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Noah Centineo’s transformation from teen romcom star to “true leading man” in Netflix’s “The Recruit”

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to wait for your new Netflix series to premiere, Noah Centineo has a vivid metaphor for the experience.

“It’s similar to when you have to pee. You start getting closer to a bathroom, and you have to pee more frequently because you’re getting closer. That’s how it is, “On a Zoom call, the actor says before giving someone off camera a puzzled look. “My team is asking, ‘Why? ‘What was the metaphor?'”

“The Recruit,” an action-packed thriller in which he stars as a rookie lawyer at the CIA who is thrust into dangerous waters when a former asset threatens to expose agency secrets, has Centineo, 26, holding his metaphorical bladder.

“The Recruit” offers more than just another role for Centineo, who rose to prominence in several Netflix teen romcoms, including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and its sequels. It’s also an opportunity for him to transform from a YA male ingenue to a genuine leading man in Hollywood and around the world.

“This is a departure from the rom-com and love-interest genres, but it’s not a radical step in the opposite direction,” Centineo says of the show, which has levity mixed in with the thrills. “That appeals to me. I like how this is a show about the CIA but not through the eyes of a spy.”

Centineo, who was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida, began acting as a child, landing his first screen credit at the age of 13 in the 2009 film “The Gold Retrievers.” He also appeared in Disney Channel sitcoms including “Shake It Up,” which starred Zendaya, and Freeform’s “The Fosters,” from 2013 to 2018.

But it was his portrayal of lovable jock Peter Kavinsky in Netflix’s “To All the Boys,” based on Jenny Han’s novel, that catapulted him to stardom – and into the hearts of teenage girls all over the world.

Centineo’s status as Netflix’s go-to rom-com guy was cemented by the film’s two sequels. He went on to appear in three more films.

According to series creator Alexi Hawley, who produced tonally similar ABC dramas “Castle” and “The Rookie,” both starring Nathan Fillion, “The Recruit” will show a more mature side of Centineo.

“Ultimately, he saw this show as an opportunity to really redefine himself, because I do believe that you can be typecast a little bit as that guy,” Hawley says. “Even though he’s not playing a grown-up, this is a very mature role.”

When Hawley began writing “The Recruit,” he had no actor in mind. He was inspired by the concept of “graymail,” or blackmail involving threats to reveal government secrets.

Later, while brainstorming potential A-listers to lead the project, Hawley mentions Centineo.

“There’s a very real factor in Hollywood these days that projects with stars attached are easier to sell, but the number of 24-year-olds who get a show sold and made is incredibly small,” Hawley says. “One of them is Noah. And we were just lucky that he responded so strongly to the material.”

Centineo says that playing newbie CIA lawyer Owen Hendricks gave him the chance to play an action hero without straying too far from the charming, boy-next-door image his fans have come to know and love.

The show’s tone, which includes suspenseful and humorous moments, allowed him to “thread the needle” between the two personas, he says.

“I wanted to at least try to be aware of the audience and fans… and not go completely in a different direction,” Centineo says. “I believe the show does that, and I’m very excited about it.”

Making “The Recruit” with a rom-com veteran like Centineo in Jason Bourne-like scenarios was part of the fun for Hawley.

“Noah’s ability to ground the action in unfamiliarity, but also the comedy of these small moments of him going left when he should go right… you’d never see that in a Bond movie,” Hawley says. “Part of what we have to do is take that perception of Noah and put him in that element.”

Jumping into a role, unlike holding your pee before a premiere, isn’t just a metaphor for Centineo.

His character, Hendricks, is cornered by assassins on a bridge in Vienna early in the series. With nowhere to flee, he jumps off the bridge and into a freezing river below.

According to executive producer and director Doug Liman, Centineo was so eager to embrace the action that he lobbied to jump off the bridge himself rather than rely on a stunt double.

“Dude, I’m a psychopath. I enjoy heights “Centineo explains. “I enjoy jumping from extremely high places.” The producers agreed, but only on the condition that Centineo wear a harness during the jump.

Liman says he’ll “remember forever” shooting the scene in wintry Vienna. “This is another side of Noah,” he explains. “I know he’s in a lot of these rom-com roles, but in ‘The Recruit,’ he truly transforms into a true leading man.”

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Centineo says he’s open to whatever comes his way, whether it’s more thrillers or “a little weird” projects. He also made his superhero debut as Atom Smasher in the Dwayne Johnson-led film “Black Adam” this year, and he will appear in the upcoming Jackie Chan-directed film “The Diary” next year.

Whatever Centineo does next, Hawley says, one thing is certain: After “The Recruit,” Centineo’s fans will think of him as more than a rom-com star.

“In my mind, he’s a movie star in an old-fashioned way,” he says. “I believe this will completely redefine him.”

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