The INTO Interview

How Matthew López Brought ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ to the Silver Screen

· Updated on October 4, 2023

*Photo credit: Prime Video

It was announced in 2019 that nonbinary author Casey McQuiston’s (they/them) novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, would be given the live-action adaptation treatment, with gay super producer Greg Berlanti behind the production. The sugary sweet, queer romance novel follows Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the United States President (Uma Thurman), and the UK’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), as they go from enemies, to fake friends, to real lovers. Two years after Red, White & Royal Blue’s movie announcement, Tony Award winner Matthew López was tapped to direct and co-write the film alongside Ted Malawer. 

With this being López’s directorial debut, naturally he’d want to make a great first impression in the director’s seat. Not to mention, fans of the book were waiting with bated breath to see if the live-action adaptation would live up to the impact that the novel created. But it seems like he did just fine, with critics raving about Red, White & Royal Blue. Now, the wait is over for adoring fans, and Red, White & Royal Blue is available for everyone to enjoy.

Ahead of Red, White & Royal Blue’s debut, INTO sat down with López as he discussed Taylor and Nicholas’ electric chemistry, how he used his theater experience to fuel his directorial decisions, and why hopeful stories are important, now more than ever. 

What was your biggest goal with your directorial debut?

It was a simple one. I needed to bring Alex and Henry’s story to life in a way that made audiences feel the same way they did when they read the book. I needed to translate the feelings of the book into the film, knowing that inevitably there were going to be changes. I like to think of this as an emotional adaptation, an emotional translation, and really also just sort of the goal of really doing right by Casey, as it concerns their characters, the world that they created, and the reason why this book is so beloved. I can speak for Casey, who I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the last week or so, and I know that Casey is a big fan of the movie too.

When was the moment where you realized Red, White & Royal Blue’s stars, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicolas Galitzine, had electric chemistry.

Quite honestly, from the very first moment I got them together, it was instantaneous. I knew that they were both individually so perfect for their roles, and I was really excited about them, but I knew I didn’t have a movie until I knew what kind of chemistry they had. From the second they got on this Zoom together, because we were all in different cities, it was just there. It was electric, it was fun, it was playful, it was teasing. I remember, at one point, they started riffing and ad-libbing together and they were able to keep up with one another. They were having fun and it was fun watching them have fun together. And I think that a lot of what you see on the screen is them playing together. They are two actors who really enjoyed combat, messing each other up and supporting one another. They trusted one another and you could see that from the very beginning.

The blocking in the film is reminiscent of practices within theater, like in Alex and Henry’s texting scene or the New Year’s Eve dance sequence. What were other theater experiences that you brought to Red, White & Royal Blue.

Well, you definitely mentioned the texting thing, which is the big challenge that I had. I was like, “How do I deliver a texting sequence that was interesting?” It would get very boring very quickly just to see a bunch of text messages on screen. In The Inheritance, for example, I have people texting each other or talking on the phone with each other, and they’re not buried in their phones. They speak the texts aloud, and the audience just sort of accepts that they’re not speaking, they’re actually texting. 

But the conventions of theater allow you to do that and I thought, “Well, why not just see if that’ll work in film?” Let’s give them something that’s not really accurate to the way of reality, but that is sort of a gesture that we can make fun and interesting. It worked and we got to put some lovely little graphics on the screen and have a lot of fun with it.

There’s also that scene where they get on the phone together, and I was just like, “I don’t want to do split screen. I don’t want to have one in one room and one in the other. I don’t want to have to cut back and forth between the two of them. I just want to get these two wonderful actors who work so well together in the same frame and the audience will understand” And they do. You never should ever underestimate your audience.

I know from my experience in the theater that there’s no substitute for two actors doing a scene together and really finding a rhythm. So one of the big challenges that I gave to Stephen Goldblatt, my director of photography, is “How many scenes can we just put the two actors in the frame together and let them do the scene?” Let’s find dynamic ways of moving the camera so it isn’t static, so that it doesn’t look like a play. We don’t cut away. It’s just them and that’s it. It was a gamble and it really paid off. The reason we could do it is not just [because of] Taylor and Nick, but everybody in the movie is so good that we really had a lot of great fun just letting the actors go crazy.

With over 490 anti-LGBTQ+ bills popping up within the United States, why do you feel that Red, White & Royal Blue is more important than ever for the LGBTQ+ community?

Look, I think that you should never underestimate the power of hope. Hope is often not enough. Hope has to then be married with action, but action without hope is pointless. So, it absolutely has to begin with hope and with dreaming. There is something powerful about seeing queer characters have happy endings. There is something powerful about seeing the first female president who knows about PrEP and HPV vaccinations, right? Is it a fairy tale? Probably. But why do we tell, read, and consume fairy tales? Because it’s our fondest hopes and wishes.

Is it a fairy tale that one young, biracial, bisexual, Mexican-American millennial can turn Texas blue? Yeah, probably. But who wouldn’t want to spend 2 hours watching that story? So I think that it is possible to live in the world and understand the reality of the world, as it currently is, and allow ourselves to escape and to dream. There’s nothing wrong with that. And I think that there is actually some positive that could come from living in hope and hearing hopeful stories.♦

Red, White & Royal Blue is available now on Prime Video. 

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