I have a confession to make: I was late to the Kissing Booth party. I know, I know. I’ve been missing out, but better late than never, they say. So when I got the opportunity to speak with star Joel Courtney for the Netflix franchise’s third and final film, it was time for a little Kissing Booth binge session. Now, I fully understand why it’s one of the streaming service’s most successful movie projects of all time. The Kissing Booth is a heartwarming, feel-good watch from start to finish, but more than that, it’s the loveable characters that keep you coming back for more. Name a better BFF duo than Elle and Lee. I’ll wait. Elle and Noah? Straight-up #couplegoals. And don’t get me started on Marco, our dreamy potential rival. The on-screen dynamic between the films’ young stars is *chef’s kiss*.
During my phone call with Courtney, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast as Lee Flynn, the actor tells me the on-screen relationships are a testament to the real-life bonds and friendships formed by the cast. From the sounds of it, the last four years have consisted of nonstop laughing, especially with co-star and Gen Z rom-com queen Joey King. "It’s just been the best ride,” he says, thinking back on the experience. The TKB franchise may be coming to a bittersweet end this month, but one thing is for sure: It’s going out with a bang. When Elle and Lee find their childhood beach house bucket list, they set out to check off each item before leaving for college, leading to a series of epic moments. My personal favorites are a particularly entertaining Mario-inspired go-kart race and a flash-mob dinner scene. The Kissing Booth 3 is good, old-fashion fun coupled with a relatable coming-of-age narrative, making it a must-watch film this summer.
Ahead, Courtney and I chat about the final chapter of TKB, his fondest memories from filming, and the exciting new doors he is opening next.
It’s bittersweet that we’re here talking about the third and final film in the The Kissing Booth franchise. How are you feeling right now?
I am so excited for the release of the third movie, and like you said, it is bittersweet in that this has been one of the most fun runs of three, almost four, years from the beginning of Kissing Booth one to now. It’s just been the best ride. I’ve made so many friends and worked with some incredibly wonderful and talented people, and we are so proud of the franchise and what it’s been able to do and how many people it’s been able to reach. So yeah, bittersweet is the encompassing idea of it for me.
What do you love most about playing a character like Lee?
I think one of my favorite things about Lee is his openness and how he does everything with his whole being. If he loves you, you have all of him. And he learns boundaries and how not to give all of himself to one thing and to compartmentalize. There’s a journey and a learning experience. It’s not really a coming-of-age story for Lee, but he learns to function as an adult. This is Lee starting to adult, which is always tough, as I have learned.
I think what I’m going to miss most is filming with Joey [King]. The main takeaway I have from filming is laughing with her. It’s the most consistent thing that we ever did, and it’s a through-line memory from the first day of filming to the last. We just didn’t stop laughing.
How would you say you and Lee are most similar? What about your differences?
Most similar, I would say his heart for people is just so pure. Just the way that he is all or nothing, I think that is something that I see in myself. I’m very much a people pleaser, which I’m working on, and I think that Lee is 100% a people pleaser—not for everybody but [for the] people he loves most. And then the ways we are different, I would say I have better style. It’s so funny. In the first movie, they were really focusing on Lee having this poor sense of style and clothes. I have a more refined sense of style.
Elle and Lee find the epic beach bucket list they created when they were kids, which sets the rest of the events of the film in motion. What are some of the things on your personal bucket list?
On my personal bucket list, I have things like skydiving and BASE jumping. I’ve got adrenaline-junkie things. But then, I also have things like I want to travel to Italy. I really enjoy scotch, and there are some distilleries in Scotland that are centuries old. I want to go and do tastings there and just feel the age of these locations and the history they have. Some of those distilleries, if I’m not mistaken, are older than America. My bucket list is all over the place.
Between the epic Mario Kart scene, the flash mob, and the cliff jumping, The Kissing Booth 3 is the epitome of summer fun.
Yeah, we had so much fun. The Mario Kart scene, that is actually something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I never really thought of officially making it a bucket-list item, but I have always wanted to drive go-karts and throw bananas at people. So that was actually a bucket-list dream come true for me. It was a tough process actually filming that [scene]. It was meant to be done in a couple of days, but it took so much specificity in getting all of the shots of all the actors, and then we’re also moving at the same time, so focus was always a struggle. Sometimes, we were being towed, and sometimes, we were free driving. It was an adventure. But I would have to say one of my favorite bucket-list items [from the film] was sumo wrestling with Joey. I was laughing so hard while we were filming that scene and wearing the sumo suit. I couldn’t stand up. People had to come in and pick me up and put me back on my feet so we could start filming and run around again. I have to say sumo was maybe my favorite to do.
Lee and Elle’s rules are a consistent thread throughout all of the films. Do you have a favorite rule that you live by in your own life?
Yeah. Oh shoot, what rule number is it? For the life of me, I cannot remember the rule number, but it comes up in the first movie, and it’s "If you can’t tell your best friend about something, you shouldn’t be doing it.” That’s something I live my life by for accountability. Like if I can’t tell my wife that I’m doing something, I shouldn’t be doing it, right? And it extends to my friends, protecting them, respecting them, honoring them as friends. If this is something I am going to have to make up for or apologize for or is wrong in general, I should not be doing it. And I catch myself with that rule sometimes. Ugh, what number is it? It’s killing me! I’m going to go watch the first movie again.
Your on-screen mom is Molly Ringwald, who is beloved for such classic teen rom-coms as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. What did you enjoy most about working with her? Did she share any tips?
What a legend. Molly is amazing. Having her on set was so much fun. Joey really carried these films on her shoulders. They would not be the movies they are without Joey King. And I find, for myself, that whenever Molly was on set, there was a groundedness and a curiosity for me. When Molly was on set, I just wanted to hear her talk and listen to her tell stories and reminisce or just glean wisdom from her. She was Joey King before Joey King was born, you know? She was the original rom-com queen. And here we are, however many years later, and we are making a hit rom-com. Having her on set, I don’t know. There was a generational passing down of the baton. It was just so cool.
The Kissing Booth has amassed a huge following and is one of Netflix’s most-watched films of all time. What do you think is the secret sauce of this franchise?
I don’t know if I can boil down the secret sauce into one ingredient. This was a labor of love. It was not easy. If it came down to one thing, I would say it was Vince Marcello’s vision. Our director had the clearest idea in his head about what these films could mean to people, and he just put his entire being into making these movies the best that they could absolutely be. The devil is in the details, and he was on the details. He was all over the details. The details didn’t know what hit them. It was meticulous. Honestly, it came down to clothes complementing each other, color schemes progressing, things that I didn’t even know went into making movies. Vince perfected The Kissing Booth franchise. On top of that, there’s also Joey’s performance that carries the films through. There’s the romantic relationship of Noah and Elle and Jacob [Elordi] just coming in and being the perfect Noah. The friendship between Elle and Lee. There are so many things and so much hard work that came from all the departments. Props, hair and makeup, wardrobe, the ADs, our PAs on set, the sound department, everybody worked their butts off and gave their all for these movies, and I think that’s what really makes these movies shine.
What has surprised you most about the reaction to The Kissing Booth? Any unexpected fans you discovered?
The reaction from the first movie blew me away. It’s not that I called it, but when I was done filming and we were flying back to the States—because we filmed in South Africa—I remember calling my manager and telling her this felt different. I don’t really know why. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it felt really good on set. I just felt amazing leaving the set from the first movie. I thought, "This is going to do really well.” It was such an overwhelmingly positive experience. I remember telling [my agent] this. And then, the movie comes out, and it just explodes to a degree like nothing I have been a part of or done. It’s such an epic experience. Yes, for us, it is work. You are on set, it’s hard, you are working long hours, but at the end of the day, it’s entertainment, and people get to see it, and you hope that they like it. The love we have received on this franchise is so overwhelming. It’s why we do it. That kind of reception is what everyone hopes for, just lavishly given love and so much support. I’m also a fan of the movies. They still make me laugh and cry. I get so invested.
What are you going to miss most about working with this cast?
The playfulness of the cast is probably one of the most fun experiences that I’ve had on set, and I think that will be my main takeaway. After filming, we weren't sick of each other. We wanted to go hang out. We just spent a week together filming 12-hour days, and on the weekends, we would go out for drinks and hang out and go have fun. I think those are the bonds I will miss most working with this cast. Everybody was so kind and encouraging of each other. I remember multiple times we were on set, and the cast would be in the holding room, and we’re just laughing out loud, and they are rehearsing, so they would be like, "Hey, we need it quiet so that we can focus and do our thing in here, and then we will bring you on, and you can laugh all you want on set and while we’re rolling, but for now, we need it to be a little quieter.” It was like we’re busted! I think that also speaks to the relationships on screen coming through the characters. There was just a really good rapport with each other.
So fashion is a part of your job as an actor, but what is your personal relationship to style?
I do have interest in style, and I will say it is an evolving situation. I’m the youngest of four kids, so mostly, what I wore growing up was hand-me-downs. There was not much that I could do with that in terms of creativity. If I had been interested at a younger age, I could have, but now that I’m buying my own clothes, my wife Mia is a huge inspiration for me. There are days where I’m about to walk out the front door, and I’m like, "I don’t think she would like this outfit,” and I ask her, What do I wear with this? And she’ll go, "Why don’t you try wearing this.” It’s an evolving situation, and I’ve had a really great time working with fun brands. Actually, over the last couple of years, my personal stylist Ashley Weston—I absolutely adore her—has put me in some of the coolest outfits. I am excited to explore it more.
Is there anyone in particular who you think is doing interesting things fashion-wise?
I think Timothée Chalamet has amazing style. I follow the GQ page on Instagram, and they do Fit of the Week and have some master stylists for things, and I’m just really appreciating a sense of style more. I’ve also learned there are different senses of style, so what I think is cool, other people will not. It’s subjective. It’s a personal choice of what you put on every day. I am by no means well educated or informed enough to pursue or dress myself for big things, but it’s just fun. I like trying out new stuff. It’s kind of like a chessboard. No two games are exactly the same. As soon as you change a single piece of an outfit, the entire outfit changes. It’s an overwhelming industry to think about pursuing because there is so much to it, but I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and I’m excited to learn more about it.
Looking beyond The Kissing Booth, what are you excited about next?
I am just excited about opening new doors and working with new people. Working with Kissing Booth, like I said, it’s been three years of the same character, of the same everything. Same but different, you know? It’s a little odd closing that door and knowing that door is permanently closed, but there will be new doors opening up. I have some really exciting things in the works. I just filmed a movie with Miramax, and it was super fun. And I also have Players with Netflix in the comedy department. There’s a lot happening, and I’m very blessed. I know that life has been crazy, and the last couple of years have been really tough for a lot of people, so I’m very blessed to be in the industry that I’m in, and I have so much love for it and passion for the work. I really do hope to be one of those guys who has a résumé longer than their arm at the end of a long and joyful life.
The Kissing Booth 3 is now streaming on Netflix.
Photographer: Maarten de Boer
Stylist: Ashley Weston
Stylist Assistant: Neissa Diabate
Groomer: Rachel Burney
Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.
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