Dir. Matthew López talks escapist gay romance in ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’

From left, Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in Prime Video's ‘Red, White & Royal Blue.’
From left, Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in Prime Video's ‘Red, White & Royal Blue.’

The charming gay romance “Red, White & Royal Blue,” is the fabulous screen adaptation of queer writer Casey McQuiston’s irresistible bestseller about the unexpected love affair between Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the First Son of President Ellen Claremont (Uma Thurman) and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), of Britain’s royal family.

The scions are enemies at first but after an “international incident,” they are forced to do damage control. This is when the duo realizes they share feelings for each other. But then they have to keep their relationship from being discovered — especially as President Claremont is running for re-election.

In his directorial film debut, Matthew López, who co-wrote the screenplay, makes “Red, White & Royal Blue” swoon-inducing as the two lovers engage in their clandestine romance. 

López spoke with PGN about his enchanting new film, which is available on Prime Video Aug. 11.

You were born in America, but now you live in Britain. Are you reserved and on Team Henry or brash and totally Team Alex?
As the director of the movie, I have to be completely unbiased. I think you can say I am what the grown-up child of Henry and Alex might look like. I am a very brash Puerto Rican who has now been tempered by weather and people after living in England for two years. I like to live in the happy tension between those two. And who wouldn’t want to live in the happy tension between those two? [Laughs.]

There is a pressure for the film to satisfy fans of the book. What can you say about adapting the film and the decision you made to tell the story, such as using magical realist touches to develop the relationship between Alex and Henry? 
It’s an adaptation, not a recitation. Any time you adapt a novel, there is going to be more you don’t put in there than you do put in. The most important thing was that when you get to the end of the film, do you feel the same way as you do when you get to the end of the book for the first time? How we got there would be determined by the needs of the movie and the narrative engine. I’d be committing malpractice if there were certain parts not in the film because they are the things that make the novel unique. For me, the goal was an emotional delivery system to have audiences feel what they felt at the end of the film, an almost identical sensation. 

How did you lean into or away from romcom tropes? There are swoony moments, such as Alex and Henry dancing in an empty museum. How did you make the film romantic?
I think there is something inherently romantic about two people who want to be together but can’t. You can’t go wrong having two lovers and putting a wall between them. That’s why there are apt references to Pyramus and Thisbe in the novel. The romantic infrastructure was already in place. The inherently romantic settings of palaces and the White House help. We used these locations to create an atmosphere of romance. It was a conscious decision that the movie needed to operate in a way that was lush and cinematic. At the end of the day, all of that is academic without Taylor and Nick. If I inherited a lot from the novel, and I engineered with my cinematographer and designers, the last thing was getting lucky with those two guys.

What about playing up (or down) the romance? The kisses are passionate, and the sex is more discrete than erotic. What considerations did you have in portraying this gay relationship?
Ultimately, for a film set in palaces and White Houses and in rarified environments, it’s escapism and wish fulfillment. It’s a world that most of us will never inhabit. It was important to me that the romance be rooted in an emotional reality. For a rarified existence where these characters live, they are still two beating hearts caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I needed to keep them human-sized. If characters become too outsized, they are not relatable. That’s one of the tricks of the novel. For as high flown as all the locations in the book and film are set in, the whole point of the story is that they are two private beating hearts. We had to keep the film grounded and realistic in spite of the fact that it is anything but in its trapping and environment.

The film is about queer visibility and provides messages about being truthful to yourself and belonging to yourself and someone else. This is a coming out film, but the twist is the visibility of the gay and bi characters. Can you talk about this theme, which is crucial to several emotional moments in “Red, White & Royal Blue”?
What always drew me to the novel is the idea of two people who have so much access to so much — as Henry and Alex do — have infinite choices about their lives. What I thought was so beautiful and painful about the book is the paradox they live in. They have fewer options than some people might. To be a Prince of England and gay, you’d think, “Jackpot!,” but instead, that’s terrible, because he can never tell the world who he is. He can be one or the other, but not both. There is this beautiful tale within the fairy tale. I never saw this story as a story of self-acceptance. I see it as finding a way of bending the world to the truth of who you are. We talked about this movie as being about young people in old buildings. It’s about people who find themselves up against the force of institutions that insist that they be one thing. And instead of bending themselves to these institutions, they bend these institutions to themselves. It is knowing who they are — and not budging on who they are — as these seemingly immovable institutions bend around them.

I have to ask you the question Alex asks Henry: What is your favorite romantic movie and why?
There are so many of them! But I have to say, “Moonstruck.” Even though I am the director of “Red, White & Royal Blue,” which is as escapist as it gets, I love a romance that is grounded in kitchen sink reality. I love how that movie can turn a linoleum floor into a great ballroom. That kitchen is as romantic as the [New York event venue] Rainbow Room. There is something beautiful and romantic in everyday life and I think that movie really captures it perfectly. I like my romance with a bit of pasta. [Laughs.]

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