Madeleine Arthur plays somewhat of a love cynic in the To All the Boys I've Loved Before movies. But off-screen, "I feel like I'm a bit of a hopeless romantic," the actress, 23, tells PEOPLE. "And I do like to think of myself as an optimist."
Arthur returns as Lara Jean's (Lana Condor) best friend Chris in To All the Boys: Always and Forever, the third and final film in Netflix's hit YA franchise based on Jenny Han's book series. The latest installment shot back-to-back with the second movie and Arthur feels "so grateful" for that experience.
"It kind of felt like filming a season of a TV series, in a way, where you really get to delve into the characters and sit with them for a while," she says. "And it was so much fun to discover those characters more in-depth and greater lengths."
Chris and Lara Jean embark on their senior year of high school, which means prom, college acceptances and a celebratory class trip. The besties and their class of 2021 peers head to New York City, which served as a bit of a class trip for the cast as well.
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"When we filmed in New York, we explored the High Line and the Met and we'd do movie nights. That was a really great bonding experience," Arthur says. "It was a blast. It felt like we, too, were on this special trip."
Revisiting high school onscreen gave Arthur some perspective on her teenage years, especially in regards to the often-overhyped prom night. "It's built up for so many years of your high school life. And I feel like the pressure doesn't need to exist," she says. "It's a night to enjoy, to have a good time with your friends, and to laugh and celebrate the end of high school."
In the second movie, Lara Jean chose Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) over John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), and now LJ must decide whether she and Peter should go to college together or pursue their own dreams. Arthur "was always team LJ, no matter what," she says of where her loyalties lay. "I support her through and through, and I'm so happy to see her happy in a relationship with Peter."
As for how Lara Jean and Peter's journey concludes, Arthur teases, "She's following her dreams and her aspirations. I think it's the right choice for her." And free spirit Chris follows her "sense of adventure," the Canada-born star adds.
Playing best friends throughout three movies turned Arthur and Condor, 23, into real-life BFFs. "We're so tight," Arthur says. "She is one of my best friends in the world. To have a movie bring you one of your best friends is a dream. She was a fantastic scene partner. You can't ask for a better one."
Arthur never expected the To All the Boys movies to resonate with viewers the way they have. "I don't think anyone could expect that crazy and spectacular reaction," the Big Eyes actress says. "I'm so thrilled that people enjoyed the movie so much, and that they are sticking along for three of them. It's everyone's dream. To have had this astronomical reaction is so huge and amazing."
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With the franchise coming to an end, Arthur says she wants viewers to walk away feeling empowered to "be honest, embrace whatever comes your way, take a risk and step out of your comfort zone to trust and to love."
To All the Boys: Always and Forever is out Friday on Netflix.
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