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

Disclaimer: This interview with Taylor Zakhar Perez about Amazon Prime Video’s film Red, White & Royal Blue was conducted before the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike.
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 demeanour 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. 

"It's only natural that Zakhar Perez would play one of the most beloved literary characters in recent years."

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. 
Photo Credit: Prime
"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.

"The collective need for political escapism made Red, White & Royal Blue a pop-culture phenomenon in 2019."

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 humanise 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. 

"Alex is a man-child becoming an adult who is also going through his sexual journey."

Taylor Zakhar Perez
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 realise 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."
Photo Credit: Prime
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 Alexis 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 materialise 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 scrutinised, 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 realised 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. 

"I knew I had to have a public presence, but that didn't mean I always had to engage with the public."

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.'" 

"Why should I let my ego get in the way of things?"

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.
Photo Credit: Matthew Brookes/Prime
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.
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