'To All The Boys' Star Noah Centineo Has An 'Inner Mr. Potato Head'

Feb 23, 2020

True story: This past Valentine's Day I was walking out of the office when I overheard a group of younger colleagues saying that they were staying in to watch the sequel to Netflix's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, called P.S. I Still Love You. Then my sister called me to say the very same thing. And I will confess, I watched it too.

If you haven't seen the first To All the Boys movie, it follows the story of Lara Jean Covey and her crush and eventual boyfriend Peter Kavinsky, and it's based on a series of best-selling books by Jenny Han. It was a charming breakout hit — and if my informal polling of people on Valentine's Day is any guide, the sequel is is pretty popular too.

Noah Centineo plays Peter — a character who's more open to emotion and vulnerability than your average dude. "They say, you know, hard on the outside and then soft and mushy on the inside, and with Peter, it's genuinely true," he says. "I feel like you can't say 'Break my heart into a thousand pieces,' and 'I love you' without being vulnerable. Those are very very honest statements. And I feel like that's what we all want ... And being pent up and not releasing your emotion is something that as men for a very long time, we've been conditioned to think is normal. And it's led to so many psychiatric ailments."


Interview Highlights

On seeing different types of masculinity on screen

I think hopefully it's reflective of an emerging, or a shifting culture. Hopefully, if we change the type of masculinity portrayed on camera and it's getting good responses, then it's either where we're aspiring to be, or it's people relating to it on a personal level. And I think it's super important.

On why he became an actor

You know what it was, I started doing plays in third grade. And I was a very shy kid when I was younger, I was very sensitive, and wasn't good at meeting new people. And I think in third grade, once I started to do improv and learn what acting was, and becoming a character, I found this confidence, and I loved the feeling of being on stage. I was Mowgli in The Jungle Book in fifth grade, and was running around with this leotard on. And I think, just honestly, maybe it was the adoration, you know, the applause at the end and then the rush of just like being in front of people and making them laugh. Maybe it was the attention, I don't know, but I started just knowing that I felt euphoric when I was doing it, and I wanted to keep doing it. And then it's progressed over the years to something that I just really love, and I take as the opportunity to share ideas and stories.

On maintaining a sense of self when you're "the Internet's boyfriend"

I guess not losing my sense of self is difficult sometimes. But ultimately checking in with myself and going back to like, OK, OK, OK, take all this away. Take all this away. Back before any of that, what were you into? What did you like to do? Like, I just journal, you know, my thoughts and I try to meditate. Which is like, it's so difficult to keep that up, dude, oh my god.

I find that finding new ways to express myself is very, very important. Like, I drew some character without even meaning to. I don't draw very well at all. But the other night, I drew this character, and it's this cute little — it resembles Mr. Potato Head. And he looks super sad and super exhausted ... And I was like, you know what? ... That's my inner Mr. Potato Head. And so in that moment, it sounds ridiculous, maybe. But, you know, that cartoon character was such an honest reflection of my inner state that it almost was as if I finally had accepted that. And I feel better because of it.

This story was edited for radio by Martha Ann Overland and Sophia Alvarez Boyd, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

True story - this past Valentine's Day, I was walking out of the office when I overheard a group of younger colleagues saying that they were staying in to watch the sequel to Netflix's "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," called "P.S. I Still Love You." Then my sister called me to say the very same thing. And I will confess I watched it, too. It follows the story of Lara Jean and her crush and eventual boyfriend Peter Kavinsky, based on a series of bestselling books by Jenny Han. It was a charming breakout hit. And if my informal polling of people on Valentine's Day is any guide, the sequel is pretty popular, too. We're joined now by Noah Centineo, who plays Peter Kavinsky, from our studios in Culver City. Welcome.

NOAH CENTINEO: Hey. Thanks for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I read that you are to Netflix rom-coms what Molly Ringwald of "Sixteen Candles" fame was to the '80s and John Hughes films.

CENTINEO: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think you're a little bit too young to maybe know the reference.

CENTINEO: No, no. I can pick up what you're putting down. That's a crazy comparison. I mean, I'll take it. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. One of the things that I think people find so appealing about you is that you are a dude, and you can play very dude-like. But...

CENTINEO: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...You don't play this kind of macho character. You show vulnerability.

CENTINEO: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is you declaring your love to Lara Jean.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO ALL THE BOYS: P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU")

CENTINEO: (As Peter) Break my heart. Break my heart into a thousand pieces. Do whatever you want.

LANA CONDOR: (As Lara Jean) I love you.

CENTINEO: (As Peter) I love you, too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So sweet.

CENTINEO: It was the soundtrack. That's what made it work is this - hearing that da-da-da-da-da come in, you're like damn, bro. It's the...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Exactly.

CENTINEO: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the flood of tears. I mean, it seems, though, seriously, to - really tapped into something that your generation in particular but I think maybe even mine and all generations want to see in men, which is sort of a more openness to emotion and showing vulnerability. Is that something you thought about while playing the character?

CENTINEO: I feel like you can't say, break my heart into a thousand pieces and, I love you without being vulnerable. Those are very honest statements. And I feel like that's what we all want - right? - is we want honesty and vulnerability. And being pent up and not releasing your emotion is something that, as men - for, you know, a very long time, we've been conditioned to think is normal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

CENTINEO: And it's led to so many, like, psychiatric ailments.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, do you think it's important to see sort of different types of masculinity, especially in romantic movies, where normally, you'd have maybe the girl say that and not the guy?

CENTINEO: Yeah. Yeah. I think so. And I think, hopefully, it's reflective of a emerging or a shifting culture. Hopefully, if we change the type of masculinity portrayed on camera and it's getting good responses, then it's either where we're aspiring to be, or it's people relating to it on a personal level. And I think it's super important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People who know you have described as very thoughtful and sort of - and that you have drawn a lot of different inspirations in your life for your acting - you know, from books and other things. So I'm just wondering, like, what is it that you draw that inspiration from?

CENTINEO: I like reading one fiction and one nonfiction book simultaneously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really?

CENTINEO: Yeah. Yeah. I try to be pretty open-minded. The last fiction I read was "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know it well.

CENTINEO: And before that, I read "Shantaram" a while ago and - or "The Fountainhead," even. I just love reading books that have created, you know, intellectual riots. I think they're super interesting. And it's so hard to find.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I read that you eventually want to do movies that are the kind that you can't sleep after. What does that mean?

CENTINEO: Yeah. Yeah. Ones that just make you question - whether it's because you got scared for some reason or because it just, like, clicked your mind into a place where you're just now questioning and thinking and, like, actively awake. I love that. I love films that just spark you into a state of presence and awareness - super, super sick.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As someone who's 23, has millions of followers on Instagram and you've had a pretty quick rise to sort of celebrity, how do you maintain your sense of self? Because so many of your fans, like, freak out when you do something that may seem small, like shave your head or bleach your beard or get a girlfriend. Everyone's very invested in that.

CENTINEO: I guess not losing my sense of self is difficult sometimes. But I find that finding new ways to express myself is very, very important. Like the other night, I drew some character. And it's this cute little - it resembles Mr. Potato Head. (Laughter). And it's - and he's just - he looks super sad and super exhausted. Out of nowhere - and I was like, you know what? Like, yeah, I feel like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's my inner Mr. Potato Head.

CENTINEO: That's my inner Mr. Potato Head. And so, like, in, like, that moment - it sounds ridiculous, maybe - but, you know, that cartoon character was such an honest reflection of my inner state that it almost was as if I finally had accepted that. And I feel better because of it. So how do I not lose my sense of self? It's a - I don't know. It's a hard question to answer but...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a work in progress. It always is, I guess, for everybody.

CENTINEO: Yeah. Totally, totally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to end by just saying that I have an opinion on the sequel.

CENTINEO: Oh, my God. Please, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

CENTINEO: Give it to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I really just felt that Lara Jean really did not behave well with you in this particular iteration. And, you know, (laughter) I just...

CENTINEO: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I hope that means something to you.

CENTINEO: I really appreciate you saying that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For those who may not have seen it, there is a love triangle involved there. You know...

CENTINEO: There is some lack of communication.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Seriously lack of communication. There's a lot going on there. And it was like a hot minute after she got you that this all went down.

CENTINEO: Yeah. We were committed, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

CENTINEO: Committed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You" is now on Netflix. Noah Centineo, thank you so much.

CENTINEO: Thanks so much. Have an amazing day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.