Lola Tung talks starring in ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty,’ loving Taylor Swift

Photo of Lola Tung
Amazon Studios/Courtesy

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Belly Conklin (Lola Tung) has always shared a special bond with brothers Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher, spending her summers at their home in Cousins Beach. However, in the first season of “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” the series adaptation of Jenny Han’s book of the same name, a complicated love triangle forms amid the sunny sands and glistening waters, forcing Belly to come to terms with her identity and desires.

“Similarly to Belly, I’m still sort of figuring out who I am and who I want to be and what that sort of independence looks like,” said Tung in an interview with The Daily Californian. “It’s been really cool to step into her shoes and bring some of myself into the character.”

This may be Tung’s first on-screen role, but the 19-year-old has been performing on stage since she was in middle school. Admittedly a shy kid, she surprised herself and her family when she auditioned for “The Wizard of Oz” and received the role of the Tin Man. Though her character lacked a heart, her own quickly overflowed with love for the theater.

“I immediately fell in love with performing and being on stage and telling stories,” Tung said. “As I started to do more shows and see more theater, I became passionate about it, and I knew it was something I really wanted to do for the rest of my life and hopefully make a career out of.”

Tung’s passion for performance led her to study at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, which she attended for a year before taking time off to film “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” She began auditioning for the series during her second semester, the entire process conducted online due to the pandemic.

“One day they told me that they wanted to just get on a Zoom to get to know me, and I got on and Jenny Han told me that I got the part,” Tung said. “After I hung up that Zoom call, I called my mom, freaking out and crying a bit, and we celebrated over the phone.”

Having only previously met online, Tung and her castmates made their way to Wilmington, North Carolina 2 ½ weeks before production in order to bond and start cultivating the special relationships seen on screen.

“I was a little bit nervous to meet everyone because everything had been done entirely over Zoom,” Tung said. “But the first night we all met and hung out, we instantly clicked and instantly started to create these really incredible bonds that I think helped us so much when we were filming.”

At the heart of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” lies a tender family dynamic. As Belly discovers who she is, she must also navigate new relationships with her parents, her brother and the Fishers — who all face silent struggles of their own. Though a messy love triangle emerges, the characters never lose sight of the compassion they have for one another.

“I am very excited for some of the mother-daughter moments between Laurel and Belly. I think they’re really special,” Tung said. “I think the family dinner scenes are so beautiful, too. And the scenes between me and the boys are very special.”

Ever present amid the beachy landscape is the sound of Taylor Swift — “False God” and “Lover” appearing as just two songs in the soundtrack of Belly’s summer. Notably, the trailer garnered attention for featuring Swift’s rerecording of “This Love.” A surprise release, the track was even kept secret from Tung and her castmates.

“I totally freaked out. It was incredible,” Tung said. “We didn’t find out until the day that they released the teaser, which was incredibly exciting to open my Instagram and see the folks in the teaser. I think it’s such a beautiful song, and it fits perfectly with the show and the relationships in the show.”

Tung is a proud Swiftie, admitting that she frequently finds herself screaming along to “You Belong With Me.” Swift feels like the perfect companion to this tale of young love, draping comfort over even the cruelest of summers. Even as the show’s central relationships face difficult hurdles, her music shines as a ray of hope.

“I hope that (audiences) just learn a lot from the relationships and take away how important it is to cherish the people you love in your life,” Tung said. “I think the relationships in the show are so beautiful and so important and so real.”

“The Summer I Turned Pretty” has been renewed for a second season, promising to pick up the loose ends left by the first. Not only will fans get to see more complicated chemistry between the romantic leads, but they will witness Tung and Belly continue to blossom on screen — soaking in the sunlight and growing into the truest version of themselves.

Lauren Harvey is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].