From freshman classes to world-class fame: How 19-year-old college drama student Lola Tung became Hollywood’s hottest rising star after snagging lead role in Amazon Prime hit The Summer I Turned Pretty – her first EVER professional audition
- The 19-year-old freshman secured the role while studying drama at Carnegie Mellon University
- She has paused her college education in order to film the smash-hit romance series
- Tung previously studied drama at the esteemed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City
- The actress’ love of musical theater was encouraged by ‘creative’ parents
- The Summer I Turned Pretty is based on the popular book trilogy by To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before author Jenny Han
She plays Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin in Amazon Prime’s smash-hit series, The Summer I Turned Pretty – a role which has seen newcomer Lola Tung jump start her acting career in a way that’s worthy of its own Hollywood script.
The Asian-American actress, who hails from New York, landed the coveted part in the television adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before author Jenny Han’s popular book series while at the esteemed Carnegie Mellon University in The School of Drama Acting and Music Theater.
The teen romance series was the first project Lola, 19, ever auditioned for – with the young talent having only teamed up with her manager a few weeks into her first year in college.
It girl: Lola Tung has become Hollywood’s hottest new star thanks to the success of her Amazon Prime series, The Summer I Turned Pretty – pictured in June 2022
Leading lady: The actress stars as the protagonist, Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin, in the romance series – pictured with co-star Christopher Briney
However, a career in acting has long been the aim for Lola, whose mother, Pia, briefly worked as an actress while her father spent time as a musician.
Now, as fans across the globe praise the star’s debut performance in the multigenerational drama, Lola seems set to join TATBILB star Lana Condor as another actress whose star has risen to the top thanks to their portrayal of a character created by Jenny Han.
With the actress is preparing to delight viewers again in the second season of the binge-worthy show, the sky truly is the limit for Hollywood newest superstar.
Though Lola could easily be seen as an overnight success, the actress has always shown promise after falling in love with acting in sixth grade.
The perfect choice: Lola was chosen for the role by the book trilogy’s author Jenny Han – pictured in June 2022
Love triangle: Lola had to do chemistry reads with her co-stars Christophey Briney (left) and Gavin Casalegno (right) via zoom
Recalling the moment when she played the Tin Man in her middle school production of The Wizard of Oz, Lola told Collider: ‘From there I fell in love with the process and loved being on stage and telling the stories, all of it. That was the moment that started that love for me.’
She continued: ‘It was just the thrill of being on stage and making people laugh… I remember my parents being so excited afterwards. My dad was a musician for a little while and my mum sort of dabbled in acting for a little bit so they are both artists and were so happy that I found something.’
Growing up in New York City, with the likes of disc jockey Ken Dashow as her neighbor, allowed the star to enjoy plenty of live theater and musicals which further invigorated her love of the arts.
Soon Lola secured a spot at the prestigious LaGuardia High School, which boasts the likes of Timothee Chalamet, Sarah Paulson and Jennifer Aniston amongst its alumni.
Inspiration: Lola says she was raised by ‘creative’ parents – pictured as a baby with her mother Pia Tung
Starting early: The actress fell in love with acting during middle school and often took part in school plays – pictured in 2016
Her time at LaGuardia ended with a virtual senior showcase in 2020, before Lola then went on to begin her college experience at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.
Just weeks into her second semester as a freshman, Lola was approached by a manager who quickly put the actress forward for the role as Belly.
Looking back at how she locked in the role after her first professional audition experience, Lola told Seventeen magazine: ‘I auditioned completely over Zoom and I was in my first year at Carnegie Mellon. So I was living in Pittsburgh and I sent in tapes for the role that I recorded with my roommates at home.
‘Then I did the entire callback process on Zoom for Jenny and some of the producers. It was really wonderful to work with or to get to read with so many different actors and to read for Jenny.’
Focused: Lola chose to study drama during her school years in order to pursue her dream – pictured while studying drama at high school
Ready for fame: Lola graduated from the world famous Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in June 2020
Beginner’s luck: Lola’s audition for the Amazon Prime series was her first time going for a professional acting role – pictured at a The Summer I Turned Pretty discussion in June 2022
Luckily for the actress, rushing home to do zoom auditions after her college classes paid off. She eventually found out she got the part during a zoom chat, leaving the star with the unique challenge of trying to finish her first year of college while already having booked a huge role.
‘I was in shock and first and then I called my mom crying on the phone and we freaked out together a little bit, but it was super exciting,’ she told Teen Vogue.
With the help and support from her teachers, Lola was able to complete her freshman year before put her college education on pause in order to focus on filming the series.
Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the her CMU experience, the star explained: ‘I don’t think I’d be where I am right now without my one year at CMU. I learned a lot about acting … and also about myself as a person being away in a different city and learning what it’s like to be in that environment.
Main character: Lola plays Belly as she suddenly becomes the object of fascination and desire during a summer getaway with her mom, brother and close family friends
‘I learned a lot about professionalism and working with people who are as passionate as I am about acting and theater. I take all the tools I got at CMU with me, and I’m very, very grateful for them.’
Han’s trilogy of ‘Summer’ novels follows 16-year-old Belly as she suddenly becomes the object of fascination and desire during a summer getaway with her mom, brother and close family friends.
Belly has had a long-time crush on the older brother, Conrad (Christopher Briney), who might finally be seeing her as more than a little sister — but then suddenly his younger brother, Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno), reveals his feelings for Belly.
Lola has likened the experience of filming the series to summer camp, with her social media updates showcasing plenty of bonding moments with her castmates.
Instant hit: Reaction to the series has been overwhelmingly positive from both longtime lovers of the book series and new fans
The actress also expressed her appreciation when it came to not only working directly with Han – who worked as both a writer and showrunner for the series – but for the chance to create something that further represented the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community.
Speaking to Teen Vogue, she explained: ‘I think it’s really special to have stories about love and about family [and see] different families. It’s not just the same thing over and over again.
‘To be working with other Asian-American actors — Sean Kaufman, who plays my brother, Jackie Chung, who plays my mom, and Minnie Mills who’s also in the show — and to have an Asian-American creator, writer, and showrunner who has that voice and that understanding is so incredible.’
Lola continued: ‘We had an Asian-American director, too, Jeff Chan, who was amazing. [I was] constantly being surrounded by incredible Asian-American artists.
Star girl: Fans have been flocking online to share their praise for Lola’s performance
‘To have that also be my first experience on a set was really, really cool. It’s a story about love and family, and the family happens to be Asian-American, which is so cool, because it’s just family, it’s just love.’
So far, reaction to the series has been overwhelmingly positive with new fans and longtime lovers of the book series all heaping praise onto the cast and all involved in the making of the show.
One fan tweeted: ‘Can we talk about how The Summer I Turned Pretty has the best cast, best music, and is possibly one of the best shows to come out in a LONG time.’
Another added: ‘Did I just binge watch the entire season of The Summer I Turned Pretty the first night it came out, in one night? Yes. Did I also bawl my eyes out, fall in love and have a gigantic need for more? Yes.’
‘I need season 2 of the summer i turned pretty more than I need air,’ a third wrote.
Dream summer: The actress and the cast filmed the series in Wilmington, North Carolina between July and October 2021
When asked about the positive reactions rolling in online by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lola gushed: ‘Everyone has been very lovely. Social media has been a little overwhelming.
‘But I feel very lucky there was already such a wonderful fan base of the books, and they’ve been so kind after the show came out. I think people have been so accepting of the changes and updates, which is really lovely.’
Indeed, fans have been flocking to share praise for Lola’s performance specifically as one wrote: ‘lola tung is still so unbelievably stunning to me… and she’s perfect as Belly Conklin.’
Another tweeted: ‘ok but Lola Tung as Belly is the definition of perfect casting.’
‘Ik almost everyone’s drooling over the boys but a BIG Shout out to Ms Lola Tung for her amazing performance as Belly in #TheSummerITurnedPretty,’ a third gushed. ‘It is her 1st ever acting job and she did so good! Such a graceful and strong screen presence, hope she gets lots of good roles in future.’
Another fan stated: ‘Lola Tung is the perfect Belly I can’t stop watching The Summer I Turned Pretty.’
Exciting times: Lola eagerly looks forward to what’s to come in her career, with the actress hoping to make a return to musical theater – pictured in May 2022
Apart from her work, Lola has been vocal about representation and societal issues close to her heart such as climate change and women’s rights.
During the 2018 March For Our Lives protest in NY, she posted on Instagram: ‘Here’s to an extremely empowering day. We will never stop fighting. @nycmarchforourlives #enoughisenough #neveragain #guncontrolnow #vote2018 #marchforourlives’.
Elsewhere, she saw Environmental activist Greta Thunberg speak in 2018, before joining the school strike for climate change in 2019.
With her influence growing thanks to the success of the first seasons of her series, the star is sure to use her newfound platform to raise further awareness for causes she believes in.
Campaigner: Lola has been vocal about representation and societal issues close to her heart such as climate change – pictured in March 2018
Using her platform for good: The actress is sure to use her newfound platform to raise further awareness for causes she’s passionate about – pictured in September 2019
For now, Lola eagerly looks ahead to what might come next in her career, with the actress expressing a desire return to her first love – musical theater.
‘I think it’s just been cool to continue auditioning and seeing different projects that are out there. I started as a theater kid, and it’d be really cool to do theater at some point again, live theatre,’ she told InStyle.
If the singing videos Lola has shared on social media are anything to go by, the rising star is already taking the steps needed to make that dream come true.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is available to stream on Amazon Prime.