OMay 5th, when the teaser trailer was released. I Turned Pretty This Summer dropped, author and creator Jenny Han satisfied two longstanding requests from her fans: to adapt her beloved young-readers’ trilogy for the screen, and to make sure Taylor Swift’s music is in the soundtrack. Swift debuted a snippet of “This Love (Taylor’s Version)” in the teaser, her wistful vocals providing a backdrop to a sweet, summery montage.
Han listened to Swift’s music “nonstop” when she was writing the original book more than a decade ago. “Her music does really match up beautifully to the themes, and she’s just an incredible storyteller in her own right,” the author says. “Over the years, people have asked me: If the show ever got made, could it please have Taylor Swift’s music on it?”
Coming-of-age, discovering one’s agency, falling in love for the first time—and making plenty of mistakes along the way—these are themes that speak to both Swift’s and Han’s audiences. These themes are explored in Han’s highly-anticipated first season. I Turned Pretty This SummerThe series premiered on Prime Video June 17. Newcomer Lola Tung plays Belly Conklin as she follows her through the summer at Cousins Beach. This is the beach resort where they vacation every year. Every summer, Belly, the youngest kid in the group, has felt like the unwanted tagalong—but this year is different. Now, Belly is being treated differently by the Fisher brothers and other local boys. Her long-held crush on Conrad Fisher feels like it may finally be a sign of something better.
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Han published her first novel in the series five years prior to launching another success trilogy. To All the Boys I’ve Loved BeforeThe movie was made into three movies by Netflix. To learn more, I Turned Pretty This SummerHan assumed control of the production and announced in April a deal with Amazon Studios, under Jenny Kissed Me. Amazon had announced that it had renewed its contract ahead of the premiere. SommerA second season.
Han discussed with TIME how to find the ideal young actor to portray Belly. He also talked about moving the conversation on diversity and TV forward. Han also spoke about the potential of first love.
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TIME: In addition writing the original material, you also served as a creator and co-showrunner. You also worked as an executive producer. Was there anything you learned about TV production?
Han: The jump was great. I’d never worked in TV before. The filmmaking process is akin to a military operation, where everyone knows their role. As a showrunner, you’re sort of the air-traffic controller.
Lola Tung is the first to play Belly, the teenage protagonist. Please tell me more about casting: How did you bring your best to the role?
It was important to me that someone felt as if she were a young girl experiencing this kind of awakening. We saw many young women and everyone brought something special, but I found that when I was watching Lola’s tape I was just really rooting for her. I felt like a proud mom at the Olympics, waiting to see if she would nail the landing—and she did.
An annual debutante ball is a major plot element of the new show. Why was that added to the story?
As I was adapting Summer, I was thinking a lot about visual representations of coming of age and how many different cultures celebrate that moment, like a quinceañera or a coming-out ball or a bat mitzvah. For me, [the setting]Being in this wealthy, I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to bring those dreams to reality. And I do love a ball.
Are you happy about the show’s release? To all the boys films being such massive successes? Is it pressure? Or does success give you confidence?
I feel really excited, because I know that the longtime fans of the book have been waiting for this adaptation for many years—the first book came out 13 years ago. I’m excited to give them the thing that they’ve been asking for. I’m not looking to recreate the success of All the boys. It was its moment. I’m just hoping that the original fans of the book will be happy.
Treteen years can seem like a long time. It felt like a stab to the heart when Susannah Fisher was talking to Belly about the Olsen twins and Belly said, “Who are they?”
These are, however, accurate.
Brutal. I loved picking up on little nods to teen dramas of the past—I found myself thinking about The O.C., Gossip girlAnd even more The Parent TrapCertain moments. What has teen soaps taught you about yourself as both a creator and person?
I’ve always been a big fan of teen stories, obviously, because I’ve been writing them my whole career. There’s something so exciting about that moment in time, and I’m hoping for the show that grown adults can watch it and remember what it was like falling in love for the first time and having this kind of magical summer, and that young people today can watch it and feel seen in some way.
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Which character are you most like?
It’s funny because when I wrote the book, I was closer to Belly’s age—and now I’m Laurel, her mom’s age.
Laurel plays a larger role in the series. At one point, she’s talking to a fellow author, and he describes the irony of first having trouble selling a book with a Filipino protagonist—then being expected only to write Filipino protagonists. What did you learn from that experience?
It’s an experience I’ve heard from a lot of artists of color, that for so long people didn’t want to hear their stories, and now suddenly we’re in a moment where people are only wanting to see you as the hyphenate. It’s all very new, this demand for diversity.
You’ve talked about pitching To all the boysMany years ago I was hearing that Lara Jean could be made a black character. Do you feel we’re past that now?
It wasn’t so much that some specific nefarious producer was saying the character should be white—it was that nobody wanted to make the movie with an Asian lead.
What if those conversations went differently? Summer?
Yes. And I believe so. To all the boysThat was an important part of the difference. In the teen space we hadn’t seen the lead be an Asian American girl, and that movie was successful. This made it much simpler to continue.
There’s a line when Taylor, Belly’s friend, says to her: “There’s more than one story happening here. But you seem to only care about the one where you’re the main character.” That stuck with me.
It’s a bit of a meta moment, because she literally is the main character of the story. But I don’t think it’s just young people—people at any age want to be the main characters of their lives. Belly has never really felt like the main character, and this is her moment when she’s in the center of things. That’s what makes it so exciting and also messy. Although she has many missteps, she is also able to have some really memorable moments. This is part of her youthful experience of trying things out for the first.
A second character Belly tells Belly it is impossible to get over a first love. You agree?
In the belief that your first love is never forgotten, I am with you. High school loves are more vivid to me than the love of others in my 20s. There’s something so potent and powerful about being really young, never having been bruised by love before, and going into it so wholeheartedly without fear—you can get a lot more hurt by the experience, but I also think there’s so much you gain. It’s not even just that person you remember, but it’s who you were in that moment.
This conversation has been edited and condensed to make it more clear.
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