The leading lady is rewriting her script.
When the trailer landed for the new HBO romantic comedy Moonshot, the movie's co-lead Lana Condor was among its first viewers. Somewhat reluctantly, the actress allowed peanut gallery critique to catch her eye. Correction: a singular comment, that which had beat out hundreds to earn the highest approval. “It’s about time Lana Condor was in another movie,” it read.
“I thought, “Wow, that’s true and valid,” she laughs.
As the foremost of Hollywood’s most sought-after starlets, it's difficult to believe that (until now) Condor’s filmic contributions mainly consisted of one mega-franchise: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The record-breaking, runaway success of the high school dramedy secured several sequels and its stars’ entry into celebritydom — a result the 24-year-old never predicted from an independent film shot without a distributor.
“We had zero percent awareness that it would be received as well as it was. It was an extreme whiplash of [my] life changing overnight. And through that experience, it became even more so about boundaries. I look back now and I’m like, What?!”
A first generation Vietnamese immigrant adopted into an American family and raised in rainy Washington, Condor’s entry into show business wasn’t exactly signposted with ‘who you know’ connections. Yet, her resume became increasingly padded with prestige — The Los Angeles Ballet, the Notre Dame Academy, and the Yale Summer Conservatory for Actors — with credits spanning blockbusters to critic favorites. In an industry often accused of drifting from its meritocratic origins, Condor seemingly succeeded on talent alone.
Coming up for air after three consecutive productions and press tours at the top of 2020, Condor pondered her next move — it would have to be a smart one. She had played years younger than her own age for most of her career, and her proven bankability as a romantic lead concerned her. Would the role of high school sweetheart be the only role Hollywood believed Lana Condor could sell?
“There’s all kinds of typecasting but something that I’ve had to think about with my support system is, Will she only do romcoms?” she explains. “And the first part of that is that I genuinely love doing them, but navigating the planning of a career in an unplanned industry is nearly impossible.”
The plan — or lack thereof — would shift with her priorities. Before the pandemic, if Lana Condor was in her Los Angeles home for more than several weeks straight it was nothing less than a “miracle.” The realization that even when she was based at the epicenter of entertainment she wasn’t ever really there, prompted a move closer to home: Seattle. Relocating with then-boyfriend (now fiancé) Anthony De La Torre, Condor found a new purpose: “protecting [her] peace.”
“It was interesting because when [To All the Boys] was finished, I had to sit back like,“Now I’m unemployed and have to find my next job. But it was a weird transition because I’d been doing the same thing for years and I had to recalibrate in my mind. This move has changed my life because I feel so much more at peace.”
The move facilitated a kind of career compartmentalization Condor hadn’t experienced prior. She washed her face in her own bathroom, selected an outfit from her closet rather than a suitcase. Every day, Anthony started her day with a freshly brewed tea. For the first time in her adult life, the actress had the capacity to make a home and establish a daily routine. Then the pandemic hit.
“I realized there was no point trying to predict the future,” Condor recalls. “Instead my energy would be better used focusing on the current situation we were all in. My focus was trying to take care of myself and my community.”
Although, sometimes silence can feel louder than noise. From the confines of home, the sociopolitical turbulence of 2020 through summer 2021 often drowned out Condor’s hard-won peace — especially the waves of racially-motivated violence. From the confines of home, Condor felt particularly isolated. When a gunman murdered eight Asian women in an Atlanta massage parlor, Condor sought solace online in all-Asian group grieving sessions. Concurrently, the then-23-year-old frequently fielded requests from publications to process her own pain in print.
“During that time so many outlets wanted me to speak on Asian hate,” she says. “I remember being so distraught emotionally seeing the suffering that to be put in a position where I then had to formulate sentences. All your intentions are the best, but when trauma is coming at you from all angles and then you have to be eloquent? It was near impossible.”
Condor was quick to put coping strategies in place. Remaining present became a daily practice. Then there was dog adoption — her rescue pooches are a “lifeline.” By the time the warmer months rolled around, Condor’s mental health was on the upswing. Shooting Moonshot in Atlanta with Cole Sprouse — who she befriended on a photoshoot years earlier — was like “summer camp,” especially because To All the Boys co-star Noah Centineo also happened to be in town on location.
Judging by the reaction, Moonshot is bound to elicit a similar fandom to Condor’s previous entries into the romantic comedy genre. This, while exciting, also brings its own set of challenges — namely, fans “shipping” Condor with her leading man du jour. Theories about her and Centineo ran amuck, despite the fact Condor had been dating her partner since age 18. Thankfully, De La Torre, a fellow actor, understands, even developing close relationships of his own with Condor’s on screen love interests.
“I’m sure [romantic fan theories] affected him early on, but he’s so selfless that I think he didn’t want to ever broach it with me and cause any more stress on top of what I was already going through,” she explains. “I think he also thinks, Oh fans are believing this, she’s doing her job well. Which I think is a really healthy way of looking at it, even if it’s super complicated. He’s been the biggest, strongest rock behind me for the past six years. I don’t know how I would have coped — I don’t think anyone else would get the distance or the hours, or like kissing other people on screen. I don’t have to explain it to him.”
The next two years will likely see Condor’s hours increase tenfold as her career kicks into high gear. This month, it was announced she’d be starring next to Will Forte and John Cena in a live action-animated hybrid feature, Coyote Vs. Acme. She’s also preparing to lead high school-set mini-series, Boo, Bitch. More recently, she’s been charting the filmographies of Matthew McCaughney or Emily Blunt for their fluidity — both actors finding their feet in comedy before sinking their teeth into meaty dramatic roles.
“I’m finally having conversations with filmmakers where I feel aligned — I feel very heard by them, which isn’t always the case. I’m also excited to work with adult actors, and learn from older actors.”
For an entertainer whose star is outstripping the speed of light, Condor is decidedly unpretentious. Her bubbling giggle crescendos into a raucous bark whenever she’s forced to recount her accomplishments. She self-soothes with good food and family time, rather than the fast lane lifestyle of so many of her forebears. The actress doesn’t want to meet her idols — or email them, even — nor does she need to. Condor has come this far on her own merit, there’s nothing she can’t do.
Photo Asst: Han Radjawane / Sound: Pamela Xing-Berman / Stylist Assistant: Annie Easton / Stylist Assistant: Bota Abdul
Production Director: Jess Sisco / Creative Director: Phuong Nguyen / Associate Producer: Claire Flanagan
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