Taylor Zakhar Perez stars in the summer’s hottest rom-com
August 9, 2023
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.