Interview by Jana Letonja

Peter Thurnwald stars in Netflix’s ‘Xo, Kitty’, the spinoff of ‘To All The Boys’, which released on 18th May. The series marks the first Netflix television series to be spun-off from a Netflix original film. He was previously seen in Paramount+ series ‘Players’. 

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Peter, you are starring in Netflix’s ‘Xo, Kitty’, the spin-off of ‘To All The Boys’. How exciting was it working on this project?

I loved every minute of working on ‘Xo, Kitty’. There were so many things to be excited about it that I almost got completely lost in it all. Firstly, shooting in Korea was amazing. There was always something to do in Seoul, whether that was shopping, eating, hiking or karaoke. What made it even better was having locals show us their favorite spots. A lot of the shooting was done on location, so we got to travel around Seoul and the outlying cities. My favorite location was the cultural center in Dongdaemun, the center of Seoul, which is where the welcome party scene was shot. It was so cool being in the city and seeing Seoul in its full light.

In the series, you portray Alex, a young teacher who is searching for his birth family. Tell us more about Alex and how you personally connect with him.

Alex is very similar to me because I too am an adopted Korean. I was adopted at six months old from South Korea by two Aussie parents. It’s interesting playing a character that is so close to home, because although you can draw on a lot of real-life experiences, you have to make sure that you’re not using emotional wounds that aren’t quite healed yet. That was an interesting balance to find and one that I didn’t think would be a problem until I got on set. On a lighter note, I think that teacher Alex is a very caring and easygoing guy, which is also similar to me. I studied physics at the University of Queensland for a year and actually thought about going into teaching, so in an alternate universe, maybe my life would’ve been very similar to Alex’s.

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You yourself were adopted by an Australian family and are currently searching for your birth mother. Why is finding her so important to you? 

I wouldn’t say that I am actively searching for her every day. When I was around 19, I had a very early quarter-life crisis and almost left for South Korea to find her. It was at this point I discovered acting and was able to put some of that yearning into art. So in some way, I can contribute my acting to my birth mother because without that, I never would’ve turned to acting. Traveling to Korea, being among other people who looked like me, who may have had the same culture as me, was a very enlightening experience and settled some feelings I had towards my adoption. If I was to meet my mother, I’d want it to be an experience that enhances my life, not damages it. I think I have a little more growing to do as an individual before I can get to that stage.

How hard and challenging has the process of loooking for your birth mother been so far?

I’ve done ancestry tests, which have been completely useless, mainly because they’ll say you’re a descendant from East Asia, which I know. I’ve also looked into my name and birth certificate, which revealed some surprising results. My last name isn’t actually what it says on the birth certificate. My Korean name is Kim Hyo Chul and this will make looking for my family even more difficult as I don’t know my actual last name. Finally, when I traveled to Korea to shoot ‘Xo, Kitty’, I got I guess you could say cold feet. I went to Eastern Social Welfare, where I was adopted from in Seoul, but I only stood outside of the building. I just wasn’t ready to tackle that piece of my life quite yet. Considering how little information I do have on my mother, the logical step would be to hire a private investigator.

You are of Korean descent and filming of ‘Xo, Kitty’ took place in South Korea. How was it filming in Seoul?

As I already said, it was amazing. Seoul is an incredible city with so much to do. I found myself eating out almost every night because the food, especially the Korean BBQ, was phenomenal.

Although you participated in some school theatre productions, acting was never on your radar as a career. What were your career aspirations while growing up?

When I was younger, I always wanted to be an astronaut. I loved the idea of going to space and exploring new worlds. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to study physics, to be around anything to do with space. But like most teenagers, I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a long time. I was just lucky that I stumbled into acting and it’s something I both enjoy and am good at.

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Tell us more about how your acting career started.

I did my first play when I was in high school, by a young playwright Chris Isaacs. The play was called ‘Flood’ and we performed it as a one-act play at the Gold Coast Drama Festival. It was there that an extras casting agent noticed me on stage and because I was one of only a few tall Asians living on the Gold Coast, she wanted me to do extra work. I thought this would be fun, but I never thought that it would amount to anything. The first time that I went onto a film set, I knew I was at home and I dedicated my life to getting back on a TV set.

You grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast. What would you describe as the best part of living there? 

The chill vibe that the Gold Coast gives off. The beaches there are amazing and there’s a lot to do if you enjoy being outside. I spent most of my childhood playing a large range of sports, like soccer, rowing, tennis, cricket and many more. I also grew up with a community of adopted Koreans around the Gold Coast. We were all adopted around the same time and I would consider these people my brothers and sisters. I still stay in touch with a lot of them. It has been so great to be with people who understand what it’s like to be adopted.

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You have begun producing your own TV series in affiliation with Pathline Pictures and Continuance Pictures. Tell us more about the series and your experience as a producer.

I love everything to do with film, but I think producing is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done so far. Setting up budgets and doing applications sounds boring, but it’s the framework of the stories that we see on our screens. I definitely want to move into more production as my career progresses, as well as build my production company.

Peter, tell us more about some of your other passions, besides acting and producing.

I have a lot of passions, so I’ll try to list the major ones. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, I have my own setup at home and I know everything there is to know about how coffee is roasted and brewed. I also love golf. I play a few times a week and practice even more. Both of these activities are very meditative and help me stay sane in the crazy acting industry.

talent PETER THURNWALD @peterthurnwald
photographer BEN COPE @ben_cope
stylist BENJAMIN HOLTROP @benjaminholtrop
groomer SONIA LEE Exclusive Artists using Balmain Hair Couture
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA @timiletonja