Emerging Australian actor, director, and producer Peter Thurnwald is one to watch. Adopted from South Korea as a baby, he grew up on the Gold Coast of Australia. His start in acting was almost accidental. During his one and only time performing in a high school production, he was scouted to do background work for a film set, and from the moment he arrived, it all clicked.
Currently splitting time between Los Angeles and Australia, he has now been seen in the Paramount+ series Players, as well as Kong: Skull Island, Bump, and Young Rock. With his first starring role as Alex in XO Kitty, a spinoff of To All The Boys, he is getting the recognition he deserves.
While not acting, he also works on searching for his birth mother — a mission he happens to actually share with his character of Alex. He hopes that the more press he does, the more chance he has of finding her.
With the release of XO Kitty, we hear from Peter Thurnwald about his starring role, experience filming the show in Seoul, and what’s to come.
Read the interview…
Who and what influences you every day?
I have to credit my sister for always being there for sibling love and advice. I have the most amazing friends who I lean on for my day-to-day. And my incredible acting coach Gareth Harris who has been with me since the beginning of my acting journey, so I must credit a lot of my success to him.
How did you discover your interest in acting?
I completely fell into it. I mean, besides my stage debut in 3rd Grade where I dropped my first line as Mr. Tumnus in our school production of Narnia, I did one stage show in my final year of high school. A friend, who also happened to be a background casting director, saw me in that production and sent me straight to film sets because I was one of the few tall Asians who were doing background work on the Gold Coast. As soon as I stepped onto that first set (which I can’t for the life of me remember the name), I just knew that this is what I wanted to do.
What made you want to pursue it as a career?
I just loved every second of it. Whether I was sitting in my college dorm breaking down monologues or being on set watching the film crew, I felt like I belonged. I also think there was this element of it being REALLY hard. I’ve always challenged myself to tackle tasks I thought were impossible, and becoming a professional actor is like boss-level hard when it comes to any sort of stability. Despite that, I was willing to risk it all to do what I loved, and it seems to be working out.
At what moment did you feel like you could be successful in the acting industry?
I am in constant battle with the idea of success because I find it hard to settle on anything. The first moment I felt successful wasn’t when I booked my first professional gig or received the first good review, it was when I went my first six months simply living off my acting. That’s when I realised I could do this thing without depending on a café job as a side hustle. In the future, I hope that I can stay grounded and remember how lucky I am to be in this career.
You’re of Korean descent but grew up on the Gold Coast in Australia. How has that multiculturalism affected your personal, career, and creative outlook?
So, for those who don’t know, Gold Coast is like Australia’s hippie surf child who somehow found a bunch of money and doesn’t know what to do with it. The town has this weird sense of feeling small, but also there’s a fair bit going on. I was lucky that the Gold Coast has a fairly large film industry, particularly Hollywood films, because I was able to find stable work as a background extra before I went to drama school. My parents did a very good job at raising me, especially when it came to being an adopted Korean. There was a small community of other adopted Koreans we were friends with, and we’d regularly meet up and celebrate our Korean culture. I’m still in contact with a lot of those people, and it’s great to have that community to vent and feel heard. Other than that, I think that my upbringing was pretty darn normal.
What is your dream role?
I don’t have a dream role per se, but I go through phases of wanting to do different genres and styles. At my core, I love comedy, particularly dramedy or something that can pull on the heartstrings both ways. I also love any character that has to tackle themes of belonging or identity, which is something that I’ve had to deal with myself. Although when I think about it a little harder, two franchises I would love to be a part of are Avatar the Last Airbender (my favourite cartoon and potentially my favourite show of all time), and Halo (just because I grew up with the games and love the story). I don’t know what roles I’d play, but being a part of those would be incredible.
Who is your personal favourite actor and why?
Steven Yeun. I admire him whole-heartedly and the way he’s gone about his career inspires me. His acting is so delicate, truthful, and believable, as well as the stories that he’s been a part of and created are just *chefs kiss*. My favourite performance of his used to be Burning, but now since Beef has come out, I have to say that one. I would LOVE to work with him one day, whether that’s in-front of the camera acting with him, or behind camera producing a show!
Talk us through your upcoming project, To All The Boys, XO Kitty?
I play Alex Finnerty, a young, chill, slightly goofy adopted Australian teacher who travels to South Korea to look for his real birth parents. He ends up teaching at KISS, where he becomes friends with Kitty and bonding over their cultural naivety. It’s a wild K-drama-esque storyline, starting with Kitty unravelling secrets about her mother, Alex potentially being Kitty’s brother, the discovery of Professor Lee and Jina’s secret relationship, and then the final twist of Alex being the son of the two teachers! Throughout the whole story, Alex goes through a lot of heartache, watching Kitty struggle at school, being rejected by his birth father, and discovering his blood family only to realise it’s not what he expected at all. It was a great role to investigate the more interesting sides of identity and rejection, as well as finding the comedic moments whenever they presented themselves.
Your character is searching for their birthday family, something that resonates with you in your personal life. Did that allow you to find it easier to relate to the character and become at one with the role?
Absolutely. Being able to draw on the real-life experience of being adopted was invaluable as I was researching the role. When I was 19 and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I had an early quarter-life crisis and wanted to travel to Korea to find my real parents. It’s not that I didn’t love my adoptive parents, it was more wanting to know what I was missing back in Korea. Questions like ‘did my mother love me, do I have any siblings, what would my life be like if I wasn’t adopted’ fluttered around in my mind. There was also this feeling of loneliness, this lack of identity I had as a teenager with no purpose. It was this period of life where I discovered acting, which gave me a reason to wake up in the morning. I was able to bring a lot of these feelings and states into the character and play with them on-screen. I wouldn’t say it was cathartic, it was just a different approach to how I would usually enter the work.
Occasionally, those questions about my truth come up in my day-to-day life, but I’ve learned how to be at peace with those thoughts. Maybe one day I will travel back to Korea with the sole goal of finding my mother, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to embark on that journey yet.
How did you find working on Players? We loved your performance!
Thank you so much! Wow, I could talk-write an essay on Players but I’ll refrain for the sake of your reading. I LOVED Players so much. It was a perfect blend of great characters, challenging days, and a lot of research into the League of Legends world. I played Foresite, this quietly cocky, hyper-talented LCS champion who, throughout the show, becomes the villain after he betrays the protagonist, Creamcheese (Misha Brooks) by leaving his home team and repeatedly winning championships AGAINST his ‘best-friend’. It really felt like a giant student film, with a bunch of iPhone footage, dodgy location shoots and a lot of camaraderie between cast and crew. One of my favourite experiences on the show was simply working with Tony Yacenda, the director. He is one of those directors who’s able to find this perfect balance of achieving the vision while letting the actors play and go down rabbit holes. I would love to work with him again if I ever get the chance.
Do you have any major career goals?
At the moment, all of my major goals have to do with creating work. Even though I love acting, I’ve had this itch to begin producing and directing. I’ve started doing bits here and there. I directed my first short a few years ago and am currently producing a larger budget short to be shot in rural Queensland. However, my big goal is to get my television series made. It’s a drama-comedy about two brothers, one adopted Korean, and the other white, who meet for the first time and have to find their missing sister. It centralises around a lot of themes I’ve talked about today and uses personal anecdotes from friends to make it authentic. It’s an idea that has excited me for a very long time, and the hope is to get a few more creatives attached so I can begin dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s!
What’s your advice to any budding actors? What are your top tips for achieving success?
Your art is your food. Without the right food, you get hungry, you get tired, you lose the will to do things day-to-day. If you truly want to find success in anything, please find the right ingredients. Are you doing self-tapes (NOT auditions) that are scenes YOU want to do? Are you writing? Are you meeting other actors? Are you being KIND to yourself? These aren’t suggestions; these are steps in a recipe to make the most nourishing acting poke-bowl. Yes, acting is a waiting game, and the way to win is by finding ways to sustain yourself until you can have the privilege of working with other creatives on projects that are meaningful to you and your community.
What else is to come from you?
Stay posted! I’ve got so much content and projects I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of. At the moment, XO Kitty is my only focus in terms of acting, but who knows what the future holds!