Afternoon tea requires a level of decorum. But in a South Kensington hotel so posh there’s no sign outside, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine gleefully ignore the unspoken rules of etiquette when the latter pulls out his phone.
“I need to find this video!” Galitzine says, feverishly swiping his screen. “I’m sorry, it’s my favourite video on TikTok.”
The two star in the new film Red, White & Royal Blue, an Amazon Prime adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s absurdly popular novel about a clandestine romance between Prince Henry of Wales, played by Galitzine, and Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the president of the United States, played by Zakhar Perez. Given the international nature of the story, we’ve been talking about accents – specifically, about whether Galitzine, who is British, had to adopt a more aristocratic inflection – when he turned the question around. “Are you Scottish?” he asked. (I am.) The revelation ignited something in his brain, and soon he was scouring TikTok.
Galitzine is practically vibrating when he finally finds his prized clip. In it, two enraged young Scots lose it when a countryman claims that they pronounce “pie” as “peh.” “SHUT YOUR MOUTH, I HATE YEEEH!” one guy yells, face vermillion. It’s so, so dumb. It’s also hilarious.
Zakhar Perez, 31, and Galitzine, 28, fold over and giggle, far too occupied to realise that the phone is on full blast in a tiny room filled with rich tourists. A group of suited Italians not-so-quietly mumble their annoyance from the next table, and Galitzine quickly offers an embarrassed apology.
Eschewing the rules of polite society here is particularly apropos. Red, White & Royal Blue is a featherlight rom-com on the surface, featuring two main characters secretly navigating the ups and downs of dating on the world’s largest political stage – but it’s also about two men breaking free from the suffocating, heteronormative moulds of the old establishment.
And if social media offers any clues, there’s a rapt audience ready for this kind of adaptation. Since the novel’s release in 2019, Red, White & Royal Blue has remained one of BookTok’s biggest literary obsessions (#redwhiteandroyalblue had close to 200 million views at the time of publication). Zakhar Perez says he finished the book; Galitzine says he did not. “Ultimately, the script is the Bible,” he reasons.
When auditioning for their roles, Galitzine read with other prospective Alexes, never quite finding a rhythm. But when they met over Zoom for a chemistry read, it was instant fireworks. Director Matthew López noticed their spooky chemistry right away. When the actors first got together in person to rehearse, López recalls leaving them alone. “I came back about 10 minutes later and they were the best of friends already,” he says. “It was like they had known each other all their lives.”
Zakhar Perez – “the quintessential tall, dark, and handsome dude,” according to Galitzine – is wearing jeans and a white long-sleeve shirt below a head of perfectly coiffed brown locks. Galitzine mirrors his colour palette, but with a T-shirt and a baseball cap hiding his blond hair. On and off set, the pair would bond by turning every little thing into a low-stakes contest: competing over silly minutiae like who’s really taller (“Alex is supposed to be shorter in the book, and then this little shit comes in at six foot two!” Galitzine says) or who could finish their scene in the fewest takes.
Up close and in person they are waves of chaotic energy bouncing off each other. (“It is kinda like water when we’re together,” Zakhar Perez says.) They tease each other relentlessly. They push each other. They finish each other’s sentences and bicker like an old married couple. Wind them up and off they go.
“I don’t like Nick,” Zakhar Perez jokes. “But I respect him.”
“Mine’s the other way!” Galitzine counters. “I don’t respect your game, but I do like you very much.”
Galitzine arrived for tea on crutches, nursing a foot he injured on the London set of his next project, Mary & George, a spicy period drama about Mary Villiers, Countess of Buckingham (played by Julianne Moore). “This job I’m doing now,” he begins to explain, “it’s set in Jacobean England, so you wear these amazing costumes, and it includes these small but fairly substantial heels. There’s this whole sequence where my character is publicly humiliated and he has to run and beat this kid up.”
As Galitzine ran, his elevated heel met the slippery floor, and it folded inwards. “I chipped the bone off my ankle,” he tells me. “Do you want to see a really gross video?” He gathers us around his phone to watch pus squirt out of an abscess the size of a strawberry. “That’s what you get for doing your own stunts.”
“It is what it is, babes,” Zakhar Perez says, sinking into protective mode, his body turned at a 45-degree angle toward Galitzine with his arm slunked across the back of his chair.
Both actors had taken circuitous routes to get to where they are. Zakhar Perez had a busy childhood, growing up with five sisters and two brothers in Chicago. “I hosted Christmas two years ago,” he remembers. “Everybody got Covid, someone had lice, someone had strep. Somebody stepped on a rusty nail on the beach and had to get a tetanus shot. It was biblical.” Dad had loaded aspirations for his kids: one should be a doctor, one should be a lawyer, says Zakhar Perez, who was, at one point, his parents’ dream of a high achiever – he swam competitively for 10 years and spent his weekends under cars changing tyres at the family-run garage. (“I’ve detailed enough cars to know that I don’t enjoy it.”) One school offered him a swimming scholarship, but he ended up going to UCLA where he studied biology. The plan was to pursue a career in dermatology.
Except it wasn’t what he wanted.
“It killed my dad for a long time,” he says. “I guess a lot of my choices may [have].” Growing up, he had spent one December slouched in a community theatre watching his sister perform in Annie something like 30 times. This inspired Zakhar Perez to eventually pursue acting himself. “If I keep living for people in the past, I’m never going to grow and move forward,” he adds.
Galitzine’s origins weren’t too dissimilar. His mother emigrated from Greece and the family put roots down in west London's Hammersmith. A burgeoning career in rugby left him feeling similarly unfulfilled. “I grew up in a very masculine world,” he says, “but I was a very feeling young man.”
Galitzine got his first taste of acting at 18, when he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, starring in a mismarketed version of Spring Awakening. “It was called Rites: A Children’s Tragedy,” he says. “Which was very problematic because we kept having children come to the show, and we were like, ‘This is not for kids.’ ” Galitzine was eager to do more. But he says acting strained his relationship with his pragmatic parents, who “were so terrified of the industry.”
They didn’t have to worry for long. By his early 20s, Galitzine began booking film roles and last year starred in Netflix’s madly viral military drama Purple Hearts. Zakhar Perez likewise made his name playing the love interest in a soppy but huge Netflix romance, starring as the third corner of the love triangle in The Kissing Booth franchise.
As Zakhar Perez puts it bluntly, the two of them are quintessential “Netflix summer dudes.”
“The fuck does that mean?” Galitzine interjects.
“You want me to say heartthrob?” Zakhar Perez argues. “We’re both heartthrobs.”
“Hey listen, you said it. I would never call myself a heartthrob.”
And yet the label fits. The two of them are all chiselled jaws and piercing eyes – Disney princes incarnate.
Galitzine’s own Prince Henry manifests as a sort of murky fictional blend between the real-life princes William and Harry – a stoic people’s prince who eventually fights against the system he was born into. “One of my great fears is being misunderstood,” says Galitzine. “Henry has to live with that every day…. It just felt like a beautiful story: someone who’s largely pretended to be someone else their whole life, and then this other person completely obliterates their worldview.”
To play that other person, Alex Claremont-Diaz, the ambitious and tempestuous son of the United States’ first female president (played by Uma Thurman), Zakhar Perez drew inspiration from The West Wing, locking in on Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborn, the White House’s idealistic but flawed deputy
communications director. “I think he’s probably who Alex would want to be,” says Zakhar Perez.
As our tea gets cold and our time draws to a close, we quickly touch on what it was like to film Red, White & Royal Blue’s more intimate scenes. To fight the awkwardness of being surrounded by the film crew, Zakhar Perez and Galitzine would whisper jokes and try to make the other one crack up. “There’s a playful teasing that never veered into anything nasty, which was a lovely dynamic to be a part of,” says Robbie Taylor Hunt, the film’s intimacy coordinator. “But also they just treated each other like colleagues and co-creatives in a really nice, collaborative way.”
“There’s so much choreography to sex… ual scenes,” Zakhar Perez says, laughing, recounting the sheer amount of time and energy (and the occasional inflatable mattress) that went into rehearsals. “It’s a crazy thing to be intimate in that way with your friend,” says Galitzine. “And we want people to fall in love with these characters, because their love has to be real.”
“Our guards were down during the rehearsals,” Zakhar Perez adds. But as soon as someone would yell “Cut”? “One of us would say something stupid, like, Get off me!”
Photographs by Josh Wilks
Styled by Martin Metcalf
Grooming (for Taylor Zakhar Perez) by Bjorn Krischker at The Wall Group using SOHO SKIN and Sebastian Professional
Grooming (for Nicholas Galitzine) by Paul Donovan using Patricks
Tailoring by Joel Ryan
Produced by Bijal Shah