When I first meet Lana Condor over Zoom, the newly minted Neutrogena Ambassador is breathlessly apologetic over two minutes’ lateness. “The Zooming is killing me!” she cries, her eyes wide, hands flailing in her attempt to convey the chaos that is dealing with unreliable electronics. Almost immediately, she reminds me—in the best way—of the theater kids I hung around in high school: her face is compulsively expressive, every emotion writ large across her face at every second, and her unabashed earnestness is infectious. Whether she’s speaking about her acting work, her partnership with Neutrogena, or her recent foray into songwriting, she’s lit up from the inside by her enthusiasm. It’s clear that Condor is perpetually geeked out about the fact that she gets to do this stuff for a living, and she’s not even a little bit embarrassed to show it.
This is not to say that Condor doesn’t take her work seriously. When asked about her work with Neutrogena or about her ongoing role as Lara Jean in the To All the Boys movies (the third and final movie recently wrapped reshoots in Vancouver), the actress first gushes about excited she is to have gotten the job—and then explains that these opportunities are especially meaningful to her as an Asian-American girl who grew up without access to representation in media or advertising. For Condor, it seems, her career is about so much more than, well, her own career—but can you blame her for enjoying herself along the way? Read on to learn about Condor’s favorite beauty products, her thoughts on how Asian-American representation has improved since To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and that time her face roller shattered after she put it in the freezer.
Are you in your house, or are you still in Vancouver for reshoots?
I just came back, so, finally in my home. When you go to Canada, you have to do a mandatory 14-day quarantine, and they're so strict—which makes a lot of sense, but so I just stared at the wall for 14 days. Did absolutely nothing but read, stare at the wall and take care of my skin. So I'm happy to be home, because at least I can walk around and have a little bit of freedom.
You recently moved to Seattle, right? Is that a permanent move away from L.A.? I remember reading that you grew up in Washington.
Yeah! I lived here on Whidbey Island from first grade through sixth grade, and I just always loved the Pacific Northwest. I don't know if it's like a permanent move away from L.A., because I am always there in general for work, but I just wanted roots. Roots are so important to me. Because of traveling so much pre-Covid, I always felt like I just wanted a home to come home to. I know this sounds so dumb, but I want to use my own body wash—my [Neutrogena] Hydro Boost body wash, that’s all I care about! [LAUGHS]. And I think when you're living out of your suitcase you never really know what's going to happen. So I don’t know if it's a permanent move, but it's definitely one that has been really healthy for me.
That makes a lot of sense, especially right now. You’ve been pretty busy lately—didn’t you just release a single?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I did! [LAUGHS] The music is very new to me. It was more of a quarantine project, because I was like, “What am I going to do with my life? Nothing's filming right now.” So, yeah, I've been writing a lot of music, which is really fun for me and just a fun quarantine project. And I'm working with Neutrogena, which has been the best part of my quarantine for sure.
Yeah, can you talk about how you got involved with Neutrogena? It must be wild to embark on a partnership like that in the middle of all this.
Right, with the world changing. It’s tough, but I try and look at the bright side of things, because if I don’t, I might go crazy. My first meeting with Neutrogena was pre-COVID, and I was able to talk to them about the products that I have used since I was a child. And then I was hoping for, like, months. Like, “Please, please, I hope they like me as much as I like them!” So the partnership started during the beginning of COVID, and it has really kept me kind of excited and optimistic. It’s kept me focused, which is really, really nice. And while we have this downtime, you can really kind of dive into your skincare and figure out what actually works for you, because you’re at home a lot and you kind of have the time.
Yeah, I've had the same experience with skincare recently—I kind of just broke down my whole routine and rebuilt it from scratch. What does your routine look like right now?
I love what you just said about like breaking down your routine and starting over again. You know, I've always used the Neutrogena makeup wipes, that's just been a staple of mine from since I was a kid, and I was using their Bright Boost serum with the turmeric way before. I was also using their Grapefruit Acne Wash and their Hydro Boost Gel. They have a lash enhancer serum that goes on lashes to help them grow. When I work all the time, I have false lashes or wear strips, but now that there's so much downtime and I never have to really wear makeup, I've been using the lash serum because I really want my natural lashes to grow. And I have actually seen a difference. Like, when I went back to work in Vancouver, my makeup artist was so impressed because typically she has to put on like all these lashes. She's like, “Wow, your lashes are so strong!” I was like, thank you! [LAUGHS] So that's kind of what I've been doing. I try to keep it within maybe just one handful of products because there's so many steps, I just get tired.
Yeah, I find especially that if I want to do fancy stuff, I can do it at night. But I need to keep my morning routine short and simple, or I just don't do it.
Yeah, exactly. Also, rolling your face. I use like a face roller, and I don't know if you've ever tried it, but it wakes you up. Because sometimes you just need, like—“WAKE UP!”
Do you keep yours in the freezer?
Well, I used to, but the one that I have which is just a classic roller broke because it was in the freezer! Now I'm afraid of the breakage, so I just keep it out. If you want to keep it in the freezer, I think you need to get, like, an ice roller.
What else have you been doing in lockdown?
You know, I've learned never to expect the same thing emotionally every day. I always I feel like I wake up every single day being like, “Okay, what's going to happen? What’s going to happen!?!” So I've been really trying to work on my mental health during this time. I was just talking to my boyfriend about how, when you're sitting here and not really that busy, you're forced to really confront yourself. And I think because I’ve been working nonstop for years that I have kind of neglected my just myself and what makes me happy. So I’m sitting with myself and meditating, and I’m realizing, “Wow, I really needed to work on my mental health a lot,” and I was just neglecting it because I was so busy and it wasn't convenient. I’ve done a lot of this thing called EFT, which is like a kind of a meditation-like therapy thing that helps you deal with emotions or memories that you have that might not be positive. And I've been trying to reach like keep in touch with my friends. I don't have any friends here in Washington, so I've been trying to keep in touch with them more consistently than I would do if I was working. And then I got a new house pre-COVID here in Seattle, but it wasn't furnished or anything because I hadn't been living in it because of traveling, so I've also been kind of like, “Oh wow, I need a rug!” “Oh, I need a chair!” But, really, the most I’m doing is taking care of this. [POINTS TO HEAD] And reading and re-educating myself. It's a weird time, it's super freaking emotional, and I think we just have to take care of our brains and our hearts. You know, that's all we can do.
What are some of the things you’ve been reading?
Right now I'm in the middle of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, which has been very illuminating to me, and I realized a lot of things. The first thing is that I only know the history that I was taught in school, which is not enough, and it's not always accurate. And so this book has been really amazing because the first the first chapter is about race, racism and the history of racism in the U.K., which I know nothing about. I think it’s really fascinating learning the history of it, because you really get to see the root of not only racism where you live but also how other places around the world model their behavior after slavery in America. So that's been really fascinating to me and helped me find my voice when I'm having a conversation with someone about race, because I just—language is so important, particularly if you're talking to someone who might not have put in a lot of work or might disagree with you. I am learning that the only way to get through to them is with specific language because it's really easy for your words to get twisted, as we all know. But I'm excited, because I ordered this huge list of books about racism and race in America, and a lot of them were backordered, which I thought was really great because I was like, okay, people are buying these and reading them. So that was really like a silver lining of optimism, like, “Okay, people actually are re-educating themselves and learning.”
I've been wondering a lot about what kind of change we’ll see going forward in media and entertainment, because that’s a place where you've got a lot of people who are really dedicated to making a difference, and yet you've also got these really old structures that are resistant to change.
Right. I mean, I can only speak to my experience. But I think just the fact that I get to be one of the new faces of Neutrogena shows that there is change happening for in a positive way. As a young girl, it was hard for me to find mainstream skincare and beauty brands that had an Asian face representing them. It’s hard to find an American brand that has a face that I can relate to who might have the same skin as me, might have the same texture, might have the same eyes and hair. So the fact that an iconic household brand like Neutrogena has like wants to work with me shows me that there is change. And in film and television, the scripts that I've been getting now are way better in terms of not being a token Asian character—which is, like, typically the best friend who’s either really nerdy or really funny and that's about it, and probably plays the violin or piano. The scripts that I'm getting now aren't like that. I'm seeing three-dimensional, fully fleshed-out characters that are emotional and not just there to fill a quota. So that makes me really optimistic for the future, but I think we just have to keep fighting for it and go day by day, and what we're all learning right now is that our voice really does matter. I think a lot of people are afraid that if they speak out, they're not going to get a job, or they're afraid they're going to lose a job, but I think we're in a really unique place right now where the higher ups are listening to us.
On that topic, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was really a watershed moment for teenage Asian-American girls, so in a lot of ways you sort of are the face of that change. What does that feel like to know that you’re representative of this project that in some ways like probably helped to trigger this shift with regards to Asian-American representation?
I'm very flattered that you said that! [LAUGHS] You know, I hope to work for the rest of my life—I love to act, and I hope to work for as long as I possibly can—but I don't know if I will ever find a project that has impacted my life in such a drastic way and also has impacted the lives of others. I think the greatest part of the whole experience is when fellow Asian Americans or just Asians in general come up to me and say, like, “I felt really represented, this was very accurate to the way that I grew up,” or “I felt really connected to Lara Jean,” or “I felt seen for the first time,” and then they'll share stories of when they were growing up and what their high school experience was like as an Asian American. And that's the greatest part of everything. The fact that I feel like I can have these conversations with random strangers really makes me feel like we are more unified, so I do think that that was one of the greatest things that I might ever do, just in terms of the heart. But I also think that it's just the beginning, and I wake up every day a little bit more hopeful that like things will actually change.