Multi award-winning director and playwright Matthew López remembers how he felt when he closed the back cover of the novel Red, White & Royal Blue by American author Casey McQuiston after he finished reading it for the first time. He knew he wanted audiences to experience that same emotional response to his on-screen adaptation of McQuiston’s hilarious and heartstring-tugging tale of a female American president’s son and his romantic relationship with a British prince. López is thrilled to premiere his latest project—one he describes as a fairy tale about modern queer love—on Amazon Prime Video on August 11.
Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the president of the United States (Uma Thurman), and Britain’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) have a lot in common: stunning good looks, undeniable charisma, international popularity—and a total disdain for each other. Separated by an ocean, their long-running feud hasn’t really been an issue until a disastrous—and very public—altercation at a royal event becomes tabloid fodder, driving a potential wedge into US/British relations at the worst possible time. Going into damage-control mode, their families and handlers force the two rivals into a staged “truce.” But as Alex and Henry’s icy relationship unexpectedly begins to thaw into a tentative friendship, the friction that existed between them sparks something deeper than they ever expected.
“The most important thing to me is the end result. You’d have to be a moron to make this movie without certain themes in it. I would be justifiably run out of this business if I didn’t include certain things in this book,” López says with a laugh. “Any act of adaptation is almost exclusively an act of exclusion. In any adaptation, there’s going to be more left out than there is included, because that’s just the nature of the beast. My main goal for myself was to make sure audiences feel the same way at the end of the movie as they felt when they finished reading the book.”
When news broke earlier this year about the film receiving an R rating for “language, some sexual content, and partial nudity,” fans rejoiced. The director explains that giving the film’s sex scenes the royal treatment was an important factor for him. “One of the things in the novel that I knew needed to be in the film was the fundamental truth that these two people have really good sex with each other, they are very attracted to each other, and they find ways of expressing it physically. I inherently knew that there were a multitude of ways that we were going to express intimacy in this movie and that we were tracking the progression of their closeness. They sort of meet-cute and not only go from being enemies to lovers, but one of them is not fully aware of the extent to which he’s into guys before they meet. I thought a lot about the intimacy themes in the movie as a way of bringing them incrementally closer and closer together.
“By the time we got to the real lovemaking scene in the movie, I knew that I wanted to create something that was beautiful, loving, and tender. It’s not about maximizing an opportunity to get as much sex in the movie as possible. It’s about maximizing what I’ve got in order to tell the story effectively and honestly, in a way that the people for whom the movie is being made understand that it is being made for them.”
Taylor Zakhar Perez portrays the half-Latino son of the president, and that character’s experience is one that López handled with familiar gloves. “I, like Alex, grew up in a house with a white mom and a Latino dad. I know that I was lucky that my Latino father was loving and supportive when I came out to him, and I know that’s not always the case for young queer Latin kids. I really wanted to show, in this film, a different idea of what Latin machismo looks like—being a supportive dad of an LGBTQ kid. That was very, very important to me because that’s what I had growing up, but it wasn’t always a guarantee.”
The film’s set had strong familial energy, which made the director’s job that much easier. “The cast and crew all really wanted to be there. We all were really happy that this was our job. I think that energy, that love of the story, that genuine affection for one another really shows on the screen,” López notes. Looking back fondly, he jokes, “I didn’t have to manufacture chemistry between Nick and Taylor. My biggest problem on set was getting them to shut up and do the scene.”
With the film’s highly-anticipated release approaching, López reflects on the imaginary world that his cast and crew created in this film, and how this story of queer love can impact people of all ages who yearn to see more representation on screen. “It’s aspirational. We knew we were very consciously making a fairy tale. But I think it’s within fairy tales that we we express our truest desires in some way. I think that, for me, seeing this kid living this life is something that, if this book had been around when I was 18, 19, 20, or maybe even younger, it might have helped me. I’m hoping that the movie can do that, as well.”
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