This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
I never thought I’d live a Tuesday night that would end in a phone call from 2018’s summer crush Noah Centineo, but there we were.
“Hi, Sophie?” he asks as soon as I pick up. He’s smiling. It’s obvious, even over the phone.
The 22-year-old—whose endearing turn as Peter Kavinsky in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before shot him to fame in August—quickly took the internet by storm. Fans on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more fell willing prey to his charisma and mop of perfectly un-perfect hair.
Like today’s other young male heartthrobs—Harry Styles, Michael B. Jordan, the entire Riverdale crew—his effect has been something like Zac Efron’s in 2006. Handsome, husky-voiced, wholesome, with a great smile—he was, right off the bat, loved, supported, invited onto every talk show and into every outlet’s quippy interview/puppy/party game video segment.
But he was 2018’s man. The internet has already been scouring for its 2019 golden boy. Centineo is less a presence on our daily social media scrolls, and his name is no longer one I hear uttered in everyday conversation. Some outlets have reiterated hearty doses of skepticism about his maturity, his skill, his absurdly-fast ascension to fame. Has he lost his moment in the sun? Is his momentum slowing? Is he simply well-rehearsed for interviews, regurgitating the same polished content in an effort to project a perfect package as he tries to maintain relevance in the industry?
I’m about to find out.
I was told we’d only have fifteen minutes to talk. He decides to stretch it to 42. I was told his agent would call me and connect me to him via an unlisted number. He calls me from a personal Floridian phone number instead. We even exchange texts a few weeks later.
His casual refusal to follows the standard ‘rules’ of his profession and of growing fame is the first thing I notice, and it endears me to him immediately. It makes his uniqueness even more obvious. Because Centineo isn’t your typical Hollywood golden boy. He climbs traffic signs during photoshoots. He cusses and writes poetry on the internet—occasionally at the same time. He expresses joy with his whole body and doesn’t seem to have a filter.
Pre-Kavinsky, he starred for five years on progressive family drama The Fosters, and made an appearance in Camila Cabelo’s Havana music video. Since Kavinsky—and subsequent role Jamey in Netflix’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser—Centineo is still landing role after role; amid other projects slated for release in 2019, he was just cast in Elizabeth Banks’s highly-anticipated Charlie’s Angels remake.
Centineo laughs frequently, listens actively, and clicks his teeth when he’s thinking. He explains the unease he’s realized comes hand-in-hand with notoriety; namely, that the public feels a degree of ownership over his life. “I don’t want to close myself off to people or opportunities,” he said. “But I also have to learn how to protect myself.”
Given the tumult of what was, quite literally, overnight fame (he gained over one million Instagram followers in a single dusk-to-dawn), he certainly has had to modify how he manages his personal life. He can no longer post on social media about where he is because he’ll have to manage an influx of fans and paparazzi, visibility he says he is grateful for, though he worries about whomever he’s with—he doesn’t want the attention to make them feel uncomfortable.
He wonders now whether people he meets may have hidden agendas. He does his best to stay grounded even as he fears he’ll get caught up in distractions that come with life in the spotlight. And he is well aware of his privilege; these are what he calls “beautiful” problems.
“There’s certain publications or companies that want something from me but I just don’t feel comfortable giving that to them,” he elaborates. “And, like, I turn down the idea, and all of a sudden I’m a dick because I didn’t feel comfortable doing something. You know? It’s interesting.”
Centineo is remarkably easy to talk to. Part of it is his inherent—and warmly flirtatious—charm. The other is his inherent curiosity. He grills me for several minutes about my dental history.
“Wait, you’ve had 16 teeth pulled? For... for wh... Wh... why? Like, baby teeth too?”
I explain that I had too many rows of incisor teeth. He’s murmuring affirmatively along with the story. “That’s wild,” he finally says. “Have you gotten tested for having superpowers? You probably should.”
The new life he leads has been an exciting transition for Centineo, even as he tries to maintain a balanced and grounded lifestyle. Born and raised in Miami before moving to LA as a teen, the rising star says the smell of fresh cut grass still reminds him of home. He meditates every day, lists sleep as his favorite activity, and enjoys eating vegan, though he doesn’t call himself one (“It’s 2018. [Vegans] have figured out their recipes.”)
He’s playing on the piano, softly. Under his words, a note, a ping, here, there, accenting an intimate way of speaking that is introspective and extroverted at once.
I ask him what single thing he’s most nostalgic for.
“Love,” he sighs, without a pause. What is his love? It’s safety, support, a challenge to be the best version of himself.
He spins me tales of times he’s fallen in love at first sight. Tells me about how dates he’s been on (he went bungee jumping with someone once, but connected more with a girl he met for a simple coffee date). Admits that he recently cried reading a script—an existential love drama—because he related to it so deeply.
“To me, when you’re crying, you’re aligned with some sort of truth,” he offers. “Some inner truth. That’s why you cry. You identify. It’s just ultimate honesty.”
On the subject of honesty, he is willing to admit that he’s a flirt.
“Yeah, no, I flirt with people,” he acquiesces.
“I think I need to pull that back.”
But he wants to defend himself. “When I’m with someone I give them my time and I give them my energy,” he says, “because I like making someone feel loved! And making them laugh, and just, like, being there with them.”
When he’s really into somebody, he says, he’ll tell them straight up. He has a lady in his life at the moment (fans may be disappointed to hear that it is not his To All the Boys costar Lana Condor, nor is it his Sierra Burgess is a Loser costar Shannon Purser) and he makes sure to tell this girl constantly, he says, how huge a crush he has on her.
By now I’ve realized what makes this epitomical “cool guy” so unique. It’s an intense focus on his feelings and those of others; it’s his heart on his sleeve, in his outstretched hand; it’s the way he owns his emotional intelligence, wearing it with an almost unnerving ease and assurance.
But though he’s spiritual and thoughtful, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s got a young heart and an especially inspiring brand of youthful energy.
He tells me one of his skills is finding creative ways to sneak onto rooftops. And he enjoys bingeing on junk food from time to time, even while he likes to maintain a healthy diet.
“Sweet Tarts are dank,” he says. “10/10.”
Note, though: He doesn’t want anyone sending him Sweet Tarts.
“I heard that happened to Justin Bieber,” he explains. “Not that I’m anywhere near as cool as he is. But apparently, he said, ‘Oh, I love this candy,’ and people sent it to him, and then he got sick and tired of it. Like a song that you play over and over again.”
He’s built a reputation on coming-of-age romantic comedies. But he wants to branch out, he says—to writing and directing and producing, but also to more tactile arts, like the visual arts space.
“I act, but I’m not necessarily an actor,” he explains. “Acting is just the first thing people see when they look at me. So I’d like to do more things.”
He hopes to use his platform for what he calls “many” social issues close to his heart; he says he has a confidential project in the works within the nonprofit sector and hopes to figure out a way to fix what he calls a North American culture that “needs shifting.”
He also has a lot to say about young men and their responsibilities to themselves and to women as they grow up and become active participants in today’s social climate.
“[Men] weren’t just born misogynists! We were taught these ethics and morals,” he says. “And it is a gender thing because clearly one gender has been intimately oppressed for far longer than the other. It’s about time that we step the fuck up and have reverence and respect for one another.”
Centineo is reminded he has another call to make in a few minutes. But he recalls that I have a friend with a birthday the next day, and asks me to tell her he says happy birthday.
I tell him teasingly that I understand why he makes women swoon.
“Oh, gawwwd,” he drawls with good natured tones. “Stop it!”
But I want to know why women swoon over Kavinsky.
“Mmmm,” Centineo hums. “He’s young, he’s athletic, he’s sensitive, and emotionally available. And he cares. He’s going through something with his family, and he cares about what Lara Jean is going through. And I think he’s just a really good guy.”
We trade pleasantries and he murmurs a farewell: “Thanks, love.”
I sit there for a minute, thinking about how in a way, I’d just had a conversation with Peter Kavinsky. I’d gabbed on the phone to Jamey, getting to know him as Sierra Burgess had.
But where Kavinsky and Jamey are fictional, and becoming less-prominent names on our daily social media scrolls, Noah Centineo is here, and he’s the real deal, and—despite 2018 coming to an end—he’s not going anywhere. And for fans, producers, and all the girls he’s loved before, that makes all the difference.
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