While some city dwellers will flock to charming beach towns to escape the scorching July heat this weekend, fans of The Summer I Turned Pretty, Amazon Prime Video’s hit coming-of-age romance series, are returning to the fictional coastal town of Cousins Beach.

Based on Jenny Han’s young-adult trilogy, which was first published 2009, the screen adaptation follows 16-year-old Belly Conklin, played by Lola Tung, during her annual summer holiday at Cousins Beach. In Season One, which premiered last June, Belly’s longtime platonic friendship with the Fisher brothers, Conrad and Jeremiah, gradually became a love triangle.

Last season ended with Conrad and Belly professing their love to each other. Season Two, which premiered Friday, starts on a darker note. The first episode reveals that the Fisher boys’ mother, Susanna, has died of cancer. Distraught and grieving, they ice out Belly and her family. When their mother’s former home is at risk, the brothers band together with the optimistic Belly to save their beloved beach house.

“When you have more eyes watching you, it feels like there’s a little more pressure.”

Tung, 20, landed the role during her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. In the fall of 2020, her college roommates served as a makeshift production crew to record her audition. The self-tape audition turned into a callback, which turned into a few script readings over Zoom. Finally, in March 2021, Tung got the part.

In preparation for the role, she read all three books. “Belly is a character that is so loved and means so much to so many people,” says Tung. “I wanted to be able to do her justice and to make people happy, but also play her the way that I would play her.”

On the original book cover, Belly is portrayed as a freckle-faced white girl. In the series, Han, who directs the show, cast Belly and the Conklin family as Korean-American. “People who didn’t see themselves in [Belly’s] shoes before now get to,” Tung tells me. “But also, her experiences as a teenage girl are so universal and so understood by women.… Anyone can remember that point in their lives where everything felt like the most important and intense thing ever.”

“I wanted to be able to do her justice and to make people happy, but also play her the way that I would play her.”

Tung then says that while she has never been involved in a love triangle on a beach with two beautiful brothers, it was still easy for her to recall the gut-wrenching, butterfly-tingling, all-consuming devotion that often distinguishes teenage love stories from other kinds of romances.

“I knew the feeling of having a really intense crush, whether it was reciprocated or not, and I had a really fun time figuring out how to tap back into that while also never antagonizing Belly or thinking that she was being the villain. I had to justify all of her decisions,” Tung explains, referring to some of her character’s impulsive choices, such as kissing both brothers by the end of Season One.

As for creating palpable chemistry with her co-stars Gavin Casalegno and Christopher Briney, Tung credits the three weeks the cast spent bonding in North Carolina before Season One began shooting, in July 2021. “I was able to form really good individual friendships with Chris and Gavin and figure out those things that I love about both of them, and that Belly loves about Conrad and Jeremiah,” says Tung. “Gavin, similarly to Jeremiah, has this really fun energy, and Chris has that quiet wisdom that Conrad has, even if Conrad is a stupid boy sometimes.”

In Season Two, Belly dates Conrad (Christopher Briney), left, and remains friends with Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno).

After the release of Season One, the series quickly skyrocketed to No. 1 on Amazon Prime Video, and the trilogy took the top three spots on Amazon’s best-seller list. Fans started wearing T-shirts with Team Jeremiah, Team Conrad, or Team Belly.

After that success, Tung says, it “was definitely different” shooting Season Two. “When you have more eyes watching you, it feels like there’s a little more pressure.”

Tung, who is processing her sudden Hollywood success—and, now, a SAG strike, which was announced after our interview took place—is growing up with her character. Coming back to shoot Season Two, “we experienced so many things that we’ve never experienced before.” For Belly, it was her first love. For Tung, her first job. Tung pauses, reflecting on the past two years, and says, “It’s a very different lifestyle from being in school just a year before on Zoom.”

Season Two of The Summer I Turned Pretty is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Carolina de Armas is an Associate Editor at AIR MAIL