Noah Centineo Recalls His Early Days in Hollywood: 'It Was Easy to Get Caught Up in the Scene'

"I was paying my dues...but I wasn't booking," the actor tells PEOPLE about starting out his career

Noah Centineo
Photo: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty

Noah Centineo knew he wanted to be an actor from an early age, but even he was surprised by the instant fame that came after the success of 2018's To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

"To be able to be a part of something that impactful, that was rare," Centineo tells the latest issue of PEOPLE of the Netflix hit that spawned two sequels. "I was so blessed that the world loved it too. It was a really special experience."

Now, the 26-year-old actor, who received critical acclaim for his role in this year's action hit, Black Adam, is starring in The Recruit, a Netflix series about a rookie lawyer, played by Centineo, caught up in international espionage.

Noah Centineo
Noah Centineo in The Recruit. Philippe Bossé/Netflix

"As I got older after the rom-com phase, I went, 'I kind of want to do action,'" Centineo tells PEOPLE.

"And we found an interesting way into that, playing a superhero and then into The Recruit. My character is a fish out of water in an action show which I thought was an interesting way to move out of romcom and still maintain it."

As busy as he is now, Centineo can still recall his early days in Hollywood as a young actor struggling to find parts.

"I was paying my dues, meeting casting directors and putting my head down, but I wasn't booking," says Centineo, whose recurring role on the Disney series Austin & Ally inspired his move to Los Angeles.

Noah Centineo
Noah Centineo in To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Netflix /Courtesy Everett Collection

What he did find was a community of fellow actors.

"It was easy to get caught up in the scene," says Centineo, who began experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

"I have this hazy nostalgia about that time, waking up on friends' couches, falling in love for the first time. You have this pseudo-adult experience but you're high school age."

Noah Centineo
Noah Centineo in The Fosters. Freeform/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2015, Centineo landed a role on The Fosters, and knew he needed to make some changes.

"The money started to come in and I was with people who had a lot more responsibility, who were taking the craft more seriously than my former network of people," he says. "The old lifestyle just wasn't for me anymore, so I turned away from it."

Now, Centineo has no plans to slow down. "I want to run," he says with a laugh. "I'm ready to be in the race –– at full gallop!"

And in his latest race around the track in The Recruit, Centineo is a newbie CIA lawyer who faces a governmental scandal that threatens to upend the secrecy long-preserved by the CIA. Centineo's Owen Hendricks finds himself in the middle as a former agent dangles vulnerable information as a ransom for her own exoneration.

To read more of Noah Centineo's interview, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Aarti Mann (Never Have I Ever), Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black), Laura Haddock (White Lines), Daniel Quincy Annoh (Americanah), Fivel Stewart (Atypical), Vondie Curtis Hall (Harriet) and Colton Dunn (Superstore) also star in the series.

The Recruit premieres Dec. 16 on Netflix.

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