How different is ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ to the book? Its director talks us through the necessary changes

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s director Susan Johnson has opened up about adapting and altering some aspects of Jenny Han’s beloved novel for Netflix, admitting that tiny changes were needed to make the film work so well.

During our recent discussion Johnson admitted that one of the biggest changes required was altering the age of Anna Cathcart’s Kitty, the younger sister of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), who is the comedic relief in “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.” 

“Agewise, I think Kitty in the book is 7 or 9. So we had to age her up to 12. Because that dialogue is so specific and she is the comedic relief. We were finding that 7-year-olds couldn’t quite pull that off.”

“The same for Lana before we cast Lara Jean. There were girls that were age appropriate but just seemed so old or too young for the role.”

“I am a big believer that you can’t cast teenagers in their 20s. Because there is an innocence loss there that doesn’t help the film. So it was a matter of putting those pieces together.”

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is actually the first in three books about Lara Jean Covey’s romantic adventures, but Johnson resisted the urge to read “P.S. I Still Love You” and “Always And Forever, Lara Jean” until after the film was complete. 

“I read the first book just before we started filming. But I didn’t read 2 or 3 intentionally, because I didn’t want to have information that I wasn’t supposed to have.” 

“I guess we did borrow a tiny little bit from book 2, and just to flesh out the Peter and Josh of it all.”

This provoked Johnson to explain that trying to figure out the balance between Noah Centineo’s Peter and Isreal Broussard’s Josh led to one of the other big alterations in the film. 

“I think Josh is a little more prominent in the books. So trying to figure out a balance between Peter, Josh and Lara Jean was a little bit more complicated.”

“But that came with the casting. Because once we put them in a room together the casting became so apparent that we had done a good job.”

“We did a chemistry reading for five actors for each role and sort of mixed and matched. I wasn’t sure if Peter should play Israel or Josh. And vice versa for Noah.”

“But once we saw them with Lana it kind of all became clear.  That was unique for the film. I had never done it like that before.”

But what was it exactly that Susan Johnson was trying to capture from Jenny Han’s original book? 

“I would say the overall tone. I think the book is so sweet. I don’t mean that in a negative way.”

“I felt like you could really escape into characters that are living out a moment in their life that people could relate to.”

“I like to explore facing your fears and living your best life. The story is not one of angst and anger and depression and I hate my parents and other teen things that most movies are centered on. This is a little more coming of age.”

“I thought what was most unique about Jenny’s writing was just how honest and pure and kind sweet and joyful it was. And I wanted to bring that into the movie.”

That’s exactly why, once she was all signed up to direct the film, Susan made sure that Jenny was heavily involved in the evolution and production of “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

“I wasn’t part of the adaptation, so I don’t know what happened before I got it. But as soon as I got the movie Jenny and I basically found each other online.” 

“I just wanted to make sure she had read it, and she was part of the whole process and that she had signed off on it. Because the fan base was so vocal I wanted to make sure we were honoring what things they wanted to see, and what they were responding to from the book.”

“So we connected right away, she gave me some mood boards, we talked about wardrobe, and some script changes that I thought we kind of needed, that we did together.”

“Then she came out to set and was there for a couple of weeks of shooting. Which was great, and fantastic to have her there. Because it is always good to go straight to the source.”

“Jen was very gracious but also stayed out of the way. Which was nice. She was a gentle guiding hand if I needed it. She never imposed her demands on the process. Which I really appreciated and respected.”

“I did all of this research before we started shooting, in regards to fan base etc. But when we started shooting I just went off the Internet for 6 weeks.” 

“Because I had to make sure I was just following my own instincts, and doing my own vision of Jenny’s book and Sofia’s script.”

“I had an assistant who would occasionally help. I was like, ‘If I am missing the boat somewhere, if you see something that is wrong, please just tap me on the shoulder and remind me that X, Y and Z in the book is so important in the book for fans for these reasons.’” 

“Obviously we couldn’t get everything in the movie, so some fans will be upset that those scenes are not there, but I think for the most part they will be pretty happy.”

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is now available on Netflix. 

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