Lola Tung said she didn't have high expectations when she sent in her audition tape for the leading role in the new adaptation of author Jenny Han's "The Summer I Turned Pretty."
But Han, who is also behind the “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy, knew fairly early in the process that she had found her perfect Isabel "Belly" Conklin in Tung.
“I was looking for a Belly that felt on the precipice of going into adulthood, which is something that’s very hard to manufacture, that sort of real innocence and kind of rawness,” Han said in a recent interview.
The Amazon Prime Video show, which debuts Friday, is the first adaptation of Han’s three-part young adult romance novel. The coming-of-age story centers on 16-year-old Belly during a summer trip to a fictional beach town with her mother (Jackie Chung) and older brother (Sean Kaufman). At the beach house, Belly stays with her mother’s childhood best friend (Rachel Blanchard) and her two sons (Christopher Briney and Gavin Casalegno), with whom she gets wrapped up with in a complicated love triangle.
Because Tung had never been in front of the camera before, the 19-year-old newcomer had a quality that felt “very natural and genuine and sincere, and that was really important to me to capture within the character,” Han said.
For Tung, being close in age to Belly helped her ease into her first acting role.
"I felt like I could relate to her in a lot of ways," Tung explained. "Those feelings of wanting to find that sense of independence and create her own path in her life, and going through a period of a lot of change in her life and sort of figuring out what each of her new relationships and her past family relationships mean."
I felt like I could relate to her in a lot of ways.
-Actor Lola Tung, on playing Belly
Tung was in a similar mindset when she auditioned for her breakout role during her first year at Carnegie Mellon University.
"I've sort of been doing that same thing, figuring out what and who I want to be, and what my path looks like," she said.
Kaufman, who plays Tung's older brother in the series, agreed that the actor and Belly were like-minded, calling them both "kind" and "unapologetically themselves."
"You can see that through Belly and especially Lola," he said. "There's something endearing about that."
Aside from dealing with the anxieties that typically plague freshman year of college and an actor's first-ever TV role, Tung is just humbled by the opportunity to add her name to a growing list of Asian American female romantic-comedy leads, including Lana Condor in Han's own "To All the Boys I've Loved Before."
"I feel so grateful to be doing this and to have gotten this chance to work with other wonderful Asian American artists and actors and writers and one of our directors," Tung added. "It feels really, really cool to bring this to life, and to get the privilege to do that, too."