‘XO, Kitty’ Star Anna Cathcart Opens Up About Working With Jenny Han And Exploring Kitty’s Sexuality: ‘She Never Apologizes For Who She Is’
SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for “XO, Kitty,” which is now streaming on Netflix.
Jenny Han’s 2014 novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, first introduces readers to Kitty Song Covey as the mischievous younger sister of main character Lara Jean. Kitty, a precocious teenager, harbors a penchant for inciting drama – an affinity that sets in motion the chain of events that leads to the fake but ultimately real relationship between her sister and love interest Peter Kavinsky. Anna Cathcart recalls the 2018 film adaptation of the book, which spawned two sequels and launched the careers of Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, who played the lead roles. Kitty often serves as comic relief, contrasting Lara Jean’s cautious romantic idealism. But in the spin-off series XO, Kitty, which premiered Thursday on the streaming service, the little sister becomes a star and Cathcart takes the spotlight.
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Cathcart tells Variety that talks about a possible Kitty spinoff began while she was filming the third To All the Boys movie. “I thought they were joking,” she says. “They said, ‘No, we’re serious, we want this to be a real thing.'” She says a lot of different ideas about the show were thrown around, but the main summary always stayed the same: “It’s always been me will be Kitty in high school and I think that could have manifested in different ways.”
An intrepid high school junior, Kitty applies for and receives a scholarship to the Korean International School of Seoul (aka KISS). The school is the school her mother went to – and the one her boyfriend Dae (Choi Min-young) goes to too. After successfully convincing her father (John Corbett) and stepmother (Sarayu Rao) to let her go, Kitty flies to Korea to better understand her origins and surprise Dae. But when she shows up at school, she quickly finds that she’s signed up for a lot more than she bargained for.
The story goes on
The show immerses Kitty in the world of the international school, exemplifying her multicultural focus not only in the setting but also through dialogue, pinpricks and narrative inspiration. Characters switch seamlessly between Korean and English; In one scene, a student speaks Greek, then French, and then English in quick succession. With various K-Pop songs scattered throughout the series and soapy parallels to K-Dramas (“Boys Over Flowers,” anyone?), “XO, Kitty” ventures into territory that has challenged the spread of Korean Culture as a global phenomenon made even clearer. The show, which also stars “Lost” star Yunjin Kim as the principal of KISS, comes a month after Netflix publicly pledged to spend $2.5 billion on South Korean film and television productions over the next four years . In January, the service also announced that 34 new Korean titles would be coming to the platform in 2023 – the biggest offering ever.
It’s also a testament to Han’s influence as a novelist-turned-showrunner and her intelligence in crafting a story that will delight audiences who have loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, as well as all new viewers who who are interested in Korean culture. After serving as executive producer on the To All the Boys films, Han donned the showrunner’s cap for her hugely successful Amazon series The Summer I Turned Pretty, serving as co-showrunner alongside Sascha Rothchild “XO, Kitty.” ” as well. Cathcart, who has worked with the author for over five years, says she appreciates how Han goes into the details of adolescence. “The details of how a teenage girl’s brain thinks and how it works, and the things we notice and reflect on are so relatable and reflect my experiences in different ways, and it’s so special that Jenny can capture that,” she says.
Han’s storytelling also frequently catalyzes conversations about representation and identity. XO, Kitty is no different: At a screening ahead of the show’s release, the cast spoke about how their different upbringings influenced their own ideas of representation.
Anthony Keyvan, who stars in Series Q, is Iranian and Filipino. “It wasn’t until ‘XO, Kitty’ came that I felt like I was playing a character that authentically represented myself,” he said during the Q&A session. Keyvan also held talks with Han and Rothchild to further develop his character. “It was the first time I felt that writers really wanted that authenticity and were willing to change things up in the script for me.”
Gia Kim, who plays Yuri in the series, commuted back and forth between Korea and Hong Kong as a child. (Funnily enough, she and Sang Heon Lee, who plays Min Ho, are siblings in real life). “When I watch Korean dramas, everyone represents me, so I never thought about it,” she said. “But when I watch Hollywood movies, of course it’s different. It’s Hollywood — so are white people.” She added, “When I moved to this country, I learned what it means to be a person of color because I didn’t even know I was a person of color until I came to this country. I was like, ‘Wow, okay, I have a new identity now.’”
For Cathcart, who is Irish and Chinese and grew up in Canada, her most memorable fan interaction was when a To All the Boys viewer expressed his excitement at “seeing a white father trying to break the culture to learn and teach it to his children.” This unique experience of a multiracial family.”
“It was really cool to hear her say that because it made me think of all the different mixed race and Asian kids looking at this and how it can feel so, so specific to you,” she says .
The show also gives Kitty a chance to put her own love life in order and begin to decode her own weirdness through her growing crush on Yuri.
“I was really excited that we were going to do this storyline,” says Cathcart. “I’m very proud of the show and proud of Kitty for giving herself the space to figure this out without pushing herself and knowing that she might not come to an easy conclusion.”
“It’s a process,” she adds. “That’s part of what makes it so beautiful … She never apologizes for how she feels, she never apologizes for who she is or what she’s going through, which we were all very aware of.”
XO, Kitty also offers a realistic look at the different cultural attitudes towards people who identify as queer. While Kitty’s father supports her, Yuri confronts her own mother, who steps in when she finds out Yuri has a girlfriend. It’s an attitude that reflects Korean culture, one Choi noted during the Q&A when he said he wanted “XO, Kitty” to spark conversations among Korean viewers.
“In Korea, LGBTQ culture is not even talked about [about] and known,” he said. “I want people to just know and think about it… Keep the conversation going.”
As significant as it is to the conversations it sparks, at its core, XO, Kitty is about growing up.
“The core issue of growing up and not understanding it and struggling to navigate it and figuring out how things are concretely for us — and processing all these big feelings — can be very disheartening,” says Cathcart. “Our show definitely shows that’s a universal thing. And it doesn’t matter what city you live in or what family you come from – of course it’s very different for everyone. But fundamentally, a lot of those feelings, a lot of those stories, are so similar and can be very connecting when you realize that other people might be going through similar things to you.”
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