By Dessi Gomez
of the Los Angeles Times
Joel Courtney thinks “The Kissing Booth 2” is better than “The Kissing Booth.”
“I just think that we really came into our characters in more of a powerful way in the second film, because we knew the characters, we already had history with these characters,” said the actor, who plays Lee Flynn in Netflix’s rom-com sequel, which dropped on Friday.
“We had history with each other. I think that it really allowed for more depth of character and character building. And then, on set, there was a comfortability.”
Once he found out there would be a second film, Courtney, who is from Moscow, was excited to return to the characters that drove the original — Netflix’s most-rewatched movie of 2018 — and built a solid fan base.
“There were rumors (of a sequel),” he said. “There were basically fan petitions happening at that time, and I kept thinking, ‘It would be nice, but I don’t want to build my hopes too high,’ and then we got the green light, and I was just ecstatic. I was so excited to get to come back to these characters that I fell in love with.”
Within six months after the first film was released, the cast’s social media accounts exploded. Fans were begging for a second film.
“They fell in love with these characters,” said Courtney, 24. “I’ve been working for 10 years, I’ve worked on a lot of projects, but very few reached the audience like I think ‘The Kissing Booth’ did. And it was a really special occasion. I knew it as soon as social media started showing us.”
“The Kissing Booth 2,” which once again stars Joey King as Lee’s best friend, Elle Evans, and Jacob Elordi as his older brother, Noah Flynn, both expands upon and adds new themes to those addressed in the first installment. The sequel sees Lee and Elle as high school seniors, with Noah, now Elle’s long-distance boyfriend, away at college.
“The themes for the second film are kind of like learning to be OK in your circumstances,” Courtney said. “For Lee it’s specifically learning boundaries, and what it means to be able to be in a relationship, and honestly just, like, accept the consequences and learn to face issues. There’s problems and trials that he comes across in the second film, and it’s because of his inability to basically say ‘No’ to his best friend and to his girlfriend.”
Courtney believes “The Kissing Booth 2” will connect with people across multiple walks of life because of how real the characters’ problems are. And he expects continued appeal to all different age groups, from tweens and teens to their parents and adults in general.
“I think it took a lot of adults back to their high school years,” Courtney said. “I think it reminded a lot of people of those John Hughes films from the ’80s.
“So moms can watch this movie with their daughters. Younger kids can watch this movie because it’s about their age group. There’s just something so real and down to earth about every single one of these characters that pretty much anyone who watched it can find themselves in one of our characters in the movie.”
Courtney relates very strongly to Lee’s character. The actor is the youngest of four siblings, with a sister and two brothers. He also shares personality traits with Lee.
“We’re both just absolute goofballs, and we love a good time and we love with our whole hearts,” he said. “And when that goes well, it’s the most joyful thing in the world, and when it goes badly it hurts like nothing else … . Lee feels with his entire being. And he’s very empathetic, and Elle’s his ride-or-die.”
Director Vince Marcello, who also co-wrote and produced both films, felt that Courtney connected with Lee’s character the moment he watched the actor read his lines.
“I was struck by his ability to find authentic, childlike joy in any moment,” Marcello said. “This is key to Lee’s character. Lee is a child — becoming a man but still desperately clinging to his adolescence. ‘The Kissing Booth’ is a coming-of-age story but not just for Elle. Lee and Noah both struggle through their own battles to become the young men they were meant to be.
“There were no false moments in this journey for Joel, who was able to capture a youthful innocence” despite being in his early 20s, the director said.
In life, Courtney considers himself to be a balance between Elle and Lee, and says Lee has taught him some helpful lessons for life and his career.
“I’ve learned to love people and to kind of take them where they are,” the actor said. “Circumstances being what they are, like if someone’s having a bad day, that’s OK, just be kind, be patient. Don’t expect them to just change their attitude just because they’re around you. I think that’s kind of one of the things that Lee expects is everyone to be as happy as he is all the time.”
Marcello noticed the strong transition that Courtney made as Lee between the two films.
“In this first film, Lee is in the unenviable position of being the sensitive younger brother of Noah Flynn, the most popular guy in school,” he said. “In his senior year and moving on to college, he has the chance to come out of Noah’s shadow and into his own. This is such a relatable scenario for anyone who had to follow in the footsteps of a successful older sibling. Joel navigates this transition so beautifully while still holding onto the essential characteristic that makes Lee who he is.”
Marcello also noticed real growth in Courtney’s acting process.
“From the start of ‘KB1,’ Joel was always fun-loving but also a prepared and disciplined actor on set,” he said. “In ‘KB2,’ however, I saw him truly come into his own. I was grateful and so impressed as I watched him prep, rehearse and execute difficult scenes that ranged from comedy to drama to action, and all with passion, focus and intensity.
“In fact, his entire awareness and appreciation of the filmmaking process moved to another level, all while remaining an absolute delight to work with.”
Courtney’s future plans include a film with Lionsgate called “Jesus Revolution,” costarring Jim Gaffigan and set to begin production in 2021.
“The story’s about this group of kids in the countercultural movement in the late 1960s, the hippie movement, and they learn about themselves, they learn about life and faith, and they come into themselves,” he said. “And they grow a lot during those crazy, crazy times.”
As for a third “Kissing Booth,” the word on social media is that it’s already been secretly filmed, but Courtney didn’t confirm that claim in this interview.
“For the record, I would be totally down (with doing KB3),” he said. “I would be in full support of doing it,” he said. With the world in such a “crazy commotion” right now, he said, it’s not the time to be traveling or working in large groups, like on a film set. “But if there were a petition from fans after the second one to do a third, I would totally sign it.”