Last year, Jenny Han’s book trilogy turned streaming series The Summer I Turned Pretty seemed to gain overnight success. Whether you discovered the series by burying yourself in the pages or binge-watching the show on Prime Video, the success of the series can mostly be attributed to the characters. And for 23 year old actress Rain Spencer, who portrays Taylor, the loyal best friend of Belly Conklin, her goal is to play characters that embrace vulnerability.
With just a few professional projects under her belt, Spencer shines in the roles that she’s taken on. Last year, she starred in her debut role as a high schooler struggling with drug addiction in Good Girl Jane, and her work on the film was described as “uncomfortably real.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, she prepares for the world to see season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty, where her character Taylor takes on a more prominent role in the series. In season one, Taylor finds herself struggling internally with her feelings for her best friend’s brother Steven, and the sometimes “queen bee” makes a lot of mistakes that your typical high school girl would. In this next chapter, she leans into the vulnerability and learns to be honest with herself, and most importantly, is fiercely loyal and present for Belly as she navigates her way through life’s challenges.
Ahead of the season 2 premiere of The Summer I Turned Pretty, Rain Spencer opens up to 1883 about her connection to her character Taylor, her future acting projects, and what songs are on her personal TSITP playlist.
First off, congratulations on the release of The Summer I Turned Pretty season 2!
Thank you so much!
Going back a little– what originally drew you to audition for the role of Taylor?
I think that Taylor is a character type that I never thought I would play. Like I remember being in acting classes and trying to push myself to play this more like “Queen Bee” type and feeling like I would never really do that. And so I auditioned for her and tried to just challenge myself in that way, you know? Because the character that I played right before Taylor is this very introverted, outcast, bullied character that resorts to drugs. And then I did a complete 180! I went into the Jenny-verse and filmed Taylor and I really just wanted to push myself and see what I could do.
What kind of research did you have to do for playing such a polar opposite character to what you’ve done before?
You know, Taylor’s basically the second character that I’ve professionally done. So I did Good Girl Jane, and then The Summer I Turned Pretty is my second professional job. So I’m still new and diving into these worlds and trying to figure out, you know? I’ve been studying for a long time. I have a background in theater a little bit, I studied theater in high school, did a lot of acting classes, and worked with a lot of different teachers. I think that the main research that I did with Taylor was– yes, we’re different in some ways, but we’re also the same in a lot of ways. Like, if I go back to the 16 year old version of myself, I understand some of the thought patterns that she has. I think that having once been a teenage girl, I can kind of understand the fierce loyalty that she has to Belly. I understand that first love feeling that she feels with Steven and those types of things.
Totally! I feel like Taylor is the best friend we all had in high school. Are you and her similar in any way?
Taylor is fiercely loyal to Belly, right? And I definitely had that friend growing up where I was just like– it is you and me, and I had a really tiny circle. I still do. I still do have that small circle of friends that I can trust and that can trust me. So I’m similar to Taylor in that way. I think I’m also similar to her in regards to like, you know, when I was a teenager, it was really hard for me to express the way I feel when I feel it. So I think Taylor has a lot of walls up and vulnerability which is kind of hard for her, and I related to that a lot. You know, like fear of rejection, fear of your heart being broken. In Taylor’s world, it’s a lot less of a risk to date someone that she’s not fully in love with, so that if it ends, she’s not going to be shattered. I think she guards her heart pretty closely.
And she kind of makes decisions that protect her heart in that way.
Exactly. And I think it stems from maybe how Taylor grew up– you know, her dad’s not around and she just has her mom– I think that like all these things can kind of stem back to childhood.
When you were preparing for this role, did you read any of the books beforehand at all?
I did! I read the first book before season 1, and then the second book before filming season 2.
That makes sense! So it was fresh in your mind going into each season.
Exactly. So I didn’t want to read them all at once because there’s so much time in between seasons– like there’s basically an entire year between filming each season. So I’ve been reading them step by step. I actually really wish that I knew about the books when I was a kid. I would’ve loved them like when I was a teenager. I didn’t even know that they existed!
I actually didn’t know about them either until season 1 dropped– which is so wild because the fan base was already cult-like before the show even came out!
I know. I really feel like I missed out on all that!
When you found out you got the part and realized how big the existent fanbase was, were you intimidated by taking on the role at all?
I don’t know if I was able to fully digest how huge it was at that moment. I don’t think I really fully understood. I think Jenny prepared us. Going into season one and towards the end of filming, she kind of prepared us for what was going to happen. But to be honest, I feel the same, you know what I mean? I feel like I’ve grown just as a human and Taylor has taught me a lot of things. I’m so proud of the show. I’m so proud of Jenny– she’s just this iconic person to so many people and has helped raise all these people practically. And so I’m just really grateful to be a part of it.
I love how you said that, she’s raised all of you guys. I read somewhere that she actually sought out young, lesser-known actors to play these characters, which I think is really special because that doesn’t happen often.
I think it’s so special too. I thought it was so special too and also rare. And I think that she believes in her fans so much and she believes in herself so much, as she should. It wasn’t scary for her– I think she wanted that newness.
Well, no one knows the characters like she does. So it makes sense that she worked hard to find people that perfectly portrayed these characters.
100%. She wasn’t going off of social media followers, right? Because she already has all these people that just love her so unconditionally.
Jumping into season 2 – Taylor has more screen time this season! And she’s in a new relationship! How was that shift for you, taking on a more prominent role in such a successful show?
I personally was just so, so excited. Jenny and I talked about it before we shot season one, and she said she wanted to expand on Taylor’s character in season two moving forward. So, she asked me to basically go on this journey with her and I was like, “yes, of course!” It was really exciting for me. I think that Taylor is someone that, like I said, has a lot of walls up and she has a lot of defence mechanisms and so she kind of tells the world that she’s one way when in reality, I think, she’s a total softie. I believe that Taylor is so extremely sensitive that she has to act like she doesn’t care.
I agree– and she’s extremely relatable in that way. Related to that, we’ve all been or seen the young girl that’s been blindly in love with the older boy. How was it playing that character on screen?
I think it’s so easy to judge Taylor based on how she portrays herself, or how she wants the world to view her. She has this “this is the way I am, so don’t mess with me” mentality. But like I think for her character development and for anyone who has all of these defence mechanisms that they’ve built up over the years, to learn how to be vulnerable, to find an actual safe space. Like, she finds safety in Belly, she finds safety in Steven because they grew up together. And I think that because they grew up together, he really sees her for who she is and not just what she puts on. I think that he’s just like not sitting by the walls that she’s built up and like knocking on them and just painting on the walls until she starts to break them down. She’s coming to realize and learn that he is actually safe and he sees her for who she is. In season one, he kind of messed with her heart a little bit, so that built up even more of a wall. And I think season two, he’s really set on letting her know that he is there. It’s beautiful. I mean, I think that her character deserves a little bit of understanding and getting to see where she’s coming from with all of this. So I’m excited to just continue her journey.
Based on that answer, I think I know the answer to this question– I have to ask, are you a Taylor and Steven shipper? Are you rooting for them?
Yes, totally. I think that he is put in her life to help her overcome these internal challenges and vice versa. You know, she does it in sort of jokey funny way most of the time, but she also provides a safe space for him to like fully express his feelings and what he’s going through, and he knows that she’s not actually judging him.
There was a lot of tension between Taylor and Steven in the road trip scene in episode 3 – but it looked like it was a lot of fun to film.
Right. I mean, it’s funny, it’s like, teenagers don’t have a lot of great open communication. You know what I mean? So Steven and Taylor’s relationship is a lot of bickering and poking fun at each other and being seemingly kind of mean– but it’s not mean, at least in Taylor’s world, right. Through Taylor’s vision, it’s not mean. It’s just like she’s actually so in love with him that it hurts and she’s like, I cannot show this. I cannot show this. I cannot show this. So she masks it with humour and with like, making fun of him and calling him an asshole because she doesn’t want to be rejected by him again. So it’s like they’re playing this game of like, I don’t care. Oh, you don’t? Well I don’t care even more. You know what I mean?
Well, for so much of their relationship throughout their lives, you were his little sister’s best friend or Taylor was his little sister’s best friend.
Exactly. I think this summer he’s just seen and been through so much– because I think Taylor in season one is very much pretending to be an adult, pretending like she knows what is what. And season two, she is actually grown up and she’s actually matured. She’s not pretending to be grown up. She’s actually grown and he sees that.
I love that this show touches on so many relatable topics – mental health, loss, young love and heartbreak, etc. How important is that for you?
Honestly, it just makes me really, really excited because these are subjects that, like you said, a lot of other young adult shows don’t touch on at all. With the relationships and the love triangles in the show, the stories bring out all of these emotions that are very real and so relatable. When I was reading the second book and reading the scripts for the second season, I started to think about things in my own life that were hard, and like grief that I’ve gone through. I’ve heard people talk about watching season one, and just like their family had gone through the same thing and this woman was just crying the whole time with her son because she survived cancer. And I think that one of the most important parts of media is helping the audience members heal from situations that they are going through in their real life. It almost gives you permission to feel grief and permission to feel the things and actually heal from them and not just like, stuff it down or avoid it. It’s like, no, look, this family is going through this and this is how these characters are feeling, and you are 100% not alone.
It’s so multi-generational too. It’s not just young people that are connecting with the story.
Without revealing any spoilers, what can you tell us about Taylor’s journey in season 2?
To sum it up a little– she’s fiercely loyal to Belly. It is safe for her to be herself around Belly. She’s grown a bit and so she’s starting to put Belly’s needs before her own. She’s starting to learn how to be more selfless with Belly. She’s also navigating a new relationship. Her feelings for Steven are far from gone, but she is protecting her heart the best way that she knows how and learning slowly how to be vulnerable and that it’s actually okay to show how she really feels.
The Summer I Turned Pretty has such an amazing soundtrack. I have heard many actors say they make playlists for their characters– do you have a playlist for Taylor?
Oh, I 100% have one for Taylor. I have one playlist for season one and I have Taylor 2. It’s called Taylor 2 for season two.
Can you share some of the artists that are on it?
Let me pull it up right now! There’s a lot of SZA, there’s Doja Cat, there’s Summer Walker– “No Love” from Summer Walker, that’s a good one. There’s Jorja Smith “On My Mind,” there’s Frank Ocean, Ivy, Little Dragon, Sylvan Esso.. I’ve got a bunch of random things. Oh! “Bia’ Bia’” by Gochi. You know, all very, very Taylor.
What’s next for you this year? Are you working on anything currently?
I’m actually currently in Portland, Oregon filming a sci-fi horror project!
Another very different project for you!
Another very different project, which has been so fun. Today, I’m going on set, my second to last day. We’re wrapping up. This project is insane. There’s so much to it. It’s set in the eighties in this really small town and I play this kind of outcast closeted girl who’s just like, “get me out of here.”
That sounds sick. I love eighties sci-fi.
Oh my god, it’s so fun.
Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty debuts July 14th on Prime Video.
Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Kelsey Hale