Introducing: Lola Tung, the Breakout Star of The Summer I Turned Pretty

When Jenny Han’s New York Times best-selling YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was adapted for the small screen in the summer of 2018, an all-out frenzy ensued. It quickly became one of Netflix’s most-viewed original films, its young stars became household names overnight, and two beloved sequels followed. Audiences couldn’t get enough, and we predict lightning will strike twice with Han’s next adaptation, The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Similar to its predecessor, The Summer I Turned Pretty, which will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video on June 17, features a heart-fluttering coming-of-age story—this time set in an idyllic beachside town—and a young cast of fresh faces on the verge of their big break. The story follows protagonist Isabel "Belly” Conklin, played by newcomer Lola Tung, as she navigates first love and first heartbreak during one unforgettable summer that changed everything. Tung’s performance as the cheerful teen is so fantastic and so pure. It’s no surprise the 19-year-old was plucked from her freshman studies at Carnegie Mellon to lead the series in her first-ever TV role. Having watched only her virtual senior showcase from the esteemed LaGuardia High School, Tung’s current manager knew she was a special talent and immediately reached out with the audition. Tung submitted her tape with the pretense that school was her main priority, but the opportunity to be a part of such a special adaptation and work alongside Han was too good for the aspiring actress to pass up, so she took the year off.

"I got to be on a set for the first time and have my first professional job be this really incredible project,” Tung tells us of her decision. 


(Image credit: Grant Legan)

Tung is not far off from the 16-year-old she plays on-screen. It wasn’t that long ago that she, too, was longing to find her true self and searching for her path in life. "I still feel that sometimes,” she says with a smile. Tung was a shy, introverted kid before she found her love of performing while playing the Tin Man in a middle school production of The Wizard of Oz. Growing up in New York City, she was surrounded by live theater and musicals, which further invigorated her love of the arts and honest storytelling. "I always say one of my favorite shows is Fleabag, and I love I May Destroy You, these stories centering women and written by women that make you really think and make you feel so many different emotions,” she says. 

Hearing about the projects that have had an impact on Tung, it’s easy to see why she’s drawn to Han’s writing and her ability to capture the authentic teenage experience and all the emotions, feelings, and confusion that come with it. "I think she does such a beautiful job of creating these worlds,” Tung says. "Specifically in The Summer I Turned Pretty, you really feel like you are a part of it and really feel like you are going on the journey with these characters and experiencing the emotions that they are experiencing.” The actress has long counted herself a member of the Han fan club and knows firsthand how special these books are and the deep connection people have to them—a realization that comes with some weight.

There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with any adaptation, especially around casting. However, when news broke of Tung’s attachment to the project, the response online was very positive, allowing the young actress to breathe a sigh of relief. "When you first read a book, you picture whatever you want, and that’s the wonderful thing about reading,” she says. "You get to imagine and create this whole world. I know that everyone has a different image in their head, but I hope that people can really see the world that they fell in love with brought to life. And I’m excited for everyone to see it because we’re very proud of it.”


(Image credit: Grant Legan)

Tung likened filming in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, to going to summer camp. A photo album on her Instagram documents some of the playful moments on set with castmates Chris Briney, Sean Kaufman, and Rain Spencer. A favorite pastime was hanging in an open field near their apartments playing baseball and holding Wiffle Ball tournaments. The days would often end with Tung whipping out her guitar and the cast singing Olivia Rodrigo together. The bond between the actress and the rest of the crew was immediate and long-lasting. "I made some friends who I think will be in my life for a very long time and who I still hang out with and talk to now,” she tells us. The relationships built in those few weeks leading up to filming were invaluable when it came time to actually start shooting the project. Having never worked in front of a camera before (she was a theater girl in high school and college), Tung was a novice as well as the youngest person on set. But she found a support system in her new friends and Han, who was there to talk to whenever Tung felt worried or stressed about a scene.

As our conversation with the actress starts to wrap up, we ask about the potential overnight success a series like this could bring for her and her castmates. Tung laughs sheepishly, admitting it has crossed her mind. It’s hard to predict these things, but having consumed the seven-episode series in two sittings, we have reason to believe a TATBILB-like frenzy could ensue.


(Image credit: Grant Legan)

Whatever the future holds, Tung remains grateful and grounded in this moment. "It was really a dream first job, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she says. Though, we wouldn’t fault her for asking for a second and third season. 

Don't miss Tung in The Summer I Turned Pretty, streaming June 17 on Amazon Prime Video. 

Photographer: Grant Legan

Stylist: Andrew Gelwicks

Hairstylist: Corey Tuttle

Makeup Artist: Juliette Perreux

Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.