HOLA! – 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.
GQ FRANCE – 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!'”
GQ MEXICO – 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 secret.in 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.