It’s Hard to Take Your Eyes Off Taylor Zakhar Perez

It’s Hard to Take Your Eyes Off Taylor Zakhar Perez

TAYLOR ZAKHAR PEREZ is glowing. Yes, partially from beads of sweat still left on his skin from wrapping a Men’s Health “Train Like” video, but more so because of some particularly electric professional news. Just hours before busting out a couple of hip thrusts, Prime Video announced that Red, White & Royal Blue, a romantic comedy based on the 2019 novel of the same name by Casey McQuiston, will be getting a well-deserved sequel. In the first film, Perez plays Alex Claremont-Diaz, the incredibly suave and slightly arrogant first son of the United States whose extreme disdain for Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), heir to the British throne, gradually morphs into a disaster-filled love affair between the two men.

The follow-up movie comes with no source literature, but original author Casey McQuiston and screenwriter Matthew Lopez will write the new script together. The unknown of it all is something the 32-year-old star finds more exciting than nerve-wracking.

“Casey even asked me, ‘I would love to hear where you see Alex going, because. you’ve lived with him for so long,” he recalls the author saying. “‘Though I created him, where do you think he would go next?'”

More to Alex’s story has yet to be written, and the same could be said of Perez himself—but things are looking promising. He’s made his rounds through awards season in the finest of suits, signed with an extremely notable talent agency, and continues to grow his already stacked, wildly loyal following (can everyone say 5.1 million?). It’s clear the 32-year-old is earning his place in Hollywood, slowly but surely, with his talent, yes, but also a charming smile and surprisingly quaffed hair—even post-workout.

Lounging back in gym clothes and high socks, Perez sat down with Men’s Health to talk about accurate LGBTQ+ on-screen representation, showing a little skin, and the power of fan-casting.

MEN’S HEALTH: What’s your ideal journey for Alex in Red, White & Royal Blue 2?

TAYLOR ZAKHAR PEREZ: I think Alex being a blue-collar kid in an extraordinary situation is the American dream, in a way. His father was brought to the United States when he was five, and then raised in Texas, and then wound up in the White House. Following Alex on this journey into his political career would be such an aspirational story, and inspirational to people that maybe don’t see themselves represented on TV.

MH: What in particular stands out about Red, White & Royal Blue‘s message to you?

TZP: I’ve seen a lot of poorly focused and not well executed queer films. And I watched more and more after I got cast in this and there was a clear distinction of what kind of movie I didn’t want to make.

The cool thing was that yes, these are two queer men, but the landscape is politics in the United States [and] politics in the United Kingdom. It’s less about self-acceptance, because these two guys are like, ‘Oh wow, okay, this is love, this is happening.’ And they’re into it and they’re open to it. But the issues come when you have the political landscape of what are the ramifications of The Crown, what are the ramifications of his mom’s second election if this comes out? I liked how it was less focused on them coming to terms with who they were, and more about the world and the repercussions of going public.

red white and royal blue

Jonathan Prime/Prime Video

MH: Is there anything about playing Alex that you can take with you to future roles?

TZP: It’s more about the reactions I’ve gotten from fans and audience members when they come up and tell me what Alex means to them. The weight of this character is a shadow in a way, but in a good way. And you know you’re making a difference in these people’s lives. You have to be a steward of that story when people stop and ask you about the role, and how much it means to them, and how they contemplated suicide before they read this book or before they saw this film, and there was no hope in their life until they saw this film. That’s been the most impactful thing for me.

MH: Nicholas referred to you as “Adonis” in a recent GQ UK interview, saying it was “difficult in some aspects” being compared to you. But I’m curious about you. It’s not an easy industry to be in, so what’s your approach to overcoming insecurities in both your personal and professional life?

TZP: I’ve been in L.A. for 14 years, and before that I was doing theater and going to castings and commercial auditions. And so there’s always that insecurity sitting in the room across from somebody you grew up watching on TV, and now you’re going up against them on a project. I think the more you understand that everybody brings their own special something to a scene, the more you can throw away that comparison. Because comparison kills everything.

I take my own advice that I give people, which is, ‘You’re here for a reason.’ They wouldn’t have cast you if they didn’t believe in you. It just takes one person; I’m the product of that. From those projects on Netflix that I did, it just took Joey King to have a camera read and be like, ‘I want him to be Marco.’ And Vince [Marcello] to say, ‘This is my Marco,’ as a director.

I saw this saying the other day: ‘Don’t listen to people who tell you no who don’t have the power to say yes.’ And I was like, ‘That is incredible.’

MH: That’s tattoo-worthy.

TZP: For real.

MH: You’ve got quite the following, and probably receive plenty of praise and positivity on a lot of your posts. But when did you realize it’s not always a good idea to dig through the comments section?

TZP: When I’m not doing press or when I don’t have something to share, I really stay off of it. It’s not downloaded on my phone. No TikTok, no Instagram. Comments are a scary place. But I will say the Red, White community is very supportive. If you can make fun of yourself, there’s not much someone can say that you haven’t already thought of yourself. And I lived like that growing up with seven siblings. Good luck getting out unscathed from a family function.

red white and royal blue

Jonathan Prime/Prime Video

MH: The conversation around queer men being the ones deserving to play queer characters is ongoing. But that conversation seems to get muted when the actors do it right. What do you think was right about Red, White & Royal Blue?

TZP: Cate Blanchett said something, ‘We must fight to the death to suspend disbelief.’ And that just always stuck with me, because if you’re watching a film and there’s nothing outside the room that matters, the actors are doing their jobs.

Nicholas was just asked the other day about his sexuality, and I just find it so rude. It’s unprofessional and no one’s business. That’s someone’s personal life.

And so I’m grateful to be part of a project where, yes, it is a love story, but again, it’s not the sole focus. These people have robust, full lives. They’re educated. Alex is in law school. Henry is crazy smart and he’s a prince, and his sense of duty is unparalleled. The less people focus on sexuality and see what these people are capable of, that’s when we’ve created real change.

MH: I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t bring up that you’re no stranger to on-screen nudity: prosthetic work in Minx, a little butt action in Red, White & Royal Blue.When you know those scenes are coming, what’s the key to shaking those nerves? Or were you always comfortable in your skin?

TZP: Oh, no. I was not comfortable in my skin growing up. I always had these long eyelashes, and everyone always like, ‘Oh, he’s so pretty.’ And as a young man, that’s not what you want to hear.

When I got to Los Angeles, I can’t do anything half-assed, so I was like, ‘Okay, I just want to be in shape.’ Consistency is key with anything you do, but especially with working out, so I try to work out five days a week. Maybe do some kind of pilates on a weekend or mountain bike riding, surfing, so I know my body is always ready.

When I see a character breakdown, like with Shane from Minx, where it’s a prosthetic and partial nudity, I thought the role was just hysterical. And he was such a dumb-dumb. If it’s not gratuitous nudity, I’m down for it. If it makes sense, and it’s authentic, and true to the character and the scene given circumstances, then I’m 100% in.

MH: The internet loves some good fan-casting, and people seem desperate to see you saving the world as a superhero. Is there a specific role in the genre you think you could thrive in?

TZP: Wolverine has always been one of those characters for me, because Logan is such a dynamic guy, and he has such a deep, tortured past that I love. He was my favorite character growing up.

I would love to be in the X-Men world, 100%. Something with an edge, a darker edge—I’m definitely leaning into that. Something that kind of subverts everything I’ve been doing.

MH: Fans also seem to really want you in the adaptation of A Court of Thorns and Roses.

TZP: I’ve heard. I actually just read a couple of the books. My niece is on TikTok, and she’s like, ‘Uncle Taylor, they want you to play..’ Rhysand?

MH: Yep, that guy.

TZP: I think it was supposed to be in development with Hulu. But I would love to see where that character goes, because in the first book he’s not that big of a role, and then in the second book he becomes more involved. And I’ve never been in a fantasy project.

Never say never. I think fan-casting is cool. Me and Nick are the kings of adaptations.

MH: We’ve talked a bunch about potential roles in the future. What’s a role that got away?

TZP: I auditioned for Babylon. And that was sick, because I have so much respect for Damien Chazelle. I was really excited about that one.

At that time in my life, everything was so exciting, because I hadn’t been exposed to the projects I got to do at the level I got to do them. And at the time, losing a guest star on a TV show was a lot. That was just tough, formative years of sweat equity to get into the business.

MH: From where you are right now, how do you want to see your career play out from here?

TZP: I really love Matt Damon and his career, and I want to do stuff like he has. I love him in all of his Bourne films, and then he does projects like Air, or others based on true stories. They’re uplifting, and you see a bit of yourself in that character.

I want people to see a bit of themselves in the characters I play. And I do like playing a normal kid in an extraordinary circumstance, because that’s what we all want to be. I want to inspire people to get out of their living room, away from that TV that they’re watching me on, and go explore the world and make a difference.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

preview for Red, White and Royal Blue - Official Trailer (Prime Video)

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