Interview: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Janel Parrish Adores the Covey Girls as Much as You Do
Over the weekend, tons of rom-com lovers were blessed with Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the Netflix film adaptation of Jenny Han’s popular book series. While we all swooned over the hilarious, charming, and touching love story, viewers also fell in love with the Song Covey sisters. Margo, Lara Jean, and Kitty tease, fight, and care for one another throughout the film, and it’s incredibly refreshing to watch.
The story begins with Lara Jean (Lana Condor) nursing a broken heart. Her longtime crush, Josh (Israel Broussard), is dating her older sister, Margo (Janel Parrish). Lara Jean has her own way of coping with each of her crushes, though: She writes a love letter confessing every embarrassing feeling, and locks it away forever.
However, when Margo leaves home for college, she and Josh break up. More urgently? Someone has actually sent all of Lara Jean’s letters, including an old letter to the popular Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Now, Lara Jean is dealing with missing her beloved sister, avoiding Josh by hatching a fake-dating plan with Peter (we all know how those work out), and readjusting to life without the responsible Margo around, by helping out her single father (John Corbett) and sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart).
I had the chance to speak with Janel Parrish about playing Margo. We talked about her love of sci-fi shows, her To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before family, and how the film captures a real high school awkwardness. The role of Margo, the responsible big sister that leaves for college at the beginning of the film, was one she was excited about from the start. When Parrish first read the script for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the actress said she “just loved it,” calling it “sweet and relatable.”
Parrish, who’s perhaps most recognizable from her role as villainess-turned-unlikely-ally Mona Vanderwaal on Pretty Little Liars, and soon Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, speaks frankly about the challenges of being an Asian-American actress. For instance, Parrish has done a variety of theater, starting with her run on Les Misérables as a child and, most recently, Grease. She played Sandy, which she calls “not something I expected as an Asian-American actress—the opportunity to be seen as Sandy that was really wonderful.”
A little sister playing a big sister:
“Margo reminded me of my big sister Melissa—I was definitely the Lara Jean,” she adds. “She was my Margo and she was my best friend in the world and I begged her not to leave me when she went to college […] I found a lot of myself in Lara Jean, and my relationship with my sister and I thought it was sweet to see sisters represented in such a true way. It was fun for me to draw from my real life with this film.”
The chemistry between the Song Covey sisters was real too. On meeting Lana Condor and Anna Cathcart, Parrish says, “Immediately, I felt like they were my two baby sisters and we had so much fun. Some of my favorite scene in this movie were between the three sisters because we just had so much fun together. We still keep in touch, we hang out whenever Anna’s in town. They’re just the sweetest girls we had a blast together.”
Letting Asian-American families be normal
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been praised for its representation of an Asian-American romantic lead, as well as a mixed family. Parrish was very excited to bring this family to the screen in a way that was normal and never exoticized.
“It was something that I was very interested in, very drawn to,” she says. “What I loved about it though in this movie and in the story—it’s normal. That they are just an Asian-American family and the story is not centered on that—it just happens to be about a girl who is Asian American. But really, it’s more about her story and learning to be comfortable in her own skin.”
She continues, “I was very excited about that because as an Asian-American actress, anytime you see Asian-American representation in the industry, it’s very exciting and I was very happy to be a part of that narrative—but even more so excited to see it become more normal in the industry. That it just so happens to be that this girl is Asian American but it’s not a story about that—that’s what I’m excited about.”
To the young girls who follow her
On whether or not she sees herself as a kind of Margo to girls who watch her, Parrish says she would be “flattered to be considered to be somebody people look up to.”
“What I try to do is be very myself,” says Parrish. “If anyone follows me on Instagram I’m very much myself. I post about my life and my family and my friends and things that make me happy—because I’m very much about being yourself and being very comfortable in your skin and who you are. So if anyone follows me, I think they know that’s what I’m all about and they can draw from that: just be unapologetically yourself in every sense of the word.”
Her favorite sister-scene in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
“It’s a very small moment, but I love it,” says Parrish. “It’s the scene where Margo is upset with Lara Jean—they’ve just had this fight and she’s kind of giving Lara Jean the silent treatment. It is literally a 20 second scene but Lara Jean just says, ‘I need you’ and Margo goes like, ‘Ugh, come here.’ It’s just so true—if anyone has a sister or a best friend, you know that that’s the way it is. Even if you’re mad at that person, once they need you it’s—it doesn’t matter. They’re your sister, they’re your best friend and you’re there for them. The end.”
“I just thought it was so sweet. I remember reading that in the script and thinking ‘Ugh, that’s me and my sister so many times.’ It doesn’t matter what little argument you had, if your sister needs you, you’re there for her.”
Making a film she wishes she had as a teen
“I think Lara Jean is wonderful representation of every girl going through high school. She’s quirky, she’s honest about feeling awkward in certain situations, she’s trying to find her footing, she’s trying to fit in with her peers. She doesn’t feel like she fits in—she’s all of us figuring it out.
It’s nice to watch an accurate representation of a girl going through high school. You watch her go through this journey with love and her family. She kind of realizes, ‘What make me a little bit different is what makes me special, and if I embrace that I can have so much more confidence with who I am.’ It’s a really great message to send out there to young girls. And I kind of wish I had a film like that growing up to watch and realize, ‘Oh, I identify with this character and she motivates me to feel totally comfortable in my own skin.'”
Writing love letters
“I still write love letters to my fiancé,” says Parrish, “whether it’s a holiday or anniversary or just want to hide a cute love letter around the house. I think love letters are so special—I don’t think a lot of people write them anymore, especially in the age of tech, and there’s something so romantic and old-school about unfolding a letter and seeing somebody’s hand-written proclamation of love for you. I’m a huge romantic at heart and I think words are important, especially when you can keep it and save it and read it on a bad day.”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is out on Netflix now! If you’re looking for heart-fluttering, heart-warming, heart-melting goodness it’s definitely worth a watch.
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