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Interview With Taylor Zakhar Perez

Interview With Taylor Zakhar Perez

He’s probably already all over your timeline, but get ready to see a lot more of Taylor Zakhar Perez. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth 2, the actor’s most recent project, has already proven to be a smash hit, with a third entry to the series announced for next year and Perez himself emerging as a talent-rich actor to watch. The movie has only been out for a little bit over a week but his Instagram followers have already gone from 60K to over 3 million. For now, Perez is enjoying the fanfare, even if reminding him of it makes him a little uncomfortable. “I’m the most awkward guy when it comes to people giving me compliments about the way I look,” Perez laughs. “I was born this way! I had no control over it!”

Based in Hollywood, Perez had been a presence in the acting world for a number of years before landing The Kissing Booth 2. He had featured on Scandal in 2018, and way back in 2012, he made a brief appearance on the show iCarly. When the script for The Kissing Booth 2 landed in his mailbox, he confesses he never could have predicted what was coming.

“I’ll be honest, I had no idea what The Kissing Booth was in the initial three appointments. It was my first audition of the year, and I was just like, ‘Oh, this looks cool.’” In a way, he says, not having knowledge of the original alleviated him of sequel pressure. “Usually you assign some type of excitement or worth or meaning to sequels — like, ‘oh my god, I have to do great in this,’” he notes. “But I just said fuck it. I’m going to do the best that I can, and I’m going to have fun with this.”

After a long series of callbacks, Perez finally nabbed the role. “My first thought was, seriously, ‘I hope that my castmates are as cool as they are in the movie,’” he remembers. “Joey and Joel are nothing but amazing when you watch them on screen, and when I met them, they were so accepting and fun and wanting to collaborate. We became each other’s champions very quickly.”

But becoming Marco Valentin Peña, a.k.a. “M.V.P.”, was a time-consuming process. Being the “hunk” was well-trodden territory for Perez — “a lot of the roles I go out for are ‘jock’ or ‘the handsome, could be a model’ kind of guy,’” he admits with a self-effacing laugh — yet The Kissing Booth 2 called on the actor to leave his comfort zone over and over again. Step one: He had to learn guitar.

“Hell no. I had no idea,” Perez says of his guitar playing abilities. “When I was growing up, I played piano and my sister played violin. My parents would make us come into the living room and play together, and we hated it. It was like when your parents are like, ‘Dance for grandma!’ You’re like, ‘Oh my god.’” With the help of Greg Camp, previously known for his work with Smash Mouth, Perez slowly picked up the instrument, eventually performing in the film with his pseudo-band Lekker Lizards. “[Greg] made me feel at ease,” he recalls. “Plus, Smash Mouth was one of my favourite bands growing up. C’mon, All Star? Walking on the Sun? They’re great.”

His initial discomfort with guitar-playing wasn’t the only hurdle Perez had ahead of him. One of the film’s major plotlines revolves around a version of Dance Dance Revolution, a game Perez had never played before. “I was more of a laser tag, shooting hoops arcade guy,” he details, “but for the project, I watched competitions like crazy.” Perez describes hours of rehearsal both on and off the machines, studying the dances with choreographer Paul Becker to get every move just right. In the end, he says, “dancing just became more of a fun activity that I forget that I loved to do.”

Though TKB2 is (almost) all fun and games, eventually, the topic of representation comes up in our conversation. GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index for 2020 once again showed the under-representation of Latinx characters on television, a fact corroborated by a 2019 study showing that, over the twelve years leading up to the study’s release, only 4.5% of speaking roles studied by the researchers went to Latinx actors.

Coming from a Mexican background, this is a topic Perez has contended with his whole life, he says. “I was always on the spectrum of representation when it came to my ethnic makeup. On the one hand, I’d be fine as a Latinx character on a project. But in another project, I wouldn’t be Latinx enough,” he explains. “That’s a big conversation right now, like, ‘what is enough?’ I’ve been all over Central and Latin America, and a lot of these people look like me. But also, a lot of these people have red hair. A lot of these people are black. You can’t say, ‘Okay, this guy has brown skin and dark features. That makes him Latinx.’ You have Brazilians who are black and speak Portuguese, Chileans who are darker-skinned and speak Spanish, or really light blonde-haired women in Mexico who are Mexican and speak Spanish. I’m excited to represent all of my ethnic makeup in the years to come. I have a lot of culture in me that I would love to express.”

While the third installment of The Kissing Booth has already been filmed, Perez refuses to dish out the details about how Marco’s character will develop — or Marco’s role in Elle’s future. “I really hope that there’s some redemption for Marco,” he says. “We need to start a hashtag — not #RevengeForMarco but like, #RedemptionForMarco. It’s a totally high school experience, where you have a crush and you’re best friends with this person, but they’re dating someone else. Then the end of the school year happens and you’re like, ‘I think I love you! We had the best time together! Why are you with that other person?!’”

Outside of The Kissing Booth 2, Perez admits, he never really had a teenage love like the kind Marco experiences in the film. “And I’m glad I didn’t,” he adds, laughing. “We’re so awkward in high school. We’re, like, taking off our training wheels. We have so many feelings.” Still, he says, “I can’t help but feel like I’m living through Marco at that moment… Marco has the best intentions for Elle, and I have so much respect for him for being able to tell his feelings to this girl who he’s crushing on, this girl who is in love with another guy. He’s such a good guy that he’s not going to tell her directly; he’s going to support her relationship and just be close to her. I think there’s something respectable about that.”

Taylor Zakhar Perez’s Acting Journey to ‘The Kissing Booth 3’ May Surprise You

For Taylor Zakhar Perez, star of the “The Kissing Booth 2” and “The Kissing Booth 3,” the Netflix franchise is just the beginning. With the final installment now streaming, the multihyphenate actor has his eyes set on the road ahead. Joining us for an on-camera interview via Instagram Live, Perez talked through his audition process for the coveted musical role of Marco, his career so far (which has taken him from the Chicago suburbs to Los Angeles), and advice he has for aspiring actors.

Even after 11 years of acting in L.A., Perez still gets nervous at auditions.
“I haven’t been in an audition room since September 2019, so I’ve just been doing self-tapes. I’ve learned the tricks that my body has tried as a defense mechanism, so I’ll work against it. My process is: I’ll sit for hours going through the sides page by page, filling in the white space, because all the good stuff is there.”

Perez grew up doing theater in the Chicago area.
“I grew up 45 minutes [outside] of Chicago, and I would do musical theater. I would go to school and do theater at night. I knew I liked being in theater, but I swam, and we never had off time. The only way I could do theater would be at the theater in the [next] city over, so I would go to different areas that had auditions, and [I] just did it. I liked getting out of the high school scene, because I felt more like an adult.”

If you want to succeed, get out of the library and live your best life.
“[My] No. 1 advice would be to live your life. I did not take that bit of advice forever, but when you get an audition and you have no way to relate a real-life situation with the scene you’re doing, it becomes 10 times harder. Sometimes it’s just so nice to go, ‘Oh, this happened to me,’ but if you’re living this studious life in the library and you’re reading these plays and not having real-life experience, you’re kind of a shell of a human. It’s apparent when you walk into casting offices [that] you’re coming in as a student who studied for their test and is ready to get an A+ on it.”

The best way to stick with the craft is to have confidence in yourself.
“I think we all have those moments in our career where you’re just giving all of yourself, and it’s not about paperwork or presentations—it’s about you sitting alone and doing the work and scraping up these emotions and it not going anywhere. But just know: If you have the undying desire and work ethic [and] you know this is for you, [then] you will be successful, and nothing can stop you. That’s the only way you can be successful.”

‘Kissing Booth 3’ Star Taylor Zakhar Perez Talks End of Netflix Franchise: ‘There Will Be Some Heartbreak’

‘Kissing Booth 3’ Star Taylor Zakhar Perez Talks End of Netflix Franchise: ‘There Will Be Some Heartbreak’

Taylor Zakhar Perez doesn’t like lying. But that’s what he was forced to do while he was promoting “The Kissing Booth 2” when he was asked about a third movie. Perez feigned ignorance and pretended like he didn’t have any intel.

But it was eventually revealed that the cast and crew shot the second and third films at the same time. “Netflix had a gun to my head,” the actor tells me on this week’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast. “I talked to my PR team afterward and I was like, ‘Guys, it’s so hard just looking them in the eye and being like ‘We’ll see, we’ll see’ as my foot’s tapping under the table.’”

In the third and final movie of the YA rom-com trilogy (available on Netflix), Perez returns as Marco, who once again causes love-triangle problems for Elle (Joey King) and her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi). “If you’re a team Noah guy, a team Marco guy, or just a team Elle guy, or a team Lee [Joel Courtney] guy, you have so many people you want to root for throughout it,” Perez said. “So I would say there will be some heartbreak for the viewers, but I think it will be very empowering for a lot of the female audience, which is great.”

Taylor Zakhar Perez told us about his character and the end of The Kissing Booth 3

Taylor Zakhar Perez told us about his character and the end of The Kissing Booth 3

Taylor Zakhar Perez just became the first (solo) man to make the cover of InStyle Mexico!

The actor, along with Elizabeth Olsen , stars in our bimonthly July and August issue, which will become your perfect summer guide with all the special content we have prepared.

In this intimate interview with Taylor Zakhar we talk about everything, from conquering the followers of The Kissing Booth saga , to the traits with which he identifies in his character, what will happen in this last film and about his personal life and his second home: Mexico.

Did you know that for many years Taylor Zakhar has been a fan of vacationing in our country? His mother of Mexican origin is the one who has helped him with his Spanish and even revealed to us what is his favorite word in our language. If you’re reading this expecting some sneak peek on The Kissing Booth 3 , we’ve got you covered:

InStyle: What’s going to happen to Marco?
Taylor Zakhar: I love how you ask this so naturally. Well I’m afraid I’ll have to be a little lazy or I’ll spoil it for everyone. The Kissing Booth 3 is based on the summer before college and explores how our characters move into this new stage of life.

Do not worry, it is a lot of time in front of the screen.

Search outlets for your favorite cover: Taylor or Elizabeth … or take both to collect! In both options the two interviews and the complete photoshoots come out, so in that sense you don’t have to choose.

Taylor Zakhar Perez Is Doing It All

The starlet talks Kissing Booth 3, his DMs and what the future holds
Taylor Zakhar Perez had his breakthrough moment starring as Marco Peña, the dreamy, muscular and talented “snack”—as Elle (Joey King) refers to him—in the second installment of Netflix’s high school rom-com, The Kissing Booth. Fans of the first film launched co-stars King and Jacob Elordi into superstardom, seemingly overnight.

Zakhar Perez got a similar treatment.

Amassing over 4 million followers within hours of the release of Kissing Booth 2, Zakhar Perez was overwhelmed by the reaction from viewers—and so was his Instagram. “I think my Instagram glitched, and my DMs still don’t work,” he explained over Zoom, laughing at the seeming absurdity of it. “I try to delete them, I’ve talked to Instagram like, ‘Hey, I think these DMs are breaking my phone. It just glitches all the time.’ And they’ve tried to do it, but they still come in hot.”

Unlike his character in the films, who chooses to go with the flow, Zakhar Perez is all about “leveling up.” Going into his audition for Kissing Booth 2 without having seen the first movie, the 29-year-old actor saw the franchise as an opportunity to boost his creative side and really see what he was capable of.

“It was so out of my world that going in, I kind of felt like I had nothing to lose. I just had another experience, another moment to act, another moment to maybe get a job,” he said. The low risk paid off with a high reward.

With the third and final instalment of the coming-of-age series available on Netflix on Aug. 11, Zakhar Perez expects that “fans are going to be surprised, excited, angry, emotional.” And while he couldn’t say too much, he admitted that there will definitely “be some cringeworthy moments.”

As fans eagerly await the conclusion to the beloved films – and the answers to their questions about their favorite love triangle – Zakhar Perez is looking forward. With two major movies now under his belt, he’s ready to make more audacious career moves and push himself as an artist.

“I’m inspired to lead more, inspired to throw myself in with talented people that are better than me and make me go, ‘Shit, I wanna be like that. How do you operate on that plane?’” he said of his experience on Kissing Booth and working alongside co-stars, King, and Joel Courtney. “I just wanna learn it all.”

His role in HBO Max’s upcoming female-driven, female-created show, Minx, allows him to do just that.

This “raunchy” series about an erotic magazine in the 1970s is a major departure from the quirky rom-com. With a lot more skin and a lot less teen angst, Zakhar Perez is trying to soak it all in working alongside comedy greats, including New Girl star Jake Johnson, one of the show’s leads.

In reality, Zakhar Perez not only wants to learn it all, but do it all. His own inspirations draw from a wide range of genres, including actors Will Smith and Jake Gyllenhaal. With “action-driven comedies” at the center of his dreams (à la Bad Boys) it’s hard for him to limit himself to just one thing.

“It’s easy to die, it’s hard to make people laugh,” he explained, quickly clarifying that he meant the phrase symbolically, comparing dramas and comedies.

But it’s not about getting an easy laugh. Growing up watching Saturday Night Live with his parents, what draws him in are “intelligently written comedies” that not only make you wheeze from laughter, but think.

“I love movies that have a lesson that you get a day after, or two days after,” he said. “And you kind of start seeing it in yourself, I think that’s always so powerful.”

For Zakhar Perez, lessons aren’t just for the movies. Using his own massive platform to educate others on important topics, especially during a time of performative “repost culture,” is something he pursues with purpose. Environmental issues in particular are a topic he has personally and deliberately delved into on his Instagram.

“I really like digging my heels into one social issue and being like, ‘This is what I know. This is what I’m learning,’” he said. “And maybe the people that follow me will have read everything along the way and understood it.”

And he’s all about practicing what he preaches.

“I’m trying to figure out composting. I’m trying to figure out a garden and chickens,” he laughed. “I’ll be that crazy chicken dad!”

However, he may need a chicken-sitter when he’s away on long shoots, which is what he plans to do; keeping an open mind to wherever his next move takes him.

We Got ‘The Kissing Booth 3’ Star Taylor Zakhar Perez to Tell Us All About What’s in His Drawers

We Got ‘The Kissing Booth 3’ Star Taylor Zakhar Perez to Tell Us All About What’s in His Drawers

No, like, his literal drawers.

When Taylor Zakhar Perez, the 29-year-old star of The Kissing Booth 2, showed up on your screen as (v hot) new guy Marco Peña, you may have thought, Noah Flynn whomst? Now, The Kissing Booth 3 has solidified him as everyone’s favorite celeb crush. I called Taylor to ask him some very important questions, and he told me all about the essential, you know, dude stuff.

Where are you doing this interview rn?
My favorite room, the kitchen. I like to cook. I just made myself some Korean short ribs, rice, and broccoli on the grill.

And you’re also, like, really into skincare, right?
My mom’s an aesthetician, so she ingrained that into me. But my younger brother is always asked if he’s my older brother. He’s like, “Taylor, what do I need to put on my face?” I say, “Sunblock, for starters.”

What’s your bedroom like?
I have this big chart on the wall with hundreds of squares going from my first year of life all the way to 100. It puts perspective on how much time you really have left.

Whoa. Does it make you fear the passing of time?
No, because I’m not past the halfway mark yet.

Kinda dark, but fair. What’s in your drawers?
My passport, sexual things probably, dude stuff.…On top is a picture of me as a kid. A friend told me you’ll be less hard on yourself if you have a picture of yourself by your bed. Like, “Would you say the things to your young self that you’re saying to yourself right now?” If the answer’s no, don’t say them.

Amazing. How do you fall asleep?
I don’t know if I can tell you.…I mean, in California, things are legal, so…that could be the start of winding down.

Okay, yes, I’m picking up what you’re putting down.

Taylor Zakhar Perez is a Star for the Streaming Age

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When The Kissing Booth 2 was released on Netflix in July of 2020, Taylor Zakhar Perez had roughly 70,000 followers on Instagram. A couple of weeks later, he had more than four million. But unlike a lot of other actors who have dominated the young adult genre in recent years, Perez, 29, did not experience his dramatic rise in popularity all at once. “I feel like the release during a pandemic saved me a bit from ego or getting show-ponied around town like Prince Ali [in Aladdin]. It definitely humbled me to be like, ‘I’m having such a moment right now; the world is having such a moment right now. I’m just grateful for the support, so there’s really nothing for me to complain about,’” he says over Zoom.

Directed, co-written, and produced by Vince Marcello, the second installment of the Kissing Booth trilogy stars Perez as Marco Valentin Peña, a charismatic and multi-talented new student who finds himself caught in a love triangle with Elle (Joey King) and her Harvard-bound beau, Noah (Jacob Elordi). After undergoing an intensive four-month audition process — which included acting, singing, and dancing — in early 2019, Perez credits King and Marcello for setting a collaborative on-set tone that he hopes to emulate in all his future projects.

“Vince was just such a champion [of mine] from the beginning. We had a chat a bit ago and he was like, ‘Taylor, when I saw you acting, you were Marco.’ He’s just a special and spec­tacular human that knew all the levels of the things that we needed to do,” says Perez, whose other acting credits include iCarly, Code Black, and Scandal. “Joey is just the coolest and the most giving acting partner. When you’re shooting, some actors won’t give you a full performance when you’re getting your [camera] coverage, but Joey is never not giving 110 per cent. I love having mentors and people to look up to, and Joey was that for me on set every day.”

The third-youngest in a family of eight children in Northwest Indiana, Perez jokes that he was the “real-life Troy Bolton from High School Musical,” as he grew up immersing himself in the wonderful world of musical theatre while maintaining a strenuous swimming schedule. It wasn’t until his senior year that he decided to turn down a swimming scholarship to Fordham University in favour of attending UCLA, where he majored in Spanish and Community and Culture and worked mul­tiple jobs to support his dream of becoming an actor.

While he agrees that the industry has seen an increase in Latin representation in the past decade (“I haven’t had this many auditions for Latinx roles ever in my life”), Perez, who is of Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean descent, says that he has noticed a “troubling” trend among casting directors in Hollywood.

“They want someone who’s Cuban-specific or Mexican-specific, and you’re like, ‘Okay, great.’ But when you get into the minutia of their skin colour, they’ll say, ‘We need someone darker. This Latin actor is not brown enough.’ It’s very unsettling, because I would hate the industry to start saying Latin is [only] dark-brown skin and black hair,” he explains. “I feel like, once they start understanding that we are so diverse, we just need more BIPOC folks in positions of power to make these decisions and let fewer non-BIPOC people speak for them.”

With his newfound platform, Perez, who acknowledges that his mixed heritage has allowed him to “pass” as other races in the past, recognizes the unspoken responsibility that he has to speak out about issues that directly affect his own loved ones. “Going from trans rights to gay rights to people of colour’s rights to all of it, I’m here for all of it, however they need it. As I’m meeting more and more people, my only intention is to bring love, kindness, and support after this frickin’ year that we just went through,” he says with a natural fervour.

Perez is wary of both fake news and cancel culture, so he tends to do his own research before speaking on social and political issues. “You think of the immigration camps where children are held in the Trump-era and then you still have them being held in the Biden era. You’re like, ‘Okay, well, this wasn’t okay during that time period, but this is okay now? At the core, what is the truth?’ I find that really difficult, because people are so quick to share and post when you could be ruining someone’s business or community,” he says, later adding that he has no plans to join Twitter anytime soon. (“I feel like it’s a dark place. People are just mean! I don’t want that bad juju in my life.”)

Buoyed by a strong support system (away from Twitter), Perez has every reason to be optimistic about his future. He’s waiting with bated breath for the final Kissing Booth movie, which is slated for an August 11 release. He’s now — for better or for worse — a fashion influencer, describing his personal style as “Issey Miyake beach vibes on my good days and Steve McQueen, jeans, flannel, mountain vibes on my roll-out-of-bed days.” But at the heart of his onscreen work is a renewed commitment to telling new stories that challenge the status quo.

“I love putting women in power, and I hate to play second fiddle to another actor, but I love that more projects are showing women as these strong, intelligent, superhuman beings. It’s exciting, and I love the kind of stuff that I’ve been getting,” he says. “I also love superhero stuff — X-Men was my child­hood — and I want to be a superhero one day. If Wolverine comes back, I want to be Wolverine. That’s the goal.”

Meet the Hot Boys of the Steamy Red, White & Royal Blue Movie

Meet the Hot Boys of the Steamy Red, White & Royal Blue Movie

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine are the romantic leads of the big-screen adaptation of an LGBTQ romance novel that became a surprise bestseller.
English afternoon tea requires a level of decorum. But in a South Kensington hotel so posh there’s no signage outside, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine gleefully ignore the unspoken rules of etiquette when the latter pulls out his phone.

“I need to find this video!” Galitzine says, feverishly swiping his screen. “I’m sorry, it’s my favorite video on TikTok.”

The two star in the new film Red, White & Royal Blue, an Amazon Prime adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s absurdly popular novel about a clandestine romance between Prince Henry of Wales, played by Galitzine, and Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the president of the United States, played by Zakhar Perez. Given the international nature of the story, we’ve been talking about accents—specifically, about whether Galitzine, who is British, had to adopt a more aristocratic inflection—when he turned the question around on me. “Are you Scottish?” he asked. (I am.) The revelation ignited something in his brain, and soon he was scouring TikTok.

Galitzine is practically vibrating when he finally finds his prized clip. In it, two enraged young Scots lose it when a countryman claims that they pronounce “pie” as “peh.” “SHUT YOUR MOUTH, I HATE YEEEH!” one guy yells, face vermilion. It’s so, so dumb. It’s also hilarious.

Zakhar Perez, 31, and Galitzine, 28, fold over and giggle, far too occupied to realize that the phone is on full blast in a tiny room filled with rich tourists. A group of suited Italians not-so-quietly mumble their annoyance from the next table, and Galitzine quickly offers an embarrassed apology.

Eschewing the rules of polite society here is particularly apropos. Red, White & Royal Blue is a featherlight rom-com on the surface, featuring two main characters secretly navigating the ups and downs of dating on the world’s largest political stage—but it’s also about two men breaking free from the suffocating, heteronormative molds of the old establishment.

And if social media offers any clues, there’s a rapt audience ready for this kind of adaptation. Since the novel’s release in 2019, Red, White & Royal Blue has remained one of BookTok’s biggest literary obsessions (#redwhiteandroyalblue had close to 200 million views at the time of publication). Zakhar Perez says he finished the book; Galitzine says he did not. “Ultimately, the script is the Bible,” he reasons.

When auditioning for their roles, Galitzine read with other prospective Alexes, never quite finding a rhythm. But when they met over Zoom for a chemistry read, it was instant fireworks. Director Matthew López noticed their spooky chemistry right away. When the actors first got together in person to rehearse, López recalls leaving them alone. “I came back about 10 minutes later and they were the best of friends already,” he says. “It was like they had known each other all their lives.”

Zakhar Perez—“the quintessential tall, dark, and handsome dude,” per Galitzine—is wearing jeans and a white long-sleeve shirt below a head of perfectly coiffed brown locks. Galitzine mirrors his color palette, but with a T-shirt and a baseball cap hiding his blond hair. On and off set, the pair would bond by turning every little thing into a low-stakes contest: competing over silly minutiae like who’s really taller (“Alex is supposed to be shorter in the book, and then this little shit comes in at six foot two!” Galitzine says) or who could finish their scene in the fewest takes.

Up close and in person they are waves of chaotic energy bouncing off each other. (“It is kinda like water when we’re together,” Zakhar Perez says.) They tease each other relentlessly. They push each other. They finish each other’s sentences and bicker like an old married couple. Wind them up and off they go.

“I don’t like Nick,” Zakhar Perez jokes. “But I respect him.”

“Mine’s the other way!” Galitzine counters. “I don’t respect your game, but I do like you very much.”

Galitzine arrived to tea on crutches, nursing a foot he injured on the London set of his next project, Mary & George, a spicy period drama about Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham (played by Julianne Moore). “This job I’m doing now,” he begins to explain, “it’s set in Jacobean England, so you wear these amazing costumes, and it includes these small but fairly substantial heels. There’s this whole sequence where my character is publicly humiliated and he has to run and beat this kid up.”

As Galitzine ran, his elevated heel met the slippery floor, and it folded inward. “I chipped the bone off of my ankle,” he tells me. “Do you want to see a really gross video?” He gathers us around his phone to watch pus squirt out of an abscess the size of a strawberry. “That’s what you get for doing your own stunts.”

“It is what it is, babes,” Zakhar Perez says, sinking into protective mode, his body turned at a 45-degree angle toward Galitzine with his arm slunked across the back of his chair.

Both actors had taken circuitous routes to get to where they are. Zakhar Perez had a busy childhood, growing up with five sisters and two brothers on the South Side of Chicago. “I hosted Christmas two years ago,” he remembers. “Everybody got COVID, someone had lice, someone had strep. Somebody stepped on a rusty nail on the beach and had to get a tetanus shot. It was biblical.” Dad had loaded aspirations for his kids: One should be a doctor, one should be a lawyer, says Zakhar Perez, who was, at one point, his parents’ dream of a high achiever—he swam competitively for 10 years and spent his weekends under cars changing tires at the family auto body shop. (“I’ve detailed enough cars to know that I don’t enjoy it.”) One school offered him a swimming scholarship, but he ended up going to UCLA where he studied biology. The plan was to pursue a career in dermatology.

Except it wasn’t what he wanted.

“It killed my dad for a long time,” he says. “I guess a lot of my choices may [have].” Growing up, he had spent one December slouched in a community theater watching his sister perform in Annie something like 30 times. This inspired Zakhar Perez to eventually pursue acting himself. “If I keep living for people in the past, I’m never going to grow and move forward,” he adds.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Galitzine’s origins weren’t too dissimilar. His mother emigrated from Greece and the family put roots down in Hammersmith, one of the busier districts in West London. A burgeoning career in rugby left him feeling similarly unfulfilled. “I grew up in a very masculine world,” he says, “but I was a very feeling young man.”

Galitzine got his first taste of acting at 18, when he appeared in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, starring in a mismarketed version of Spring Awakening. “It was called Rites: A Children’s Tragedy,” he says. “Which was very problematic because we kept having children come to the show, and we were like, ‘This is not for kids.’ ” Galitzine was eager to do more. But he says acting strained his relationship with his pragmatic parents, who “were so terrified of the industry.”

They didn’t have to worry for long. By his early 20s, Galitzine began booking film roles and last year starred in Netflix’s madly viral military drama Purple Hearts. Zakhar Perez likewise made his bones playing a love interest in a soppy but huge Netflix romance, starring as the third corner of the love triangle in The Kissing Booth franchise.

As Zakhar Perez puts it bluntly, the two of them are quintessential “Netflix summer dudes.”

“The fuck does that mean?” Galitzine interjects.

“You want me to say heartthrob?” Zakhar Perez argues. “We’re both heartthrobs.”

Red, White & Royal Blue: “The Most Expensive Bit of Fan Fiction Ever”?

Red, White & Royal Blue: “The Most Expensive Bit of Fan Fiction Ever”?

In this VF photo exclusive, director and cowriter Matthew López talks about adapting a beloved queer beach read and getting energy from its impassioned fan base: “I knew that this was a story that I absolutely had to tell.”
“I’m used to things not looking the way the fairy tales tell me they’re supposed to,” Matthew López, director and cowriter of the upcoming romantic comedy Red, White & Royal Blue, tells Vanity Fair. He’s talking about his first film, set to get its release amid Hollywood’s ongoing strikes. (“You’re also talking to someone who won Tonys in the midst of pandemics,” López, who became the first Latine writer to win best play, for The Inheritance, quips.) But he could just as easily be referring to film’s dearth of fizzy, feel-good, queer love stories—the kind López will soon share with the world.

Based on Casey McQuiston’s New York Times best-selling novel, Red, White & Royal Blue tells an enemies-to-lovers story about British prince Henry (Cinderella’s Nicholas Galitzine) and American first son Alex Claremont-Diaz (The Kissing Booth’s Taylor Zakhar Perez). After a public snafu that leaves both men with wedding cake on their face, the two high-powered foes find love in the hopeless place known as a public-relations-arranged truce.

“I’m used to things not looking the way the fairy tales tell me they’re supposed to,” Matthew López, director and cowriter of the upcoming romantic comedy Red, White & Royal Blue, tells Vanity Fair. He’s talking about his first film, set to get its release amid Hollywood’s ongoing strikes. (“You’re also talking to someone who won Tonys in the midst of pandemics,” López, who became the first Latine writer to win best play, for The Inheritance, quips.) But he could just as easily be referring to film’s dearth of fizzy, feel-good, queer love stories—the kind López will soon share with the world.

As it turns out, they weren’t the only ones catching feelings. “I read the novel back in early 2020, and I fell madly in love with Henry and Alex,” López says from his home in the UK. “I had never read a book with a character like Alex Claremont-Diaz at the center. As a queer Puerto Rican, I would’ve loved to have met Alex a lot earlier in my life. And I knew that this was a story that I absolutely had to tell.” The adaptation, cowritten with Ted Malawer, marks the feature directorial debut of López, who received his second Tony nomination earlier this year for cowriting the book to Some Like It Hot. “There are a lot of projects that have come and gone in my career that I have had the ability to let go of,” he continues, “but if I wasn’t able to make this movie, it would’ve cost me something. It was really a very, very irresistible passion.”

López also gravitated towards a light-hearted, feature-length project after years spent in the thick of The Inheritance, a seven-hour play often called a spiritual successor to Angels in America. “If not outright strategy to it, there was definitely, I think, clear preference to take on something that wasn’t going to cost me the same as The Inheritance. The Inheritance took a big, big chunk out of me, and I was happy to make that sacrifice,” the playwright says. “I knew, though, that I needed to work on a story after The Inheritance that was going to—not be less challenging, because certainly this hasn’t been in any way less challenging, but that would leave me in a different mood at the end of every day.”

The film is undeniably modern (“We are in a hotel crawling with reporters. If anyone sees you leave this hotel, I will Brexit your head from your body,” Sarah Shahi’s chief of staff warns in the trailer), but López turned to romantic comedies of the past as inspiration: screwball affairs from the ’30s and ’40s like Bringing Up Baby and Sullivan’s Travels, as well as more recent hits like When Harry Met Sally or Moonstruck. All of those films revolve around “very smart, very clever people who often find themselves in over their heads, and the only way to really get themselves out of trouble is to talk their way out,” he explains.

Then there was the matter of finding his leads, roles that have been fancast since the book’s 2019 release. For Henry, a man born to privilege and often spiteful of that fact, López sought someone who would “protect” the character. “Without realizing it, Nick taught me that I was in search of someone who would take care of Henry,” he says. “It felt very safe putting Henry into Nick’s hands.” As for Alex, the rowdier of the two, it was about casting an actor who could “transform himself” over the film’s two-hour run time. “Taylor’s a little more like Alex than Nick is like Henry. But Taylor is not as much of a human cannonball as Alex is,” López says. “And to watch Taylor in the audition process become that reckless and energetic creature was actually really, really fun.” Now, he says, “I genuinely cannot imagine any other two actors other than these two playing these parts.”

Like Alex and Henry, López had to straddle the two high-powered worlds of a US presidency (embodied by Uma Thurman) and British monarchy (that would be Stephen Fry). Luckily, he’s had some experience with foreign affairs. “I’d seen every episode of The West Wing,” says López, who was also a writer on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. “I’d seen every movie that was ever set inside the Oval Office. And I’d been living in the UK for a while, so I had a slightly-better-than-an-outsider’s understanding of British culture.”

From the outset, there were two scenes considered make-or-break. One was the wedding cake food fight, a chaotic sequence that, ironically enough, had to be carefully choreographed. Those three days of filming contained “the least bit of goofing off on set,” López explains. “We really had no room for error. And so we all really approached that with a sense of seriousness, which I hope does not in any way translate onscreen.” Then there was Alex and Henry’s romantic stroll through London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. “It’s sort of a dream come true—your own personal night at the museum,” he says of the late-night shoot. “So that was less daunting than an endurance test, but it was just such a magical night for us. And I hope that did translate onto screen.”

Both of those moments live vibrantly in the minds of those who love Red, White & Royal Blue—an impassioned group of people bringing all of their enthusiasm to the movie version when it premieres August 11 on Prime Video. But the film’s director isn’t nervous about answering to an opinionated, online fan base.

“It’s absolutely undeniable that the fans love the book for the same reasons that I do, so I think of myself as one of them,” says López, who himself was excitedly making plans to see Barbie with his husband at the start of our conversation. “You could argue that I’m such a rabid, passionate fan that I made the most expensive bit of fan fiction ever. I hope the fans take solace from the fact that one of them has made this movie.”

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, the next queer film duo

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, the next queer film duo

Meet the starring couple of the screen adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue , the LGBTQ+ novel that became an overnight bestseller.
English afternoon tea requires a certain level of decorum. But at this South Kensington hotel, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine decide to blithely ignore the unspoken rules of etiquette, especially when the latter pulls out his phone. “I have to find that video!” he says, insistently swiping his finger across the screen. “Sorry, but it’s just my favorite on TikTok.”

Both are the stars of the new feature film Red, White & Royal Blue , an Amazon Prime adaptation of Casey McQuiston ‘s ridiculously popular novel of the same name , which tells the story of a clandestine romance between Prince Henry of Wales—played by Nicholas Galitzine— and the son of the President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Díaz —taken to the screen by Zakhar Perez. The fact that the story has an international cast led us to talk about the accents, specifically that Galitzine, who is British, had to adopt more aristocratic inflections. That was how the actor ended up asking me: “Are you Scottish?” I am and this revelation reminded him of something he had seen on TikTok and had to show it to me. Almost trembling with emotion, Nicholas finally found the famous video in which two angry young Scotsmen lose control over a peasant, precisely because of the accents. It’s very, very silly. And also very funny.

So Taylor Zakhar, 31, and Nicholas Galitzine, 28, double over with laughter, not even remotely noticing that the sound coming from the phone is echoing through the living room packed with wealthy tourists. At the next table, a group of well-suited Italians mutter, not very covertly, their dissatisfaction with the boys; to which Nicholas ends up apologizing in embarrassment.

two friends on screen
Breaking social norms is perfectly consistent with the reason for our meeting. Red, White & Royal Blue is a light romantic comedy on the surface, in which two characters navigate the ups and downs of keeping a relationship a the eye of the hurricane of the political scene. But it’s also about two men breaking free from the stifling molds of old-school imposed heteronormativity. And if we go by what social networks say, there is an audience that is more than ready for this type of adaptation. Since the book came out, in 2019, it has remained one of the greatest literary obsessions. Even the #redwhiteandroyalblue hashtag had over 200 million views at press time. Taylor confesses to having read the entire novel, Galitzine reveals that she didn’t finish it. “In the end, the script is what counts,” she justifies herself.

When it came time to audition for their roles, Nicholas Galitzine read with other potential Alexes, never finding the right rhythm. But when he met Zakhar Perez over Zoom for a chemistry read, sparks flew instantly. The director, Matthew Lopez , took notice right away. They finally met in person to rehearse, and Lopez remembers leaving them alone. “I came back about ten minutes later and they were already the best of friends,” says the director. “It seemed like they had known each other their whole lives.”

Zakhar Perez— who Galitzine says is the quintessential tall, handsome, and mysterious guy — wears jeans, a long-sleeved white shirt, and brown curls perfectly coiffed. Nicholas wears a similar color palette, but with a t-shirt and baseball cap covering his blonde hair. Both onstage and offstage, both actors spend their time taking it all to a kind of silly contest: competing over trivial things, like which of the two is really the tallest or who finished their scene in the fewest takes. Up close and personal the waves of chaotic energy bounce off each other incessantly. (“When we are together everything flows like water,” Taylor says.) They spend all their time making jokes, pushing each other, finishing each other’s sentences and quarreling like an old married couple. You wind them up and off they go…

“I don’t like Nick,” jokes Zakhar Perez . “But I respect it.”

“It happens to me the other way around!” Galitzine replies. “I don’t respect you, but I like you very much.”

Nicholas brought to tea the pair of crutches he is using while he heals from a sprained foot on the London set of his next project, Mary & George , a period film about Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham ( played by Julianne Moore).). “This new work is set in Jacobean England, we wear some incredible suits and small but important heels. I have to do a scene where my character is publicly humiliated and runs off to beat up a guy.” And it was as he ran in heels across the slippery floor that his foot gave way. “I broke my ankle,” he reveals. “Do you want to watch a disgusting video?” He reaches for his smartphone again to show me how they extract pus from an abscess the size of a strawberry. “This happens when you do your own action scenes.”

“It’s like that, baby,” Taylor says, assuming a protective stance, her body turned toward Galitzine and her arm dangling over the back of her chair. Both had to travel a winding road to get to where they are today. Zakhar PerezHe had a troubled childhood with five sisters and two brothers on the South Side of Chicago. “Two years ago, we celebrated Christmas at my house. We all got Covid, some came out with lice, someone got strep, another stepped on a rusty nail on the beach and they had to give him a tetanus shot. It was a biblical experience.” His father had great aspirations for his children: one had to be a doctor; another, a lawyer, recalls Zakhar, who at one point became the hope of her parents. He competed in swimming competitions for 10 years and spent weekends changing tires at his family’s garage. “I’ve looked at enough cars to know that it’s not something I enjoy,” he says. A school offered him a swimming scholarship, but he ended up going to UCLA, where he studied biology.

All good, but that was not what he wanted. “It took my dad a long time to accept it,” he confesses. “I think it must have happened to him with many of my decisions.” For example, he once spent an entire December at a community theater watching his sister perform Annie like 30 times. That inspired him to try acting.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the origins of Nicholas Galitzine, they weren’t that different. His mother had emigrated from Greece and the family settled in Hammersmith, one of the most populous districts in west London. His flourishing rugby career also left him unsatisfied. “I grew up in a very masculine world,” he says, “but I was a very sentimental young man.” He then gave acting a try, at 18, when he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe starring in a poorly promoted version of Spring Awakening. “It was called Rites: A Childhood Tragedy,” he recalls. “Which was a problematic title, because children came to the performances and we said: ‘This is NOT for children'”. Galitzine wanted to do more, but acting was causing problems in his relationship with his pragmatic parents, who “were terrified of the industry.” They didn’t have to worry for long.Purple Hearts , which went viral on the Netflix platform.

Zakhar Perez also honed his talents in a maudlin but very famous romantic series on the same streaming platform : The Kissing Booth , in which he played the third party in a love triangle. The actor sums it up by saying that the two are your typical “Netflix summer boys.” “What the hell does that mean?” Galitzine asks. “Would you rather I say ‘the heartbreakers’?” asks Perez. “We were the heartbreakers.” To which Nicholas replies: “Hey, that’s what you’re saying. I would never call myself a ‘heartbreaker’”.

But the label suits them. Both are pure chiseled jaws and penetrating eyes: flesh and blood Disney princes. Galitzine’s Prince Henry is a dark fictional cross between William and real-life Harry: a stoic monarch of his people who ends up fighting the system he was born into. “One of my biggest fears is being misunderstood,” says Nicholas. “Henry has to live with that day by day… I think it is a very beautiful story: someone who has had to pretend to be someone who he is not all his life and, then, he meets another person who makes him completely erase that vision of the world ”.

To play that other person, Alex Claremont-Diaz , the ambitious and tempestuous son of the first President of the United States (played by Uma Thurman), Zakhar Perez was inspired by Rob Lowe’s character Sam Seaborn in The West Wing , who is an idealistic but flawed White House Deputy Director of Communications. “I think he’s probably the model of what Alex wants to be,” the actor says of his role.

As our tea cools and time runs out, we talk about what it was like doing the bed scenes for Red, White & Royal Blue . To get over how weird it felt to be surrounded by the film crew, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine whispered jokes to each other and tried to make each other laugh. “There was always this constant joking dynamic that never veered into anything ugly and was really nice to be a part of,” says Robbie Taylor Hunt, the film’s intimate coordinator. “But they also treated each other as colleagues and as co-creatives, in a very nice and cooperative way.”

“There’s a lot of choreography in the sex scenes,” Zakhar says with a laugh, recalling the enormous amount of time and energy (and the occasional ruined mattress) spent during rehearsals. “It’s very rare to have that level of intimacy with your friend,” says Galitzine. “And we really want people to fall in love with these characters, because the love between them is real.” Adds Perez: “We always had our guard down during rehearsals. But as soon as someone yelled ‘Cut,’ one of them would say something silly like, ‘Get off me!’”

**SAG-AFTRA members are currently on strike; as part of the strike, union actors are not promoting their film and television projects. This interview was conducted before the strike.

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, heartbreakers

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine, heartbreakers

Meet the two stars of the adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue, an LGBTQ romance novel that became a surprise bestseller.
We do not trifle with tea time , this English tradition of afternoon which obeys a very precise decorum. Except that in this hotel in South Kensington in London, so posh that only the most informed know the location, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine completely free themselves from the label. Scandal! Nicholas dares to take out his phone. “I must find this video at all costs!”, he says, scrolling frantically. “This is my favorite TikTok.” The two actors star in Red, White & Royal Blue , an adaptation for Amazon Prime of Casey McQuiston’s resounding and unpredictable hit novel.

We follow the birth of a clandestine romance between Prince Henry of Wales, played on screen by Nicholas Galitzine, and Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the President of the United States, played by Taylor Zakhar Perez. Given the international dimension of the story, we immediately approach the subject of accents: did the Briton Nicholas Galitzine have to adopt a more aristocratic inflection to stick to his royal character? The latter prefers to return a question to me: “Are you Scottish?”. Yes it is. Stunned by this revelation, he opens TikTok and begins to scroll furiously.

He borders on a trance when he finally gets his hands on the famous video. Two young Scots freak out when they see one of their compatriots calmly say that “pie” is pronounced “peh” in their country. “Shut up, I hate you,” one of the guys yells, scarlet red. It’s completely stupid but hilarious. Taylor Zakhar Perez, 31, and Nicholas Galitzine, 28, laugh wildly, completely forgetting that the video is playing on the loudspeaker at maximum volume in a small room full of wealthy tourists. At the next table, a group of Italians in suits do not hide their annoyance, and Galitzine hastens to offer an embarrassed apology.

Seeking to escape the rules of high society, a professional deformation for the two actors of Red, White & Royal ? At first glance, the film could pass for a light romantic comedy, featuring two characters who live a clandestine romantic relationship, with its ups and downs, while they are both part of a hyper-mediatised elite. But it is also the story of two men who free themselves from the suffocating and heteronormative yoke of the old establishment.

According to social networks, this adaptation which will be released at the beginning of August has already found its audience. The original novel, Red, White & Royal Blue , has since 2019 become one of BookTokers’ greatest obsessions, named after the community that shares its literary favorites on TikTok (the hashtag #redwhiteandroyalblue counts). nearly 200 million views at the time of publication of this interview). Taylor Zakhar Perez says he has finished the book but his friend is still reading. “Our basis is really the script,” he explains.

During the auditions, Nicholas had given the reply to other potential Alex, without ever finding a match for him. Then he meets his future American partner on Zoom and love at first sight is instantaneous. This alchemy does not escape the director Matthew López who introduces the two actors, and leaves them alone for their first rehearsal. “I came back ten minutes later and they were already best friends,” he recalls. “It’s like they’ve known each other forever.”

Taylor Zakhar Perez (“the quintessential tall dark brunette”, according to Galitzine) wears jeans and a white shirt and sports a perfectly combed brown mane. For his part, his boyfriend bet on the same color palette, with a T-shirt and a baseball cap that hides his blond hair. On and off set, every detail takes on the air of a challenge: they gently bicker about who really is taller (“Alex is supposed to be shorter in the book, and this little shit shows up with his four-foot- twenty-ten!”, plagues the one who embodies the Prince of Wales) or who will complete his scene in fewer takes.

We discern the effervescent energy that emanates from the two teammates: “It’s simple, we get along like thieves at a fair,” says Taylor. They constantly tease each other. They push each other forward. They finish each other’s sentences and bicker like an old married couple. A nothing ignites the powder. “I don’t like Nick,” jokes Taylor Zakhar Perez. “But I respect him.” “For me, it’s the opposite!” adds the other. “I don’t necessarily respect your acting but I love you a lot.”

Nicholas is on crutches after injuring his foot on the set of Mary & George , a piquant period film about Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham (played by Julianne Moore). “The film I’m making at the moment,” he begins, “is set in Jacobean England at the start of the 17th century .century. We wear these sumptuous costumes with heels, not very high but substantial. In one of the scenes, the character that I play is humiliated in public and has to run to give a correction to a kid. And while he was in full swing, Nick slipped and his heel bent inward. “I broke my ankle,” he tells me. “You want to see something really gory?” He shows us, on his phone, a video of a colossal abscess emptying of its pus. “This is what you get when you do your own stunts.” “The risks of the trade, my cabbage”, launches Taylor Zakhar Perez.

To get where they are today, the two actors have taken side roads. Taylor Zakhar Perez grew up with five sisters and two brothers in south Chicago. A family where there is always something going on: “We had Christmas at my house two years ago,” he recalls. “Everyone had COVID, one of us had head lice and another got strep throat. A third stepped on a rusty nail on the beach and needed an emergency tetanus shot. It was epic.”

The father had great aspirations for his children: one was to be a doctor, the other a lawyer, recalls the actor. He, at one point, embodied the sportsman of the family: he practiced swimming in competition for ten years and spent his weekends changing tires in the family body shop. (“I’ve cleaned enough cars in my life to know I don’t like it”) A university offered him a sports scholarship in swimming, but he enrolled at UCLA, where he studied biology. After the benches of the university, he is destined to be a dermatologist. But that’s not what he wants.

“My father was disappointed and took a long time to recover,” he recalls. “As with many of my picks.” As a child, he spends his month of December filled with the theater of his district to attend about thirty performances of Annie (his sister is part of the troupe). It is this episode that gives the very young Taylor Zakhar Perez the desire to become an actor. “If I continued to live in the past to please others, I could never grow and move on,” he adds.

The story of Nicholas Galitzine, on the other side of the Atlantic, is not so different. His mother emigrated from Greece and the family settled in Hammersmith, West London. He is destined for a career as a rugby player, but does not believe in it any more than that. “I grew up in a very masculine world,” he explains, “but I was a very sensitive young man.”

Nicholas Galitzine took to the stage for the first time aged 18, during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “The play was called Rites: A Childhood Tragedy ,” he says. “The title had created a misunderstanding, since many children had come to attend the performance so it was not a show intended for this audience”. The young Englishman wants to continue on this path, but the acting profession puts a strain on his relationship with his pragmatic parents, who are “terrified by this environment”.

The worry is short-lived. From the beginning of his twenties, Nicholas Galitzine landed roles in the cinema; Last year, he joined the cast of the successful military series Neà Our bruised hearts ( Purple Hearts in English) on Netflix. Taylor Zakhar Perez also starts under the thumb of the streaming giant, in the cheesy but ultra popular romantic comedies The Kissing Booth , franchise in which he embodies the third element of a love triangle.

As Taylor Zakhar Perez says, without taking the tweezers, they are both asked to play “love affairs with Netflix sauce”. “Damn, but what does that mean?”, protests his friend. “Do you really want me to say heartbreaker?”, replies the other. “We are both heartbreakers.” “You say it, not me. I will never present myself as a heartbreaker.” And yet, both have a chiseled jaw and piercing eyes, and embody in flesh and blood archetypes of Disney princes.

Henry, a fictional crowned head played by Nicholas Galitzine, could sit somewhere at the crossroads between the real Princes William and Harry, a stoic and beloved character who finds himself struggling against the system into which he was born. “One of my biggest fears is to be misunderstood”, explains the comedian. “It’s Henry’s everyday life… For me, it’s a great story: he’s been pretending to be someone else all his life when suddenly someone shows up and completely blasts his view of the world. ”

That someone is Alex Claremont-Diaz, the rambunctious and ambitious son of America’s first female president (played by Uma Thurman). For this role, Taylor Zakhar Perez was inspired by the series At the White House , and more precisely by the character of the adviser Sam Seaborn camped by Rob Lowe. “I think that’s the kind of person Alex would like to be, an idealist, but who has cracks,” continues the actor.

As the interview draws to a close, we touch on Red, White & Royal Blue ‘s intimate scenes . To combat the embarrassing presence of the entire film crew around them, the two whispered jokes to each other and tried to crack each other. “It was always a good child, it never went very far. It was a very appreciable dynamic”, affirms Robbie Taylor Hunt, the coordinator of intimacy on the set. “They also knew how to treat each other as colleagues and co-actors, always remaining pleasant and collaborative.”

“The sex scenes were real choreography ,” smiles Taylor Zakhar Perez, remembering the time and energy that had to be invested in rehearsals (sometimes involving an inflatable mattress). “It’s crazy to have this intimacy with a friend,” says Nicholas Galitzine. “We want viewers to fall in love with the characters, and for that, their love has to be real.” “We let our guard down during rehearsals,” adds Taylor Zakhar Perez. But as soon as someone shouted “Cut!” ? “One of us was throwing a stupid thing like, ‘Get off!'”

Taylor Zakhar Perez stars in the summer’s hottest rom-com

Taylor Zakhar Perez stars in the summer’s hottest rom-com

In an exclusive interview, Zakhar Perez talks about his lead role in ‘Red, White, and Royal Blue’
Taylor Zakhar Perez is magnetic. His presence is vibrant and inviting, leaping off of our Zoom chat as it does in the summer’s most awaited rom-com, “Red, White and Royal Blue,” where he bursts through the screen in one of his most engaging, sweetest, and romantic roles yet.

Based on Casey McQuiston’s incredibly successful best-seller, the film is a love story with a political backdrop, taking viewers globe-trotting from Washington to London to Paris to Texas. It follows Alex Claremont-Diaz (Zakhar-Perez), the First Son of the first female President in the United States, who unexpectedly falls in love with his sworn enemy, Prince Henry of Wales (Nicholas Galitzine). The book struck a chord with legions of followers, developing a cult-like following on BookTok, kickstarting queer romance novels in industry, and serving as a before and after of sorts in publishing.

To say that the film adaptation has big shoes to fill is an understatement, one that Zakhar Perez is aware of and that the filmmakers seemed keen on serving, never shying away from the queer and political elements that give the story its gravitas. My experience watching the film felt like a look at contemporary history with rose-colored lenses. It’s a wish-fulfillment story, yet one with its feet firmly rooted on the ground.

In an exclusive interview with HOLA! USA, Zakhar Perez discussed his decision to pursue a career that set him apart from his family, his approach to the role of Alex, and his future, all the while showing off some impressive movie knowledge.

Have you always wanted to be an actor?
No. I started off wanting to be a doctor, or a dermatologist, or an orthodontist. Something different than people in my family. Nobody in my family is an actor so I’m still different, I guess.

I applied to UCLA for biology, and I started going there, doing all my biology and science classes. And then I realized that I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it so I could meet my family’s expectations. That’s when the idea of becoming an actor started. I thought, ‘I’m in Los Angeles, I’m in the perfect place to learn.’ Even though I came to Los Angeles with the intention of studying biology, it just took a moment for me to just be with myself to understand that acting is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

“Red White and Royal Blue” is a contemporary story but it also feels like a classic romantic comedy. Were there any inspirations in the way you approached the role?
That’s an interesting question, especially when talking about the classic side of romantic comedies, because Matthew (López, the director) and I talked about wanting the story to feel evergreen with the setting being in England and Texas and the White House. It feels like a movie that could transcend the decades.

For inspiration, we landed on classic romantic comedies and films from the Hugh Grant era. Even though you watch those older movies today and you’re like ‘Oh my Gosh, this is, you know, black and white,’ they still hit and are hilarious. And they’re quippy and intelligent and the physical comedy is incredible. So I definitely looked at movies like “Bringing up Baby” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” And also “The West Wing.” I feel like Alex wants to be on the West Wing. He’s very Sam Seaborn and I watched tons and tons of Aaron Sorkin for pace and specificity.

The film is based on an incredibly successful novel. Did that baggage impact your expectations of the movie or the way in which you approached the role?
Yeah. From the beginning, I felt like I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. Cause when I got the job, I had the chemistry read with Nick (Galitzine) and I was excited because I had read the book the previous week and was so moved because it’s such an incredible story. And then I start telling people about this project and their reaction is what got me a little bit worried (laughs).

And then I started reading a lot about it online and the fandom around it. So the answer definitely is yes. But I wouldn’t say I approached the role any differently than any of my previous projects. This movie just happened to be a known IP and I had the advantage to have the book and to be able to fill in the shades of Alex that I may not have had if I had just a script.

One of my favorite things about the film is that it’s fun and breezy, but also super political and not afraid to tackle topics like queer and Latino identity. Was there a conversation about trying to keep these elements in balance?
I feel like the film having these elements in balance was kind of inherent, because of the comedy side of the romantic comedy. I mean there are some really touching moments throughout the film and a handful of them were cut for time. Clifton Collins Jr., who plays my father in the film, was amazing. I knew of him. I’d seen his projects, but we’d never crossed paths before. And then we met and we just got along, thick as thieves. And he’s like an OG Mexican from Los Angeles which was so colorful. He made it feel like there was family on set. Same with Matthew being Puerto Rican. Their influences help you get into that vibe, and then you do the scene and it’s wonderful. You really bring that accuracy to it.

There’s a line in the film when Alex and Henry are in Paris, and Henry asks him a question about his mom’s campaign, and Alex starts telling him about his father and his abuela coming to the States. The line is something like “If you’re an immigrant in America and you have a ‘Z’ in your last name, there’s a lot of people in positions of power that don’t look and sound like you. I’ve been given the opportunity to be someone in the world that my father didn’t see when he was growing up.”

As someone with two ‘Zs’ in his last name (laughs), that was a tough scene for me because I had to be there as Alex and not as Taylor. It was very emotional to think of my family and what they went through to come to the United States. Even though they came here a long time ago, you still think about all of the people that are coming to America today and about all of their stories.

Alex realizes that his father didn’t have any role models growing up and now he’s a congressman. That fuels his fire to be the change. That was so exciting for me.

Lastly, I wanted to ask about the types of roles that you wanna do right now and in the future.
I mean, I love comedy. This was one of those projects that when I read the book I was cracking up. You’re cracking up and then sobbing and then cracking up (laughs). It had this great duality to it. I was so grateful to bring myself to this role and lean on the comedy side of things.

I would also love to do an A24 or Neon film, something the Safdie Brothers would make. I love Rob Pattinson in “Good Time.” I would also love to do an action film. I think that that would be intense and incredible. And I was a nationally ranked athlete for years, so that’s one of those things where I’m like, ‘I could do this.’

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Red, White & Royal Blue Stars Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine Know Their Movie Is Hot

Red, White & Royal Blue Stars Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine Know Their Movie Is Hot

Red, White & Royal Blue stars Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine couldn’t be less serious. In conversation, the banter is endless, the charm off the charts. They’re currently embroiled in a discussion about New Zealand vs. Australia. Zakhar Perez refers to New Zealand in conjunction with the “naur” meme and H2O Just Add Water, famously an Australian show, and it sets Galitzine spinning into laughter — before he schools his costar in the dynamic between the two countries.

There’s something of a schoolboy zest, darting wherever their brain cells move them in conversation, that makes you think of the cheeky conversations had over the trash can at school, sharpening pencils over and over again to gossip. They jokingly narrate the opening of our interview, even though we’re on a Zoom: “This is Taylor and I’m done talking,” Zakhar Perez throws down, and Galitzine picks it up, “Hi I’m Nick, I’m about to start speaking.”

Their onscreen story, an adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s novel of the same name, also begins in the least serious way possible. Three things are certain in life: Death, taxes, and the fact that a giant wedding cake is always going to come crashing down. Zakhar Perez, 31, is the devil-may-care Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, while Nicholas Galitzine, 28, is the uptight, intellectual Prince Henry of Wales. They are, of course, enemies. Until that toppled wedding cake throws them, at speed, into a secret love connection, and we follow them as they navigate their politically-combustible romance as the young adults of the Western powers.

Zakhar Perez and Galitzine are not strangers to the romance scene, however. Fans will know the former from his role as Marco in The Kissing Booth 2 & 3; and the latter from Cinderella, opposite Camila Cabello, and Purple Hearts with Sofia Carson. There’s no shortage of star power either — Uma Thurman stars as Alex’s mother and the POTUS, Stephen Fry is the King, and Sarah Shahi makes a scene-stealing turn as Zahra.

In becoming Prince Henry, Galitzine asked the same questions that he has of any role that lands in his lap: are they complex, and three-dimensional? Is their story compelling? Henry’s gayness is a major factor of the film, and important to his character as he exists in the confines of the royal family, but Galitzine admired the script beyond Henry’s sexuality. “He felt really real. I felt like I empathized with him,” Galitzine tells Teen Vogue. “I didn’t really feel a pressure necessarily, in that capacity. It just felt like a really beautiful story.” While he didn’t read the novel before filming, as he treats the script as his bible, he’s since read McQuiston’s source material.

And Zakhar Perez? He certainly felt the pressure to tell the story right, given the groundswell of support from the novel’s fanbase. For him, it’s about the circumstances of the story, the genre of the film, and where we meet the character in their life. It’s also been about “being accurate with the storytelling,” Zakhar Perez tells Teen Vogue, because “if we are playing these roles — any role, but especially this — [in] a film that has the opportunity to change perceptions, internationally; in a film for everyone,” it has to be done right.

Director Matthew López says he had “two hours to take them on a journey from enemies to friends to lovers to world changers. Two hours to do that, and every second counted,” which accounts for some of the omissions from the novel. He had to be “ruthless” in order to tell that central story. López also says he can’t imagine anyone else playing Alex and Henry. “I think they came away understanding Alex and Henry even better than either Casey or I ever did.”

The film, like the novel, does something that disrupts the purity politics that can plague media — it lets the gay guys have sex, hence its R rating. When I suggest that sometimes we just want to see hot dudes f*ck, the duo roar with laughter. “I’m f*cking stoked that we classify as hot dudes as well, so internet high-five, Taylor,” Galitzine says. Zakhar Perez adds, “I say the movie serves it hot on a platter, if that’s what you want.”

The film is in constant conversation with gay sex and how it’s portrayed on screen. López wanted a range of scenes that “felt hot and animalistic and hungry, and then stuff to feel tender and a reflection of their love for each other,” Galitzine says.

It’s proof of the necessity of an intimacy coordinator on set, Zakhar Perez says: “We needed to see the different colors, the different shades, the different shades of gray through this” — he laughs at his own joke — “and we had to focus on that because you’re telling a sexual journey,” but also a journey that’s simultaneously personal, and also relationship-based.

“I really have to give Robbie [Taylor Hunt], our intimacy coordinator, his flowers,” Galitzine says. “Not having that language as Nick,” to be able to fully craft the scene in a comfortable way, “it’s really daunting and Robbie was so great.” Their collaboration became a process of “charting when to turn up the heat; what felt truthful in one scene, as opposed to maybe not right in the other.”

There’s an added flair in the film that grounds it firmly in reality, where condom wrappers lay strewn on the floor and lube sits on the nightstand post-sex. López says the condom use came from a logical line of questioning; Alex was not on PrEP, and with no secrets in the royal family, Henry likely couldn’t safely procure it. Thurman’s POTUS character even mentions PrEP by its brand name. “It was really important to me and to Uma that the scene took a surprising turn for Alex, that not only is mom totally cool with it, mom may in fact know even more than Alex about sexual health,” López says.

So maybe there is something serious, something impactful underneath the fun rom-com flair. A Trojan horse — or condom. Zakhar Perez offers a treatise on the very heart of the film: “Henry being a prince and having the King of England as his grandfather, and Alex being the First Son of the United States to Uma Thurman’s character, these are the leading authorities on everything throughout the world,” he says. “So when you look at [POTUS], accepting Alex for who he is, and what he’s saying that he’s going to do, and for Henry to fight with his grandfather to say, ‘this is what I want,’ because I love this person, and then accepting it. It’s a trickle down effect to everybody that’s living in those countries. And that’s how you create change.”

We start to speak about being in their profession, where being misunderstood and misrepresented is rife. “We are in the business of misconceptions,” Galitzine says. “As actors, we’re constantly playing these roles, and I think a lot of people associate us with the characters that we play.” Often, you’re portrayed “in this two-dimensional outline of a human being. We all have our own anxieties and struggles.” It has ironically made him more open with people. “I try and lead with vulnerability now, [with] candor… Being misperceived in that way is quite scary.”

For Zakhar Perez, he’s followed his own compass. It takes real guts to back yourself like that. To say, “No, I want to be a real actor, this is what I want to do.” To know, “This is not a one and done thing,” that “this is a dream that I will have forever. It’s my Everest.” It’s the first thing on his mind when he wakes up, and the last when he sleeps.

Climbing Kilimanjaro a few years back was “such a great metaphor for life.” He would wake up to the sight of the peak. Two hours later, a fog would set in; he’d hike for eight hours. He would see the peak again, this time drenched in the setting sun. “I’m going to the top of this f*cking mountain,” Zakhar Perez thought. People might mistake the dedication to his craft as “a little intense,” but “nobody’s going to knock me off the path because I choose this…I’m in it to win it. And I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

As our interview winds down, we take a moment for Zakhar Perez’s late sister, Kristy, and the profoundly moving words he wrote about her on his Instagram. “She was so excited to see it,” he says. She passed away just as the marketing campaign for the film began; the GQ article, the teaser and the trailer and the pictures — everything she missed. “She’s the oldest so she’d care about everything.” His voice is smiling now. She was full of questions: if he got to keep the outfits; how he could possibly memorize so many lines; and what Uma Thurman must be like — “She just wanted all the deets. She just wanted to be supportive, be there, be in on it.” A love like that never leaves. “It’s been a really hard time for my family. Family has always meant a lot to me and now it means even more.”

Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine have given life to these characters, and in return, Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry have given them life lessons. “I would just say f*ck it,” Zakhar Perez says of his approach to life. Alex is “this bombastic, annoying, energetic over-the-top guy that sometimes doesn’t look before he leaps and puts people into different predicaments that they probably shouldn’t be put into, but he just doesn’t care…I wish we could all just be, you know, out there like that.” And Galitzine: “It sounds so cheesy to say but honestly, it’s being true to yourself, to be honest, like living your truth. Life’s too f*cking short,” he says, “Life’s too short to hide yourself. Be courageous for love.”

Red, White & Royal Blue’s Stars Talk ‘Sweet’ & ‘Hungry’ Gay Romance

Red, White & Royal Blue’s Stars Talk ‘Sweet’ & ‘Hungry’ Gay Romance

Red, White & Royal Blue’s Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine discuss bringing heart and heat to the Amazon Prime Video queer rom-com.
Yearning for a queer romantic comedy with transatlantic intrigue? Then Red, White & Royal Blue is the film event of the season.

Based on the beloved 2019 young adult novel of the same name by Casey McQuiston, Amazon Studios’ Red, White & Royal Blue tells the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz (played by Minx and The Kissing Booth alum Taylor Zakhar Perez), the first son of the United States, and his whirlwind romance with Henry, Britain’s young crown prince (played by Cinderella and Bottoms star Nicholas Galitzine).

While on its surface, the storyline may sound like a prime-time soap, this delicious, tension-filled, enemies-to-lovers tale is full of heart. And the new Prime Video film is grounded too, especially when it comes to the difficulties Alex and Henry face as two public figures hiding who they are — and who they love — from the world.

“After reading the book, it was like nothing else…I’ve ever read or seen before,” Zakhar Perez says when asked about bringing the nuances of McQuiston’s novel to life for the screen. “I took it as [McQuiston] challenging what was already out there. And I think they did a brilliant job of it. So when we were bringing these characters to life, we were like, If it’s convenient, if it’s cheesy, if it doesn’t serve the characters, if it doesn’t serve the storyline, if it skews public perception, we’re not gonna do it. And we were very diligent about [that rule].”

“Beyond the great love story, I think the thing that interests me as an actor in general is people completely trapped by circumstance and upbringing,” Galitzine says of playing a member of the British monarchy.

“I always like characters who have to kind of escape the bounds of their upbringing in some ways. It was a lot of fun,” he continues. “We had a royal correspondent on set, and getting to pick his brain in terms of how to imbue Henry with this sort of uptight stiffness that Alex is kind of like the antithesis of in some ways.… It was funny being able to shed those layers and, in a way, bring in that much-needed angst.”

The angst and the chemistry between Alex and Henry are real. Though they have an obvious disdain for each other in the film’s first act, an internationally embarrassing wedding cake incident forces the pair to spend more time together in public, pretending they are friends. The act, filled with forced smiles and staged photo ops, begins as a means to garner positive press — Alex’s presidential mother, played by screen icon Uma Thurman, is up for reelection. But the more Alex and Henry interact, the more they realize they actually like each other. And this chemistry was also curated behind the scenes.

“Taylor and I became mates immediately,” Galitzine recalls of working with Zakhar Perez. “We have the same sense of humor, and he’s just so funny. He’s so smart. He’s a very caring person, and we really saw eye to eye. When you’re friends with someone, it just makes the intimacy aspect of it all that much easier because you can trust in this person. I remember speaking to Matthew López, our director, and he really felt like gay sex often had been sort of misrepresented in film, and he wanted to make something that both lived within the ‘poppiness’ of the rom-com genre but also felt authentic and real.”

“We had an incredible intimacy coordinator, Robbie Taylor Hunt, who was very much integral in really giving me the language that I think I needed when it came to the intimacy and creating this really sweet, very hungry at times, bond,” Galitzine adds. “A really sweet and tender love between the two of them. It was a very caring set, and Taylor was also very, very helpful in that as well.”

“We both came into it with such a level of respect for the book and for the script and what we were there to create,” Zakhar Perez notes. “It wasn’t anybody’s show. It wasn’t Matthew saying, ‘This is my film, I’m doing it this way and you have to do it like this,’ and it wasn’t Nick coming in and going, ‘Well, I want to portray Henry this way.’ It wasn’t me coming in and going, ‘This is how Alex has to be.’ It was all of us collaboratively sitting together and talking it all out. This is where I like to come from, asking questions. I think that built our trust, that built our understanding and gave us the shorthand as soon as we got into filming.”

Red, White & Royal Blue’s queer magic can be attributed in large part to the film’s director and writer, López, the Tony-winning playwright behind The Inheritance. Having a gay creative at the helm was, as Galitzine puts it, “integral” to the narrative’s authenticity.

“Matthew is so communicative, and he’s so open as a person that there was really nothing off limits,” Galitzine says. “He was just really passionate and really hell-bent on telling Casey’s story, albeit in a slightly different way from the book. I think you always have to deviate in some capacity when you do a book-to-film adaptation. But we were talking before about people feeling seen, and that was always at the top of his agenda. I can’t really imagine anyone else directing it. His passion was so palpable every single day on set.”

And Zakhar Perez notes that he and López both come from the theater world, so there was already a shorthand between them in work style. “I love a vertically integrated writer-director,” he says. “I can go to them, ask the questions, get back to set, and I don’t have to do all this runaround. It’s like looking up something in the dictionary. He just created this togetherness and a safe space for all of us to play and be vulnerable and just set the tone for the entire summer. And I can’t say that about all directors I work with.”

With an already established fan base from the YA novel, Red, White & Royal Blue debuts at a unique time. There has never been so much LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media. Yet the community remains under attack, especially when it comes to stigma from traditional society, something Alex and Henry know all too well. And while RWRB is indeed a lighthearted popcorn romance, it also has the power to change minds with its joyous portrayal of queer love.

“By the end of it, we’re gonna crack you open, and you’re going to love these two characters, love their journey together,” Zakhar Perez says. “Their character development throughout their arc is wonderful, individually and together.”“There is a lot of similarity between queer love and straight love,” Galitzine says.

“There’s something completely undeniable about the chemistry of Alex and Henry. The movie even recognizes it when the king of England, played by the amazing Stephen Fry…says, ‘It’s undeniable that the love is genuine.’ I think for people to see queer love portrayed as being the norm, I just really hope it can build bridges, and it can enlighten a lot of people who maybe haven’t grown up around a lot of queer people, who don’t have queer friends or don’t have access to the queer community. That’s the joy of working in the film industry in this day and age: the far reaches that these films can have and the people they can touch.”

Why Red, White & Royal Blue’s Taylor Zakhar Perez Calls Alex a “Man-Child”

Why Red, White & Royal Blue’s Taylor Zakhar Perez Calls Alex a “Man-Child”

Taylor Zakhar Perez’s smile speaks its own language throughout Prime Videos’ adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s novel Red, White & Royal Blue. We first meet his character, First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz, in line to greet members of the British royal family at a wedding. He gives his nemesis Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) a forced smile and reluctantly asks the very North American, “How’s it going?” Henry is unimpressed.

Director and co-screenwriter Matthew Lopez’s lens often follows the smile that aims joy, mischief, and effortless charm at viewers and hides rage, contempt, and endless wells of sadness. In real life, Zakhar Perez’s demeanor is nothing like Alex’s at that wedding. He’s so affable and strikingly present that, even on Zoom, he doesn’t come across as contrived.

Best known for giving life to romantic rival Marco Valentín Peña in The Kissing Booth 2 and 3, loosely based on the book series of the same name, it’s only natural that Zakhar Perez would play one of the most beloved literary characters in recent years. He started acting in regional theater while growing up in Northwest Indiana and, years later, began chipping away at an acting career in Los Angeles with stints in Embeds, a sitcom on Verizon’s mobile streaming service Go90, Young and Hungry, and MTV’s Awkward. The mixed-race Latine actor, whose mother is Mexican, is in the spotlight where he belongs.

Alex and Henry are forced into damage control after a disastrous wedding, and an unlikely romance blooms. This situation prompts Alex to think about his sexual orientation and its implications on US-British relations and his mother’s presidential re-election.

“I hadn’t read the book [Red, White & Royal Blue],” he tells Refinery29 Somos. “A friend of mine called me like, ‘Hey, you should get in on this project because I think you would do a really good job at it.'”

From that introduction to Red, White & Royal Blue, Zakhar Perez says it only took a weekend for him to read the book and go on “an incredibly emotional journey with these two characters” — a reflection of the story’s quality. “I was like, ‘this three-day book did this to me. I wonder what a movie could be like.’ And then that got me really excited.”

The collective need for political escapism made Red, White & Royal Blue a pop-culture phenomenon in 2019. There was a bidding war over movie rights before the book was even published, and when it did hit bookshelves, it garnered an instant spot on the New York Times bestseller list. The film arrives at a point where a new crop of AOCs, or ACDs in McQuiston’s case — young progressive candidates from working-class backgrounds — continue to pop up nationwide in more significant numbers.

Zakhar Perez explains that “they [Gen Z, like his character] bring a fresh set of eyes. If we look at how our parents were raised versus how we [millennials] were raised, versus how this Gen Z has been raised, it’s vastly different. And you see how change happens so quickly.”

He continues: “They are kind of like, ‘fuck it. Why can’t we have universal health care? Why can’t we have equal opportunity? I’m unclear about this whole system and why we can’t challenge it and make changes if we are the constituents?'”

Zakhar Perez’s characters in The Kissing Booth franchise and, most recently, the ‘70s sex comedy Minx offer themselves to his charisma and ability to play into the character’s imperfections that further humanize them. That isn’t to say he’s any of the characters and the ideas people often project onto him. The 31-year-old is worlds away from the 20-something law student he plays in Red, White & Royal Blue. He confesses he’s a “practical dreamer” rather than an idealist like Alex.

“I have many people in my life, like Alex, who are idealistic. I love that they’re in my life because they give me the energy to keep going despite being very motivated. I go, go, go, but they’re just like sprinkling sugar on life, and they’re like everything’s going to be great. And I love it. I love having a positive lens,” he says.

What first drew him to the role of Alex Claremont-Diaz was, interestingly enough, one of Zakhar Perez’s own most endearing qualities: his willingness to be vulnerable and candid.

“Alex is a man-child becoming an adult who is also going through his sexual journey,” he shares. “Also, playing Alex meant that ‘no’ was never an option, and he constantly needs to pivot. I realize that part of his identity was wrapped in being a good representative of the White House and launching his political career.” Alex proposes an agenda to rally voters in his home state of Texas and sees law school as the first step to his professional goals. “That makes other parts of his life very lonely.”

Once the role was his, Zakhar Perez overprepared. He remembers creating a grid on his script. “I had this grid thought through of their journey [Alex and Henry’s] and his [Alex’s] individual journey, professional journey, sexual journey, relationship journey. They were just all charted out for me so that it was accurate and specific along the way.”

The film is mostly lighthearted in its nuanced celebration of queer romance and joy, and he wanted to “do [this] story right.” Understanding that “love happens in small steps,” Zakhar Perez worked with intimacy coordinator Robbie Taylor Hunt and director Lopez to prepare for the role.

“We had the intimacy scenes. … This was early. When Henry kisses Alex’s like, ‘Whoa, get some thinking,'” Zakhar Perez says. “Then they have the Prime Minister dinner and the very animalistic red room, and they’re just like, ‘okay,’ and then they have Alex’s bedroom, that bedroom scene, and then you see it, build and build and build and build.”

That wisdom about love didn’t materialize out of thin air, and neither did his insight on the entertainment industry. He’s navigating the intense machine of social media fame where every comment or picture is scrutinized, which can be upending. Contrary to his onscreen character, Zakhar Perez has more control of his give and take with fame. “Since I did my first film for Netflix [The Kissing Booth 2], I realized that for my mental health, I knew I had to have a public presence, but that didn’t mean I always had to engage with the public,” he says.

On social media, he shares posts of his movie sets, photoshoots with luxury brands like Prada, advocacy for fashion sustainability, outings in nature, and work events across the globe, but these details don’t amount to his totality. “You have to keep things for yourself, your sanity, your family, your dog, just little things that you can come home to and just be like, This is mine. You must be very selective and conscious about that, or else this entertainment industry can just run your life,” he adds.

Joey King, his former The Kissing Booth 2 and 3 co-star, has served as a port in the metaphorical storm to grapple with his growing success. A former child star who “has been in this business forever” has also helped Zakhar Perez balance the importance of “taking time for yourself” and “not sweating the small stuff.”

He recalls his days in art departments building sets where he encountered celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but an interaction with Jennifer Aniston is the one he remembers most.

“I met her at the Cake premiere because a friend had brought me, and the next week I had a shoot for some water advertising she was doing,” he says. “I walked up because I was giving the photographer and the art director something, and she goes, ‘Hey, I met you last week.’ And I go, ‘I didn’t know if you remember me.’ And she was like, ‘Of course, I remember you.’ She’s like, ‘You were so sweet.'”

He could give fans and aspiring actors the same moment he had with Aniston. The more you speak with Zakhar Perez, the more apparent his drive to do meaningful work and lead with kindness. “Why should I let my ego get in the way of things?” His performance in Red, White & Royal Blue isn’t just defining for him. It’s also the promise of a good time for everyone, the empowerment to enact change in our communities, and some political escapism, regardless if you think of hope as something for the naïve or an antidote to shared pain. His firm belief is that we all deserve the gentle moments of being in love and seen for who we are. It makes no sense to exclude anyone from it.

Regardless of whether Zakhar Perez takes on another book-to-screen role, he’s acutely aware of the magnitude of what he’s accomplished. And while he can’t wait for audiences to see the movie, he’s looking forward to remembering this experience as one of the most gratifying projects of his career.

“This is a testament to Casey’s writing and [them creating] such a dynamic character. I got to do the job I love and will always remember this,” he says.

It’s nearly the end of the allotted time, and Zakhar Perez is still very in the moment, “Oh, you got a cue?” he says with a hint of disappointment. As the conversation ends, he flashes a warm smile, signing off with a wave and a genial “Thank you for your time!” We, for one, cannot wait to see what’s to come.

“I Hope We Nailed It”: Taylor Zakhar Perez Talks Red, White & Royal Blue

“I Hope We Nailed It”: Taylor Zakhar Perez Talks Red, White & Royal Blue

The breakout star of the rom-com of the summer delves into the age-old pressures of adapting a book for the screen, finding an acting method that allows him to protect his peace and playing Uma Thurman’s on-screen son.
“I seriously could film in London for the rest of my life,” Taylor Zakhar Perez tells me. He pauses: “Let me say that again. I could film in London from April until October for the rest of my life.” Starring in Matthew Lopez’s big-screen adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston’s New York Times Bestseller set primarily between the English capital and Washington DC, gave Zakhar Perez an optimum vantage point to assess the pros of filming in London vs Stateside.

The enemies–to–lovers rom-com is centred around Zakhar Perez’s Alex Claremont Diaz, a fictional First Son of the United States, and British Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) as they fumble from foes to boyfriends under the constant glare of their respective countries’ media. From the second that Zakhar Perez logs onto our Zoom call, a couple of months before the film’s release, there is no doubt in my mind that he was the right fit for the charismatic, witty Alex. With an energy so contagious that my face aches from smiling, the Midwestern native speaks quickly yet intentionally, going on tangents but always seamlessly finding his way back to his original point.

Prior to trying for the role of Alex, he admits to not actually having read the 2019 book, however he did so, swiftly, before his audition. “I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it in three days,” he says. “I was on the plane and — I mean, the altitude does something to you — but I was just crying.”

McQuiston’s literary universe hints at what an alternate, diverse and progressive parallel world might look like – notwithstanding a serpentine path to public acceptance that sees Alex and Henry grapple with their respective sexualities, high-profile lives and the growing entanglement between their separate realities, against a backdrop of ever-present, real-world discourse on the privacy of public figures. However, it also sees the US with its first female president, played by Uma Thurman no less, and a love story between a biracial, bisexual First Son and gay prince that seems equally as romanticised and fantastical as possible.

Since the book’s release, readers have fallen in love with the characters and eagerly anticipated a film adaptation, with speculation rife in anticipation of Zakhar Perez and Galitzine’s casting on who would play the starring roles. “It’s so difficult because you want to please everybody,” he says. Finding the balance between drawing inspiration from the book and letting the script be “Bible”, as Zakhar Perez calls it, was a delicate game he and his cast mates aimed to master. “I tried just getting as much of the backstory as possible to understand how the characters work, as opposed to trying to recreate the book,” he explains. “I was really thinking about the character and their journey as opposed to anything else, because if I understood the character’s journey and how he responded to different situations, I’d understand how to play him and what his inner monologue and thought processes were.”

“But sometimes when you adapt to the screen, when you remove characters from a project that are beloved or are an integral part of the story, people get up in arms,” he acknowledges. He relates it to his own feelings around the Harry Potter series, which I quickly grasp was a favourite franchise of Zakhar Perez’s. “I was so mad in the ‘Sorcerer’s Stone when [Peeves the Poltergeist] wasn’t in there. But when I watched it, I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t need it. This is a different version.’ And I was quickly okay with it. And so I know that is a concern, and there was a lot of weight on our shoulders going into it.”

However, for a book like McQuiston’s which made so many people feel seen, represented and hopeful, the pressure of translating that magic to the screen could naturally prove even greater. “I got into acting to showcase characters that people can see in themselves or that can help them get through something,” Zakhar Perez explains. “It’s amazing that somebody could see this as a kid and think, ‘Wow, there’s a Mexican-American congressman in this film, and I’m a young Mexican-American kid, and I want to get into politics.’”

Whilst sadly Uma Thurman as President might not be on the cards in our reality, part of the appeal of the world McQuiston and now Lopez present is that many other aspects of it feel entirely plausible for a younger generation watching.“ The way I thought about it was, the reality of this film is a possibility. It’s not far from something that could happen. These are possibilities: having a female president, having a queer son [of the president], having a queer Prince, having a transgender bodyguard. Why not? It doesn’t seem far-fetched.”

And Zakhar Perez has seen the book’s effects first-hand. His 14-year-old niece and her friends read and adored it, he tells me, lighting up with the optimism it inspires in them for a changing landscape. “I wish I had this as a kid. I wish everybody had this book. It’s incredible that at a [young age], this [love story] is normalised. Anytime something comes up in the world, you can read a book and relate to it and find acceptance.”

Growing up without these kinds of books (with the exception of Harry Potter, which made him “want to be a wizard”) has not made his faith in their impact any weaker. “It is amazing that this book could have the power to educate young minds and make people less ignorant when they get older. It’s really exciting and I feel that weight on my shoulders in portraying this role accurately, and what Alex represents to a lot of people around the world. It’s a film that has something on its mind. You leave and you feel different. That’s the reason that I was so attracted to this. It changes people’s perceptions of others who they maybe never had the chance to experience. It brings compassion.”

Bringing compassion and chemistry to the screen would appear to have been effortless for Zakhar Perez and Galitzine, whose on-screen dynamic was so compelling it’s no surprise when he shares that they became close friends in real life as well. “Doing the intimacy stuff brought us closer because you just have to have such a high level of trust with your co-worker,” he tells me. “We were really lucky. Maybe it was because we had to lean into the humour and quick banter with each other on set, it just bled over into how we were in real life. I don’t know, but we became friends very fast and I’m grateful that we did.”

“The whole cast is incredible,” he continues, before jumping into the story of first meeting Thurman in rehearsals. “She walked in and I was like, ‘Hey Uma, I’m Taylor. I’m playing your son.’ She high-fived me, and I was like, ‘Can I have a hug?’”

“For me, my way in with actors is that tactile touch. It grounds me and centres me and reminds me that this is a real person and that in this moment, this is real. And she was so giving. Sometimes when you work with actors. you don’t have giving scene partners and with Uma, she was so giving. I just wanted to rise to the occasion every time I was there. I wanted to be as good as Uma Thurman and I wanted to make sure that she knew that I wasn’t taking this moment for granted. I have watched her in multiple films and she is such a transformative actress that you just know you can’t mess around. And she’s so grounded and strong. I’ve had great experiences with other actors like that as well, but she…” he pauses and laughs knowingly, about to quote his own line from the film, “…definitely takes the cake.”

Delving deeper into his process, I ask if he drew on experiences of being in the public eye to relate to the scrutiny his character faces. “Alex and Henry exist in this on a different level, right? You know, there are millions of voters that vote for Alex’s parents and they’re under public scrutiny at all times. And as an actor that’s playing make-believe. I don’t have that same level of scrutiny. It is similar, but those two are just on a different level. You know, they’re like, Prince Harry, Prince William status.”

“I think I just went straight into the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘as ifs’. In acting, there’s people that do the method acting, but I’m an ‘as if-er’.” A device utilised to dig deeper into a character, pushing the actor to ask ‘what if?’ or ‘as if?, building a story around the actions and words on a script. It’s a favourite tool of Zakhar Perez’s who learned the technique from acting coach Lesly Kahn.

After a childhood of recreating SNL sketches with his siblings, performing in theatre productions and trying his shot at Hollywood, Zakhar Perez expanded his craft considerably upon moving to Los Angeles, under the guidance of Kahn. “When I first got to LA as this little theatre kid, I was not ready to go into [audition] rooms. I feel so bad for every casting director that brought me in to watch me just crash and burn. And then going to Lesly’s, I learned about genre, given circumstances, how to analyse scenes and the inner monologue. Honestly, I never really understood the inner monologue. I don’t know why, I just think nobody ever explained it properly. With Lesly, she taught us that your inner monologue is just a thought train. And it was almost remedial. We’d sit in class and she would stop us in the middle of a monologue and say, ‘I don’t believe that. What’s your thought? What do you think?’ And sometimes, most times, I would go, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ And she’d be like, ‘Taaaylor, you need to know what you’re thinking. We are not memorising lines.’ He laughs, “People hate it, because actors love to sit in their feelings. That’s cathartic for them. They’re like, ‘Let me be emotional,’ but emotion without direction is chaos.”

For Red, White & Royal Blue, understanding the specificities of the part came in extensive research and character mapping. Diving headfirst into the mind of Alex, Zakhar Perez read Presidents’ biographies that his character would have read and stories from White House staff. He watched The West Wing and exhausted every avenue of Alex’s potential interests and psyche to build a “fully fledged, fully fleshed out character.” To keep his perception of the narrative coherent, amidst overlapping arcs and dynamic character development, he came up with an annotation method. With the help of Lopez, he charted Alex’s timeline in terms of his relationships with Henry and his parents, the campaign trail and his discovery of his sexuality. “Filming out of order is incredibly difficult when your character has such a big arc. And so through my script, I would have to annotate the varying levels of his relationships and journeys. There were so many layers to this guy. I had to keep referencing it.”

While the ‘as if’ method helps Zakhar Perez get into character, it also helps him get out, protecting his inner self and emotional state from becoming muddled with that of his characters. “[In contrast with method acting], I have just always found that the ‘as if’ method helped me not bring back old trauma. I never want to sacrifice my happiness for a role. And I never want to put people around me in a weird space if I’m in a bad mood because the character that I’m auditioning for that day is in a bad mood. I never want to bring that into my day to day life because I’ve met actors like that and honestly, it’s so unattractive to me. I chose this profession and it’s not worth losing your friends over. I have nothing against anyone’s method but don’t bring it into my trailer. Don’t bring that into my life. I protect my peace at all costs.”

It is rare to meet someone so pragmatic yet optimistic, down to earth but excited about his accelerating trajectory, and so capable of giving his entire self to a project, cast and crew yet equally able to leave work at the door and prioritise the people he loves. It’s impossible to miss the similarities between Zakhar Perez and his interpretation of the affable and propulsive journey of Alex. In offering a fresh dimension to the beloved novel and lead role, he honours its influence by making it his own and bringing it to a new audience who will take comfort and inspiration in its power. “I think we nailed it,” he tells me of one scene, but I think such an evaluation could apply to the film as a whole. “I hope we nailed it,” he continues, but with characteristic humility, “You can be the judge,” he concludes.

Latino Power List: 45 Trailblazers Making Waves in Hollywood

Latino Power List: 45 Trailblazers Making Waves in Hollywood

TheWrap’s first-ever Latino Power List celebrates the trailblazers who are making change across entertainment and media, spanning actors, directors, writers, executives, dealmakers, journalists and up-and-comers who are setting the blueprint for future generations of Latino talent to bring their skills to the Hollywood landscape.

“Anytime any Latino is recognized for their work it’s a great feeling,” said cover subject Eva Longoria, the director, producer and actress who is focused on expanding the universe of Latino stories through her work and her production company. “The whole point of doing what I do — whether it’s directing or producing — is to amplify the voices of the Latino community.”

The Up-and-Comers

Taylor Zakhar Perez (Actor) – Before Taylor Zakhar Perez took on the mantle of Alex Claremont-Diaz in the Greg Berlanti-produced film adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s “Red, White & Royal Blue,” he brought another beloved fictional character to life — Marco from the second and third “Kissing Booth” films on Netflix. As an avid baseball player, Perez first felt represented on screen watching “The Sandlot” and “Angels in the Outfield.” “Both roles were played by Mike Vitar, I thought we kind of looked alike. I wasn’t even thinking of being an actor at that point in my life, but for some reason that’s who popped into mind first,” he told TheWrap. “I loved ‘The Sandlot,’ boys being boys, kids on the verge of adulthood… the culture that brought them together was baseball and that bonded them no matter where they came from. It still gets me.” Perez’s TV credits include the first season of “Minx,” six episodes of “Embeds” and one episode of “Scandal.” In 2015, the pendulum swung towards “Latin is hot” for Hollywood and Perez, but he still found some in casting rooms who thought he didn’t look “Latin enough.” “It was almost laughable that I was now being removed from a casting pool of people with the same heritage as me,” he recalled. “But it didn’t deter me, it just made me work harder and smarter to become ‘undeniable,’ as my coach used to say.” — Dessi Gomez

Taylor Zakhar Perez: Diamond Cowboy

Taylor Zakhar Perez: Diamond Cowboy

Taylor Zakhar Perez shines a light on the sustainable side of natural diamonds.

“Failure wasn’t an option,” says actor Taylor Zakhar Perez of his decade-plus-long journey through Hollywood. The actor, 31, moved away from his seven siblings in the Midwest to attend UCLA—in part so he could moonlight as an assistant at creative agency Art Department, where his uncle worked at the time. That was in addition to a few other gigs and, of course, attending class. “I was working three or four jobs at one time: school, Art Department, production assisting, acting classes, and I was also a cater waiter,” says Perez. “I didn’t move here to not do what I wanted to do.”

Perez has all the makings of a Hollywood heartthrob: a solid work ethic, an undeniably magnetic charm and a passing resemblance to a young Cary Grant (so says his grandmother). And if that isn’t enough to get you swooning, he’s also a man of character who cares deeply about social and environmental issues. Don’t expect this bright star to gravitate towards fame for fame’s sake (he’s worked too hard for that). Perez knows full well the power of the platform onto which he’s about to step. The only question is: what will he do next?

Only Natural Diamonds: You recently visited a diamond mine in Botswana. What did you learn there?

Taylor Zakhar Perez: I visited the Karowe Diamond Mine in Botswana. It’s female-led and 99% of its employees are from Botswana. But the really cool thing is the mine works to provide lasting and sustainable benefits in the communities. Not only does the mine support the people who are working in the mine, but it supports the communities around the mine in terms of education, roads and infrastructure. Using the minerals they own to develop their country is incredible—and they’re taking a large amount of these profits and investing them into the country and the people. Revenue from diamond mining contributes to a school system providing free primary education to every child in Botswana.

OND: That must have been such a great lesson in sustainability.
TZP: Yes, sustainability—but real sustainability. Not a company using the color green to make it seem like they’re sustainable. There is so much greenwashing out there. Sustainability starts with social sustainability. With the people.

OND: What did you learn from that trip?
TZP: Do your own research, and don’t believe everything you see on TikTok. Start asking “why,” again. We’re in a position where a lot of information has become democratized and open-sourced; it’s for everyone. It’s up to us to want to know more.

OND: Tell us about where you grew up.
TZP: It’s the duality of growing up in Chicago but also growing up in Northwest Indiana. We grew up on the Southside of Chicago, a very urban, multicultural, dangerous place, but that’s where my mom and dad’s families grew up. Then we moved to Northwest Indiana which had horses, cows and cornfields. So, I had this duality of city life grounded in country life.

OND: Did you come from a creative family?
TZP: I have seven siblings, but oddly enough, I didn’t. The only creative in my family was my grandmother on my dad’s side. She loved Hollywood, old films and she always said I reminded her of Cary Grant. As a kid I was like, “I don’t know who that is,” and now as an adult, I’m like, “Oh, a great actor, thank you!” My dad was enamored by Hollywood but never had the luxury of exploring the arts because he had his first kid at 17 and took over my grandfather’s auto body shop. My parents always brought the arts and theater around us because they didn’t have it as kids. My dad always had a sparkle in his eye when it came to shows. He would become the consummate coach in anything. I chose sports that he didn’t play because I didn’t want his notes. That’s why I chose swimming in school—my dad doesn’t know how to swim to this day. I did musical theater, and he has no idea about musical theater. That’s my relationship with my dad. You kind of want to do stuff yourself.

OND: Do you accept your dad’s notes now?
TZP: When it comes to business things, nobody knows business better than my dad. He’s a self-made entrepreneur. When he stops making deals, that’s when he’ll die because that’s what keeps him going. He lit my fire when it came to being your own business person and advocating for yourself… Nobody is going to fight harder for you than you.

OND: Has your family dynamic shifted now that you’re in the public eye?
TZP: It hasn’t changed. I have a really big family. We recently lost my oldest sister, so I’m at a place in my life where the importance of everything has shifted. Family is most important to me. Yesterday, I was on the phone with my sister, and then my little brother called, so I brought him in, and my [other] sister was also at my place, so all four of us were on the phone strategizing for family trips: Thanksgiving, birthdays. My sister said, “You kind of went MIA for ten years and now you’re talking to everybody!”

OND: What do you think was the most valuable thing you did during that period?
TZP: For me, when people ask me how I “did it,” or what the journey was like, I say: get a group of friends you trust, get into class and work your butt off and be crazy honest with each other. There are no other options. Failure is not an option. You have to make your own opportunities.

OND: What about acting fulfills you?
TZP: Being able to tell stories that move people and change people’s perceptions. I travel around the world for work, and wherever I am, people come up to me and tell me how my characters have influenced them and made them feel. I go to Mexico and kids are like, “I see myself in you and you’re my favorite character.” I think that’s the most fulfilling thing. I love projects that are emotionally connected and that will maybe change the way people look at something for the rest of their life.

OND: What is your most treasured possession?
TZP: Anything sentimental. Anything that when I glance down it reminds me of my family. I have this diamond bracelet that I got for my 30th birthday, and I have this stainless-steel ring that used to be my mom’s that I wear on my middle finger.