MAN ABOUT TOWN – 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.
Tag: rwrb movie
Prime Video gifted us with the infamous cornettos scene!
I have added over 2700 UltraHQ screen captures from Red, White & Royal Blue into the photo gallery. Head over and enjoy!
OUT MAGAZINE – 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.”
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.