"I get so emotional": Anna Cathcart on "XO, Kitty" resonating worldwide and with the LGBTQ community

Anna Cathcart tells Salon how she relates to Kitty and reveals her fave K-drama moments and Easter eggs on the show

Published June 16, 2023 2:30PM (EDT)

Anna Cathcart as Kitty Song Covey in "XO" (Courtesy of Netflix)
Anna Cathcart as Kitty Song Covey in "XO" (Courtesy of Netflix)

The following contains spoilers for the first season of "XO, Kitty"

In the popular Netflix film trilogy, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," 14-year-old Anna Cathcart captured hearts as Kitty Song Covey, the clever and sassy youngest sibling among three Korean American sisters. While her older sister Lara Jean (Lana Condor) wrapped up her love story in the third film, in its closing moments a family trip to South Korea planted the seeds for Kitty's own romantic comedy. A few years later, the now 19-year-old actor is delighting audiences by continuing Kitty's journey in her own spinoff, "XO, Kitty."

In the series, Kitty bids farewell to her hometown of Portland, Oregon, and embarks on a new chapter of her life as a high school junior at KISS — the Korean Independent School of Seoul. KISS happens to be the boarding school her late mother attended, and where Kitty's long-distance Korean pen pal/boyfriend Dae (Choi Min-young) currently studies. 

"To see somebody who feels understood or feels reflected in Kitty's journey and in Kitty's story, with her identity and with her sexuality, I get so emotional."

Upon Kitty's arrival at school, however, she discovers that Dae appears to be unfaithful and dating wealthy, popular girl Yuri Han (Gia Kim). Although that turns out to be a fake relationship, the rest of Kitty's semester at KISS is anything but smooth sailing. First, there's the mix-up that lands her in the boys' dorm in the same suite as Dae and two other guys. Then, one of those suitemates – the rich, handsome and obnoxious Min-ho (Sang Heon Lee) develops feelings for Kitty – which isn't convenient to say the least. Despite having the attention of two boys, by the end of term, Kitty realizes that she's intensely, romantically drawn to . . . Yuri. 

Evolving from "To All the Boys," "XO, Kitty" mashes up American rom-com genre conventions with K-drama romance tropes. Besides some familiar elements – such as the requisite piggyback ride or the privileged playboy who gets redeemed (Hello, Min-ho!) – the series also plays with popular K-drama tropes, from forced cohabitation (e.g. "My Roommate Is a Gumiho" and "Crash Landing On You") to the love quadrangle (e.g. "Boys Over Flowers" and "Cinderella and the Four Knights," the latter of which employs both tropes). With the worldwide success of the series, Netflix recently announced its renewal for a second season, which means that Kitty's adventures will continue.

Hailing from Canada, Cathcart began acting in commercials for Crayola and Campbell's Soup when she was just eight years old. At the age of 12, she rose to stardom as Agent Olympia in the popular PBS Kids show "Odd Squad," earning her a Canadian Screen Award. She later joined the cast of Disney Channel's "Descendants" series as Dizzy Tremaine (the stylish and kind-hearted daughter of Cinderella's stepsister), and starred in the 2019 Brat web series "Zoe Valentine" as the show's namesake. Alongside her acting career, she is pursuing a double major in sociology and creative writing at The University of British Columbia.

In a conversation with Salon, Cathcart delved into the show's success, Kitty's journey of self-discovery, her favorite nods to "To All the Boys" and K-dramas and how she relates to Kitty.

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Now that the show has been out for a while, what reaction to the show has surprised you the most?

I think the reaction being so quick was the most surprising — not just about what they were saying but how fast all of the viewers started talking about it. And people started making edits and clips and conversations. It was so fast and so exciting to see. I was in New York when the show came out. I was with Anthony [Keyvan, who plays Q, Kitty's best friend] because we had convinced each other to go to New York to see the billboard in Times Square. So we were both in New York and we were seeing everybody's comments only a few hours after it came out. We're like, "That's so crazy!" It was so fast. So I think that was the most exciting and overwhelming part to see that people were immediately gravitating towards it, and so passionate about it. 

XOGia Kim as Yuri and Anna Cathcart as Kitty Song Covey in "XO" (Park Young-Sol/Netflix)What are your thoughts on the LGBTQIA+ community's reaction to Kitty's coming out?

It means honestly, I think out of all the reactions that I have received from the show, to see somebody who feels understood or feels reflected in Kitty's journey and in Kitty's story, with her identity and with her sexuality, I get so emotional. And this can mean a lot to somebody who lives on the other side of the world or someone that I might never get to meet — [that] they've been impacted in a positive way by the stories, and that specifically. It really does mean so much.

What was your initial reaction to learning about developing a series surrounding your character?

I think the most honest reaction is that I thought everyone was joking. Like I really did not think it was going to be a real thing because people have ideas all the time. And I'm like, "Oh yeah, like that would be awesome." But I really did not process it as a real thing until, honestly, I was like on the airplane and then, as we go, it's like for real, we're going to Korea! But I think just disbelief is honestly the key feeling that I had.

How did you explore and develop Kitty's character in relation to her connection with her roots?

I think what's cool about this series is the first time we're seeing Kitty really trying to explore her relationship with her mom. And I think that comes with getting older as well, she's kind of realizing it's more of a priority for her to be in touch with that part of herself. And because she was so young when her mom passed away, she really doesn't have a lot of face-to-face experience. I guess learning about her [mother], it's a lot through her sisters and through her dad. So this experience is really important for her and very valuable to get to be a part of something her mom was a part of, [and] on her own that's not related to her other family members. That was a really big driving factor for the reasons why she was at KISS, and wasn't all just about Dae and romantic love because a lot of different types of love are important for her.

In what ways do Kitty's experiences, such as attending an international school and self-discovery, mirror your own?

I'm definitely in a similar stage of my life, at least in this last year, that Kitty's going through. I went to university for the first time and I also went to shoot this show and that was very parallel to Kitty's life in the way of just stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something new and learning how to be independent for the first time and just meeting new people, facing new challenges. A lot of new learning lessons and life experiences happened for me in the last little while and same with Kitty. 

XOSang Heon Lee as Min Ho, Anna Cathcart as Kitty Song Covey and Choi Min-yeong as Dae in "XO" (Courtesy of Netflix)We see a lot of K-drama references in the show, from Kitty sharing the same dorm as her love interests to having a love quadrangle over a typical Western triangle. What is your favorite K-drama moment in the show? 

There's so many fun tropes, like you just listed, and there's a lot of different references and things in there. I think the roommate situation is one of my favorite dynamics that was so much fun to read. Originally, when I was reading the scripts, I was so excited about that. And then when I met all the guys and getting to find that dynamic was so much fun.

One of my favorite scenes, I think of the whole series to shoot at least, was the screaming scene when they come into the room and she's under the covers. And that whole thing was so much fun to shoot, and we didn't even know each other that well— like I didn't know the boys very well at that time. So that was very bonding and definitely sticks out.

Did you have any advice from like Lana or Noah Centineo or any of your other co-stars from "To All the Boys"?

Yeah, I talked to Lana before I started shooting, and she was just kind of telling me how, of course it's so exciting. And some of the greatest things that is the coolest things I've gotten to do. But it can be very overwhelming. And sometimes you can get lost in everything. So to remember to take care of yourself, and remember to take time to know what you need and take a break sometimes. That is always a very helpful reminder. And she reminded me of that. So it was very, very nice to have someone to lean on.

What is your favorite "To All the Boys" detail or Easter egg that made it into the series? 

"I hope that other mixed kids can feel . . . that you're not half of something . . . you're a mix of everything. And that's what makes you whole."

I love the little board moment where she's saying like 11th grade on the little chalkboard, which she wrote like sixth grade in the movie and Laura Jean wrote 11th grade. So that was a really fun little callback, or something that's quite subtle and small. Yeah, [and the] Yakult cart when she's running to the hospital. She runs back and is like, "No, stay focused." That was such a cute little moment, because I think only like true hardcore fans of the movies will be able to notice that and pick up on that. So it was really fun to sprinkle in those little Easter eggs. I know one that fans really are excited about is that Lara Jean and Peter (Centineo) are still together. That was one that everyone was like PSA, which is super important. Everyone needs to know that though.

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How does Kitty's character being mixed relate to your personal experiences?

Growing up as somebody who is mixed race and half Asian, [Chinese and Irish] it's definitely an experience. It's not the same for everybody. I grew up in Vancouver where there's a lot of mixed kids, a lot of mixed Chinese kids and Asian kids, so I felt like I could celebrate my my heritage. And I was very lucky for that experience versus a lot of kids who grew up in different areas, maybe not as common, and they're met with very, very different reactions, very different challenges. So to play a character who is mixed is so exciting because hopefully, mixed kids can can see a character in a leading role and feel like they can celebrate their heritage as well.

What advice would you give to younger audiences who look like you?

I think I was really lucky that, growing up, I felt like both sides of me — to not make me less of one or less than the other. But those two parts made me whole and that I got to explore different cultures and be a part of two different amazing communities. And that together . . . I just felt very fortunate to have been a part of that. So I hope that other mixed kids can feel like that as well. And that you're not half of something, you're not enough of the other one, you're a mix of everything. And that's what makes you whole and that's a really beautiful, exciting thing.

By Tabitha Yuen

MORE FROM Tabitha Yuen

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Anna Cathcart Fyc Interview K-drama Lgbtqia Netflix To All The Boys I've Loved Before Tv Xo Kitty