and excitement about her success. She practically speaks in exclamation points. Example from our shoot: “I looked out at the L.A. view and the ocean on-set today, and I was like, ‘You’re gonna be on the cover of a magazine!’”
More proof: Earlier in the day, the 21-year-old actress arrived at our shoot location (wearing plaid Wilfred pants, a cropped Madewell jacket and black combat boots that Lara Jean would seriously covet) on time and with an entourage consisting solely of her very cute puppy. Condor has only had Emmy for two weeks at this point—she met the terrier-hound cross at the BuzzFeed offices in New York while doing its “interview with puppies” segment during press for Deadly Class. “She wagged her tail and then sat on my lap and fell asleep,” she says. “So I refused to leave the building without her.” After a formal adoption interview (stars—they’re just like us!), the pup was hers.
Why the name “Emmy”? It’s a nod to her relationship with actor Anthony De La Torre (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). The two met almost four years ago at a pre-Emmys party. (Sorry, Noah/Lana stans—Condor is very much in love.) “I knew that Anthony would be taking care of her a lot, and [that party] is such a great memory for me,” she says. “I know it’s only been four years, but so much has happened.”
That’s an understatement. Rewind to a few years ago and Condor was a quiet teen living in New York and spending her spare time in dance classes. Her dad suggested she try acting classes, which she loved, and when the family moved to L.A. for his work, she eventually got an agent and started auditioning. At just her third one ever, Condor booked the role of hot-handed mutant Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse. By 17, she was shooting in Montreal and rooming with Sophie Turner. “I had never been in front of a camera before,” she recalls, marvelling at her inexperience. “I didn’t know anything. I thought you had to pay for crafty [food on-set]. I didn’t even know how to hit a mark!”
Every actor has a dream role, and for Condor it was starring in a romcom. Still, early on, she steeled herself for disappointment. “In my short career, I’d never seen studios specifically ask for an Asian-American romantic lead, so I wrote it off,” she says. “Which, I think, is part of the problem: I don’t want anyone to write anything off because of the way they look.”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before author Jenny Han certainly wasn’t going to. When her YA novel was optioned to be made into a movie, “interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last year. “I ended up deciding to work with the only production company that agreed the main character would be played by an Asian actress.” According to Han, a lot of the success of the movie is a credit to Condor. “I was impressed by her professionalism every day,” she told me via email. “Lana is such a hard worker. She’s in nearly every scene of the movie—she was the anchor. There was a lot resting on her shoulders, and this girl never wavered.”
Joseph Cross, who directs her in the upcoming coming-of-age dramedy Summer Night, agrees. “Lana is gracious and kind to everyone on-set while remaining focused and bold in her work,” he tells me, remembering a particularly onerous night of shooting when they had to wrap a one-take five-page scene within an hour. “She never faltered. She gave me six exceptional takes, one right after the other, and I think the scene is among the strongest in the film.”
As Condor emerges as one of the most promising talents of a generation—she will soon be filming the thriller Warning, plus she starts work on the To All the Boys sequel imminently—in an industry that is finally starting to wake up to inclusivity, she’s in a position to help drive that momentum forward. Still, she can’t help but voice her frustrations about the fact that in 2019 we are still having to fight for Asian-American representation on-camera. “It’s very exciting that this is happening now,” she says, referencing the success of To All the Boys and Crazy Rich Asians, the latter being the romp of a blockbuster based on Kevin Kwan’s bestseller. “But part of me is like ‘We should already be past this.’” She pauses. “One of the reasons I took To All the Boys was because it’s just a story about a girl who falls in love for the first time. She’s the girl next door who happens to be Asian. Like, that’s not the focus of it because we’re normal fucking human beings.”
That’s one thing I learn about Condor as we order wine—Chardonnay (her) and Cab Sauv (me)—and dig into shrimp rolls and tuna carpaccio: The more passionate she is about something, the more she seems to swear. Like when we discuss being women in a world that equates our worth with our waist size: “I look at my friends, and I’m like, ‘You’re fucking gorgeous.’ But they feel like they’re fat and ugly. I don’t know how this happened, that women feel like they need to apologize [for their physical imperfections],” she says. I ask if she feels that same pressure—after all, it’s easy to forget that she’s only 21 years old and already established in the Hollywood film industry, which has a troubling reputation for its treatment of women. “I mean, take away the word ‘actor’ and just keep 21-year-old: It’s hard,” she says.
Condor explains that she was a classically trained ballerina and contemporary dancer before she leaped into the acting world, so she grew up with an understanding of the crushing burden put on young dancers to look a certain way. “You’re kind of the first person I’ve talked to about this,” she begins, “but I know what it’s like to have an eating disorder and body dysmorphia—and also what it’s like to be a friend to someone who has that. I think it’s time to give people comfort. You have to eat. You have to stop thinking that a certain body shape is ideal, because it’s not.” Condor has vowed to now celebrate her relationship with food instead. “That’s why I literally post about every meal I eat.”
Getting perspective has also helped a lot, she explains. She recently travelled to Kenya to endorse a docuseries about climate change and was reminded that our bodies are part of something bigger: the natural world. “Here’s the thing,” she says. “We have 12 years to save the planet. But if we don’t do anything within the next 12 years, we’re fucked, and all the animals that we take for granted every single day…our children will not know what they look like and will think about them the way we think about dinosaurs.”
How did she become so socially conscious? I ask, thinking back to the things I obsessed over in my early 20s (mainly guys and grades…and guys). “Even in kindergarten, I was always really serious,” she reflects. “My mom says I was very melancholy as a child.” Condor was born in Vietnam and adopted at four months by Bob Condor, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, and Mary Condor, a now retired circuit-board designer. They adopted Arthur, who isn’t her biological brother, at the same time. Condor doesn’t mind talking about her adoption—in fact, she welcomes it. “I want to let people know that adoption is the most amazing thing ever,” she says. “If I hadn’t been adopted, I don’t even know if I’d be alive right now.” (Arthur is a statistics major in university. She giggles when I ask if he’s an actor.) Condor and her family are super-close—like, you-should-go-call-your-mom-right-now close. Her parents, who moved to rural Whidbey Island in Washington state, come to visit her all the time. (Condor wants to own a horse farm there one day.) They even vacationed together over New Year’s, travelling to celeb favourite health spot Canyon Ranch. She gives credit to her parents for her commitment and focus. “They’ve always told me that anything is possible; they instilled in me the idea that you can do whatever you want as long as you work hard,” she says.
When Condor was growing up, her family moved around a lot; she alludes to not quite fitting in with other kids, saying that she didn’t have a lot of friends her age, ate lunch with her teachers and spent most weekends at home. “In high school, I didn’t really go to parties; I would just hang out with my parents, have good food and watch movies with them,” she says matter-of-factly. That’s in part why she sees herself in her super-fans—you know, the ones who follow her in the grocery store or into Starbucks or tell her how much they loved To All the Boys while giving her a TSA pat-down (true story). She knows what it’s like to need connection. “They’re not malicious. They honestly think that I’m Lara Jean, that I’m their best friend. And, listen, I’m kind of okay with it. I didn’t even have a best friend in high school, so I get it.”
As the evening goes on, we move to less-heavy subjects—our mutual ambivalence to this season of The Bachelor (sorry, Colton), our obsession with our puppies and her singular desire to collaborate with Michael B. Jordan or The Rock. (She has chatted with both on social media. She. Nearly. Died.) Before we part ways, I ask Condor what she would write in a letter to her future self. Any reminders? Pearls of wisdom? She only has to think a second before the words come tumbling out. “Don’t turn up too hard! Thank your parents. And, also, just calm the fuck down.” With that, and a big hug, she’s off into the L.A. night—ready to put in some overtime.