Anna Cathcart had just started her first semester at the University of British Columbia. The goodbyes were said. The adventure, just begun. She was ready to get acquainted with the Vancouver campus, about an hour away from home, and make new friends.
Then, an invitation came: New York Fashion Week in Manhattan, that weekend.
“I was so excited about it,” the 19-year-old tells TODAY.com. “And then I was like, ‘I just started school, I’m missing the first few days of classes, that’s so crazy.’ But this is also important to me.”
That tug-of-war was normal for Cathcart.
“My friends used to joke that I was Hannah Montana,” she says. “Everyone sees you on the red carpet, and then you’re like, ‘math test and study on the plane ride home.’”
Now, she’s just finished up her freshman year of college and is wrapping up a press tour for “XO, Kitty,” a Netflix spinoff series focused on her character from “To All the Boys I Loved Before,” Lara Jean’s meddling, matchmaking little sister, Kitty Song Covey.
We meet up just a few days before Cathcart's 20th birthday, and she’s bubbly and chatty, like any good Gemini. While posing for the camera, she takes a brief pause to giggle and throw out quips before she shifts back to the raised eyebrow and smirking pout of a model.
After reviewing her poses, she tugs on her Hugo Boss blazer, saying, “I look weird,” and “I’ll just — do better.” When her on-camera interview ends, she says: “I feel like I did ramble.”
Her slight self-consciousness reads like a person protective of their image, something most 19-year-olds feel when posing for pictures. But this photoshoot isn’t a casual #DoItForTheGram moment with friends; it’s for a profile centered on her rising stardom.
She’s a relatable girl, in a very unusual position. As for what comes next? Unsure if "XO, Kitty" will be renewed for a second season, and equally unsure if she'll return for her sophomore year at UBC, Cathcart is just as curious as you are.
The original B plot
With her breakout starring role in the Netflix hit, for the first time, acting isn’t the secondary storyline of Cathcart’s life.
“In high school, it felt like school was my main life — my 'A plot,'” she says, referring to how classic TV sitcoms often divide the storylines of an episode into an "A plot," "B plot" and "C plot."
"Acting was like my dream life, the B plot that I got to leave school sometimes and do. Now that’s shifted, and it’s becoming a career," she says.
She’s still figuring out how she feels about the change.
“That was a really big flip,” she says. “It was kind of alarming at times.”
Despite her success, Cathcart she never thought she'd reach that elusive point of "making it" as an actor. "I've many times compared it to when kids dream, like, 'I'm going to be an astronaut,' or 'I'm going to be a ballerina,'" she says.
She landed her first job at age 10, acting in a commercial for Crayola chalk. For the gig, she got to dance, another "hobby" she was pursuing professionally in elementary school.
When filming wrapped, she remembers turning to her mom and saying, “That was the greatest day of my life.” After that, performing and chasing that feeling became “the dream.”
More roles followed. At age 12, she booked a leading role on the PBS kids’ series “Odd Squad” as the energetic Agent Olympia.
She started filming for “Odd Squad” when she was in seventh grade, and she describes it as a “whirlwind” for her family. The show was filmed in Toronto, nearly 3,000 miles away from home.
“I had never even seen a script before, or ever done an audition with lines, and it was like, ‘Oh, you booked this, and you’re moving across the country for seven months,’” she says.
Cathcart’s mom stayed with her while her sister finished up high school at home in Vancouver with their dad.
“They had to make so many little sacrifices for this and different adjustments, and I’m so grateful for that,” she says.
The rest of high school was a blur of traveling for jobs — including “Descendants 2” and “To All the Boys I Loved Before” — and making sure her faraway teachers liked her enough to let her catch up on school work, she says with a laugh.
Each September, when her teachers would ask her what her year looks like, she'd think, "Dude, I don't know what I'm doing next week."
"Now, balancing university with it ... weirdly it's like I've been training for this for so long," she says.
Cathcart picks a team in 'XO, Kitty'
In “XO, Kitty,” Cathcart takes center stage for the first time.
In the first episode, her character hatches a plan to study in Korea, following in the footsteps of her late mother, and successfully pitches it to her dad, played by John Corbett. Not long after, Kitty is across the globe, far from the warm family ties that define creator Jenny Han’s original “To All the Boys” series.
Then, her long-distance relationship with Dae (Minyeong Choi), the boy she met at the end of “To All the Boys: Always and Forever,” comes crashing down. Kitty, once a self-professed matchmaker who believed in the idea of a soulmate, finds herself in something like a “love square.” Think a love triangle, but with even more connections (and love interests).
“XO, Kitty” boldly breaks the romantic tropes that have functioned like “rules” for the genre. This matchmaker gets more than one match. Fake dating doesn’t lead to real feelings. Love after miscommunication isn’t the end of the story. And maybe instead of enemies to lovers, it’s just enemies to friends.
The show ends with three potential love interests for Kitty, but none of them (yet?) turn into full-fledged romantic relationships. One of those love interests is Kitty’s best friend, Yuri (Gia Kim), introducing a queer storyline for Cathcart’s character.
In the last episode, Kitty comes out to her dad over the phone. During the conversation, she isn’t sure how to label her sexuality. Is she bisexual, pansexual, something else?
She doesn’t land on a word, just like she doesn’t land on a love interest. The show allows Kitty to be 16 and in flux.
“A big priority for sure was to realize that Kitty is not someone who just has that one person forever, because she’s learning about herself through other people,” she says.
Fans online already have strong opinions about who Kitty should “end up with,” organized into self-identified “teams.” On red carpets, Cathcart is often asked about her allegiance: “Team X or Team Y?”
She knows her answer: Team Kitty.
“I’m on the ‘XO, Kitty’ side of TikTok. This feels so self-centered but I’m so excited to see that people care this much.”
But still, she appreciates the edits made by devoted and opinionated fans invested in Kitty’s romantic future.
“I’m on the ‘XO, Kitty’ side of TikTok,” she says, with a laugh. “My algorithm is like, 'Look at these edits of you and your friends.' This feels so self-centered, but I’m so excited to see that people care this much.”
She often sends them to her castmates and show creator Jenny Han, the mind also behind “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” (After our interview, the Amazon Prime show’s star Lola Tung got dinner in New York with Cathcart and Han for a “Jenny Han universe” crossover.)
Cathcart unpacks Kitty's smile at the end of Season 1
One moment often shared by fans comes at the end of the show. Kitty is on a plane headed home after an eventful experience at the airport. After breaking up with Dae, her first love, she attempts to confess her growing feelings for Yuri — until Yuri’s girlfriend comes back into the picture.
Then, her seatmate on the plane turns out to be her foe-turned-friend Min Ho, played by Sang Heon Lee. In the final minutes, Min Ho confesses his love for Kitty.
“If this happened in real life, I would just collapse, like, it's too much to handle,” Cathcart notes.
But Cathcart says this love entanglement, ever-growing in its complications, is a perfect conclusion to the season for Kitty.
“I love that she doesn’t actually have a person at the end of the season,” she says. “This is her getting on the plane with a lot of doors being crashed down, as well as doors being closed and half open, and in all new positions than they were at the start of the season.”
As the closing song kicks in and the plane prepares to take off, Kitty grins.
In that moment, Cathcart says Kitty was expressing a “smile of possibilities,” while also thinking, “Wow, what is happening in my life?”
Kitty, instead of leaning into her desire to fix things and figure everything out, finally accepts that “love is unexpected.”
“Instead of being like, ‘Wait no, I want to figure it out ... I know love and I have it dialed,’ she’s like, ‘Wait, this is exciting, that I don’t have it dialed because so many things can happen,’” Cathcart says.
For now, her life is 'XO, Anna'
Like Kitty, Cathcart is also figuring out what she’s wishing for.
“Knowing what I want and what I like and how things make me feel — I’m constantly learning that,” she says. “I literally have a note on my phone that I wrote the other day that just says, ‘Everything is a learning lesson,’ because I have to keep reminding myself that.”
When it came to choosing between the first weekend of freshman year and a seat at New York Fashion Week, Cathcart says she ended up “making it work.”
She traveled to New York, glued to her computer for parts of the trip to stay on top of her schoolwork. When telling this story, months later, she conveys both disappointment and excitement.
“Sorry, brand new classmates, I’m leaving to go to Fashion Week,” she says. “But also, kind of a pinch me moment.”
In hindsight, though, “it was all worth it.”
When it comes to figuring out what’s next, rather than fear or nerves, Cathcart says she feels some frustration. She wants to plan her life — she just doesn’t know which one.
“My friends who are not in the industry, they're planning road trips or they’re booking things. I’m like, ‘I can’t tell you guys if I’m coming or not,’” she says.
When she was younger, she would have been anxious about the fact that she has no idea what she’ll be doing come September.
“I am someone who used to really struggle with that. I loved having a plan and hated not knowing what’s going on,” she says. “And I think at this point, I’ve just understood that it’s inevitable, like it’s just part of being an actor, and a part of this lifestyle if I want to keep doing this.”
So, she’s choosing to embrace the present — discomfort and all.
When the show was officially released May 18, it marked the first time Cathcart watched her project in full alone, without her family.
“Other projects have always just been so celebratory and exciting, but this time it felt more vulnerable. It was such a big piece of my life,” she says. “I literally was like, no joke, under my blanket, holding my teddy bear.”
In all, for both her character, Kitty, and for Cathcart, it was a year of discovering and realizing. And, she says, it's only just the beginning. “I’m more capable than I thought I was!"