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September 07, 2018 02:23 PM

Fresh off his coronation as the reigning internet boyfriendTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before star Noah Centineo plays another hot high school jock in Netflix’s newest offering, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.

But before you accuse him of being typecast, the 22-year-old actor explains how Sierra Burgess — about social outcast Sierra (Shannon Purser) who accidentally catfishes sensitive lax bro Jamey (Centineo) — explores the darker side of adolescence.

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“If you liked To All the Boys, you’re gonna love Sierra Burgess,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands now. “Sierra’s a little heavier if I’m gonna be honest, Sierra offers a more serious tone than to To All the Boys, which I love about it so much. It’s for those that may be looking for something a little more than just a really incredible feel-good movie, and it offers a lot to reflect on and a lot to really take in. It’s adorable and it’s endearing, it’s funny and it’s sad.”

The film thoughtfully explores issues like self-esteem. Mean girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) acts frosty to cope with her nightmarish mother (Chrissy Metz, clearly channeling a Toddlers & Tiaras stage mom). Jamey seems like the quintessential cool kid, but he’s just as nervous about approaching the rival high school’s most popular girl. And despite her supportive, loving parents, bookish Sierra struggles to feel confident because she’s not stick-thin.

Centineo says he identifies with those themes.

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“The problem doesn’t lie on the body, you know, the problem, the struggle, lies in the comparison. When you’re looking outside of yourself for validation, when you’re looking outside of yourself for how life is supposed to be,” he says. “Sierra has all the confidence and is so empowered throughout the film until she realizes that Jamey thinks that she’s Veronica. And then it’s a comparison. And then her insecurities just explode. And it’s the same with me. Anytime I’ve ever felt insecure or lesser than, it’s usually in a comparison. There’s a difference between taking other people into account, observing how they operate, and maybe thinking, Okay, I’d like to acquire some of those traits, whether it’s working harder or reading more or taking care of yourself in different ways, and then there’s the downside to that which is, I am not like them, I should be like them. Having jealousy. That’s when the issues come.”

  • For more on Noah Centineo, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
Celeste Sloman

He adds: “I’m a firm believer in love and encouraging people to look at what they’re avoiding, look at their insecurities and to challenge themselves. So it was really attractive about To All the Boys and then as far as Jamey in Sierra, I think Jamey’s such a kind kid who gets caught up in this whirlwind environment. It kind of all crashes down on him. But ultimately the story has so many layers, and I just am very blessed to be a part of both of these.”

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is streaming now on Netflix.

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