It was a long road to Hollywood for Josephine Langford—about 10,000 miles, if you’re counting from her hometown of Perth, Australia. “It took a really, really long time [to get started], coming from an isolated city. Perth is not industry-heavy, so just figuring out how to get into the industry was tough,” said the 21-year-old. “Eventually, I found out what a U.S. agent was, and so I got a U.S. agent. That’s when it started.” And now that she’s here, she’s not going anywhere soon, especially if the buzz around her latest film—her first in a starring role—is any indication.
If you are not familiar with After, then you were probably born before 1990. The romance series, written by Anna Renee Todd, has a bit of an infamous backstory: It began as fan fiction about the former One Direction member Harry Styles that Todd wrote on an blogging app called Wattpad. It’s since evolved into five novels and, as of Friday, a feature film, which, judging by the size of its fan base, may very well be the next Twilight.
Prior to landing the potentially career-making role of Tessa Young, After’s protagonist, Langford had just one other film credit to her name, the 2017 horror movie Wish Upon. In case you haven’t put it together, her older sister is the 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford, but Josephine says the two don’t talk shop at home. “Everyone asks me that, and honestly the answer is no,” she said. “Not to sound arrogant, but we both sort of know what we’re doing.”
Like any good teen romance, After revolves around something of a forbidden love between a good-girl college freshman and a bad boy, played by Hero Finnes Tiffin. The central plot of the film remains the same, with slight updates to the 2014 book. As Langford explained, “There wasn’t ever the notion of trying to copy the book. The movie is very different from the book. The whole book is from her perspective, and when I read it I felt like I understood how she thought, so I just did that. I didn’t try to copy her, but I did what I felt.”
Langford first read the book during the audition process, but she recalled that she may have had an even earlier encounter with the source material. “This is so funny,” she said. “So I use the Internet a lot—it’s a big hobby of mine, just surfing the Internet. And you know how you go into the deep, dark corners? I’m pretty sure I stumbled across the fan fiction and read the first five pages. When I was reading the book, I was like, This is all vaguely familiar. But I don’t know for sure.”
If she did, she was certainly not alone—After already has one of the most dedicated fan bases on the Internet (the official Instagram account for the film has almost a million followers). “These fans are like the FBI,” Langford said. “I don’t know how they do it. Before they even announced my casting, I started getting followers. One of the [film’s] producers liked a comment of someone saying, ‘Is it this girl?’ And that’s how they got it.”
Still, she has yet to completely wrap her mind around the fact that her life may very well change after this weekend—though she’s aware it may be time to confront that. “I still don’t think I have grasped it yet,” she said. “Getting into this, we were constantly reminded about the size of the fan base, and how big this thing could be, because they really wanted us to be prepared, but I don’t think that I’ve realized it yet. It won’t be until I see the fans. It’s one thing to see a million people on Instagram following the account, and it’s another thing to see a million people in person.”