Mild spoilers ahead. Netflix's famous To All The Boys trilogy is a hard act to follow, but Anna Cathcart wants fans to give its spin-off show, XO, Kitty a solid chance. "You definitely can still feel the magic of To All The Boys in the spirit of Kitty that she had in the movies. But I think it's exciting because we get to see a new world within the universe that we know," Cathcart tells Refinery29 Australia.
The 19-year-old reprises her role as Kitty Song Covey, the youngest member of the Covey household made up of three daughters of a Korean mom (who passed away) and a white American dad. In the first film, we see Kitty famously help her sister Lara Jean (Lana Condor) find love with her crush Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), after she secretly mailed out Lara Jean's letters to all of her crushes. Now, after years of being the cheeky, meddling little sister, Kitty is using her matchmaking skills for herself in XO, Kitty. Deciding that she wants to learn more about her mother's Korean culture, she moves to Seoul for a year to attend the same boarding school her mom did. Her long-distance Korean boyfriend, Dae (Choi Min-yeong), also happens to go there — making for an exciting journey of growing up and finding love.
While die-hard fans of the original series have always been captivated by Lara Jean and Peter's romance, actor Cathcart says the spin-off still carries some of the movies' charm, while navigating new territory through Kitty's eyes.
Unfamiliarity is a key theme throughout XO, Kitty in many ways. In the way the eponymous character finds her sense of self in another country. In the way that foreign language dialogue is weaved throughout. In the way that queer people of colour are portrayed on the screen. And in the way that grief is explored in a high school series.
"Growing up, Kitty never got the chance obviously to have that connection with her mum, because her mum passed away when she was quite young," explains Cathcart. "She's heard things through her sisters and dad, but now growing up and at this stage of her life, she's realizing how much she values that and how important that is to her.
"So this is a chance for her to see things first-hand and kind of experience it for herself."
You definitely can still feel the magic of To All The Boys in the spirit of Kitty that she had in the movies. But I think it's exciting because we get to see a new world within the universe that we know.
The show delves into the complexities of love, not just between two teens with raging hormones, but also the love for a mother, for a friend, and for a culture. "It's not just romantic love. It's family love as well, and it's its love for your identity and your background and your roots," says Cathcart, explaining that it's what makes Kitty's trip to Korea all the more significant. "She's learning more about Korean culture overall with multiple people in different ways, which I think is really cool to see on screen — and really special for Kitty."
Co-star Anthony Keyvan plays Kitty's gay roommate, Q, and shares how the show explores queer relationships among people of color. "We're seeing queer love in a way that hasn't necessarily been portrayed before in the media," Keyvan tells Refinery29 Australia. "It was really, really special to play a half-Iranian, half-Filipino character, like myself. And to also provide representation for the queer community is really cool, because you don't see those two things together a lot of times."
Without giving too much away, some Korean characters are also involved in queer storylines, and Cathcart says that embedding this into the wider story was important from a cultural perspective. "I think in Korean culture as well, and in K-Drama culture, it's not a common storyline that you see," she says. "We were talking to our classmates who grew up in Korea, and they were saying that's just not a thing [not just on] TV, but you just don't even talk about it in day-to-day life."
She hopes that by digging deep into these issues faced by many young POC, other people can realize that queer love is "real love, exciting and a positive thing in people's lives." Ultimately, through the tears and laughs between Kitty and those surrounding her, we see what it means to fall hard, get back up and find yourself along the way. And... there might just be a mention of Lara Jean and Peter after all.
XO, Kitty is available on Netflix now.