The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before film franchise gave us many things: the return of the feel-good rom-com, Jenny Han’s brilliant coming-of-age storytelling, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo (swoon!), and our favorite nosy-but-adorable younger sister Kitty Song Covey. Played by Anna Cathcart, Kitty quickly became a fan favorite thanks to her unapologetic confidence and witty sarcasm. Most of all, she loves love, and we love that about her. But after spending the TATBILB films playing matchmaker for everyone else, it’s finally time for her love story to begin. Cue Netflix’s new series XO, Kitty.
Rumors of a Kitty spin-off started swirling during filming of the final TATBILB movie, but it wasn’t until Cathcart’s bags were packed for Korea early last year that it actually felt real for the actress. The 10-episode series picks up three years after the films left off. Now entering her junior year, Kitty hatches a plan to reunite with her long-distance boyfriend Dae by attending the same Seoul high school, KISS, which was also attended by her late mother. Navigating a new country, a new school, new friendships, and new romances, Kitty is unsure for the first time—and on the biggest journey of her life.
We caught up with Cathcart before the show’s premiere on May 18 to talk about Kitty’s life-changing move to Seoul, the perks of growing up alongside her character, and art imitating life.
How did you first hear that Kitty Covey would be getting her own spin-off series?
It was initially talked about when I was shooting the third movie [of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before], and it was just an idea—like, “Oh, that would be so cool. Imagine if that happened?” I was like, “That would be great. I would love that.” But I really did not take it seriously. I honestly thought they were joking. And then a little bit of time went by, and it started being talked about more seriously at the end of 2019. But still for the longest time, I was like, “It’s not going to happen. There’s no way this is actually going to be a thing.” Just last year when we started shooting in March and we started getting ready at the start of the year, it was like, “Oh my god, this is actually going to be a thing. This is reality, and we’re going to Korea, and we’re doing this.”
What excited you most about where they were taking Kitty’s story and what audiences would get to see with this character that we didn’t with the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before films?
Kitty in the movies, we always see her very confident. She knows who she is. She knows what’s going on, which is always something I’ve loved about her and have admired throughout the movies as well. She’s just very sure of herself. Now with the series, that is quivering for the first time, and she’s not sure of herself, and she doesn’t really feel like she’s got it under control, and she doesn’t quite know what’s going on or what’s going to happen next. That’s a really powerful thing because that’s often what happens when you grow up or when things progress. It’s like, “Oh, things aren’t always as simple as they might have been when I was younger or that I might have pictured in my head.” So I love that we see Kitty unsure for the first time and dealing with that and navigating what that is like. Also, being okay with not knowing and not having it all figured out is something that a lot of people can relate to, and I’m glad they explored that with Kitty.
Jenny Han—who penned To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and last year’s hit The Summer I Turned Pretty—is a writer, EP, and showrunner on this series. What do you personally love about her approach to writing coming-of-age stories?
I read the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before books back when we were doing the movies, and I love just the details of having a teenage girl’s voice, and I can relate to Lara Jean in lots of ways—just the accuracy of the little things in her brain and how she sees the world. I think it’s really cool that Kitty is so different from Lara Jean and the things that she’s going through and her worries and her concerns are very different from Lara Jean’s. Even with The Summer I Turned Pretty, I watched the whole series and am a big fan, and that’s also a different world than Kitty and all the differences of the other characters and dynamics. None of them are the same. It’s very cool to see all the worlds within the JCU, which is what we like to call it, the Jenny Cinematic Universe.
You started playing Kitty when you were 14 years old. Now, you are 19, and Kitty is a junior in high school, so you have essentially grown up together. How has playing Kitty impacted you as a person?
I definitely feel like I’ve grown up with her by my side, which is pretty crazy. I had just finished grade eight when I was first auditioning. I was just about to turn 14, and now, I am almost 20 and going to university. I am at a different stage in my life, and Kitty is also in a different stage of her life, so getting to hold her hand through growing up is pretty crazy, and I feel lucky that I have that unique experience. Kitty is obviously going through different things than I am, but at the root of it, [there] are a lot of the same messages and things that we are both learning, like how to be independent, how to grow up and be close to your family, figuring out who you are, and not losing yourself but following your heart. All of those things I am very much going through in my personal life, too, so having Kitty going through that in her own way alongside me is very cool.
Kitty is a hopeless romantic who loves grand gestures. Where do you think her extreme love of love all started?
I think she is so close to her family and values her family so much that… In the movies, we see her get so obsessed with her family’s love lives, and I think that drives from the love that she has for her family members. She wants to see them at their best and meet people who bring out the best in them. So I think it stems from her immense love for her family and now for her friends and people in her life.
Would you say you are similarly a hopeless romantic?
I think so. I love good, cheesy love movies and … cute things. I get very excited about people’s love lives.
Kitty is the ultimate matchmaker. What about you? Do you have that instinctual feeling when you know two people are right for each other?
I don’t know. I definitely think Kitty is the pro at that, and she’s definitely better at that than I am. But I know Kitty gets very involved with her sister’s love life, especially in the movies, and I have an older sister who is my best friend in the whole world, and I definitely love getting involved in her love life. I don’t think I would ever do what Kitty did and send out secret letters, but I am definitely someone who gets very excited and loves love.
A consistent theme in the series is that a lot of the characters, even Kitty, feel a need to hide certain aspects of their true selves. What do you hope audiences take away from their stories?
I really like that we explored that type of storyline, and I think it’s something that so many people can relate to in different ways. That feeling of having to hide a part of yourself or that you are unsure about a part of who you are is something that is part of life, and I think it’s great for viewers to see that so many people go through it. It’s a great reminder that you don’t know what someone might be going through or the struggles they are facing or what’s going on in their brain when they are doing something and to just remember that and treat people with compassion and kindness because you don’t really know what’s happening in everyone’s personal lives. I think also a big message is that Kitty doesn’t [have it figured it out] at the end of the season. She’s not like, “Oh, well, I’ve got it again. I’ve figured it out and know who I am and know what this means.” She’s very unsure and learning to be okay with that uncertainty. The scene with Kitty and her dad is one of my favorites. She’s having a low moment and feeling really overwhelmed, and love is still number one at the forefront of her family. You can see how much care and how close-knit they are, and I know that’s not everybody’s experience, but I think it’s amazing to have that portrayed, such an amazing, caring, loving family. I love that she doesn’t know because that’s often what happens.
We see Kitty on a journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with her own sexuality. What was important to you in terms of showcasing this evolution for her?
The main part that I love is that she doesn’t know, like I said. It’s not something that is so clear-cut for her, and she’s just like, “Well, this is what happened, and this is how I feel. I got it.” Sometimes, it can be really scary and overwhelming, and giving yourself the space to figure that out is in itself something that I like about the storyline. She is being honest with herself, and that’s really difficult, and she’s being honest with people in her life who she cares about and who she loves, and she’s never apologizing for how she feels because feelings are sometimes out of your control. She’s just like, “This is what’s going on,” and it’s in her control how she handles it. I love that we’ve portrayed a storyline like that.
Kitty’s future at KISS is unknown, and a new romance potential pops up for her at the end. What do you hope to see next for her?
I hope that Kitty just continues to make decisions off of things that she wants and off of the feelings that are true to her instead of doing something because she feels like she should or someone expects her to. So instead just doing what feels right and following her heart in that moment. I really hope she continues to do that and gives herself the space to figure it out and see what naturally comes next and unfolds.
Can you tell me about your experience filming the show in Korea?
I love the cast so much, and I miss them so much. I can’t wait. I’m going to be reuniting with some of them soon, and I’ve had a lot of them visit me in Vancouver, which is great. But getting to go to Korea and have this experience, I felt like I was at an international school myself. I was going on this wild trip far away from home, meeting so many amazing other people who are also in this experience together. It was so bonding. We all stayed in the same hotel and could just run down the hall to each other’s room. It felt like we were in the dorms ourselves. Korea itself is such a beautiful place, and living in Seoul was amazing because we were there for four months, so we actually got to know different neighborhoods, and there was so much more to explore. It wasn’t just like being a tourist, which I think was a really cool experience too. I got to know the little parts about it, which I loved. It was a very crazy, wild chapter of my life, and I’m very grateful.
You mentioned late last year that you are in your “university student era” and studying at the University of British Columbia. What are you studying? And how does your school experience compare to that of Kitty?
I am studying creative writing and sociology. I really love school and have always wanted to follow this path. They said it would be difficult when I’m trying to work and do acting as well, but I’m very lucky that it worked out timing-wise. It is weird, the parallels. Watching the show, Kitty has a scene with Q, and he’s like, “Remember, this really opened you up. You have learned so much and grown so much as a person.” And that’s literally me. Also, the stages I am in of being in new environments, learning how to be independent for the first time, and being close with my family but being on my own, too—that balance is very prominent in my life, and I'm trying to figure it out personally. So having Kitty go through those same things at the same time is very unique.
You’ve had the opportunity to play a few characters consistently throughout your career. There’s Kitty, Dizzy from Descendants, and Agent Olympia from Odd Squad. As an actor, what do you find the most rewarding about continuously going back to these characters?
It’s a mix between comfort as well as the joy of getting to see a character grow and change but also still be themselves at the root of who you know them to be. That balance of changing but also knowing who they are at the core is a really cool thing to play with and explore. Getting to go back and putting on their shoes again, quite literally, and putting on their outfit, it’s like I’m back with this friend who I have known for a while, especially with Kitty because there was such a gap in the storyline with her being a kid in middle school to now a very different stage and a very different environment. To see her again, but differently, was a very cool experience. On the very first day, I was like, “It’s good to see you. We’re back.”
Did you feel when you got back onto set that you quickly stepped back into Kitty, or did you have to find her again?
In ways, for sure, with the little mannerisms and the spirit she carries. For this project specifically—because it was such a different stage of her life and there was a lot of focus on making sure we see her growth and we see her change [and] that she’s not the same little kid that we know as the little sister, as the meddler middle schooler—that was definitely something I had to learn how to find and find that balance of having both of those things be true. She’s still the same person, but she’s also very different, and she’s growing, and we want to see that growth. I would say that was different from going back to some of the other projects for another season or another sequel when it’s more consistent and when it feels more of the same.
I know you are fully in school mode, but thinking ahead in your career, what are some things you’d like to start exploring next?
I have so many dreams and so many things I want to do. I think about this all the time because it’s just fun to imagine, and there are a lot of different characters that I’ve never really gotten to explore before. I am personally a massive fan of musicals, and I would love to explore that world. Descendents was a musical, and that was one of my favorite experiences of my life getting to be on that. I don’t know. There are a lot of really fun universes I would love to dive into, so we’ll see what happens next. But now, [I’m] just mainly focused on and excited to show people XO, Kitty.
XO, Kitty is now streaming on Netflix.