"I mean, on the face of it, it is rather silly," smiles Red, White & Royal Blue director Matthew López. "But you know fairy tales almost always sound silly."
GamesRadar+ is talking to the Tony Award-winning writer of The Inheritance who's behind Prime Video's highly anticipated adaptation of Casey McQuiston's book Red, White & Royal Blue. The film, which has a seriously dedicated online following, is finally due to hit the streaming platform on August 11.
But despite its popularity, López is not wrong – explaining the premise of this story is hard to do without a wry smile. It follows 'frenemies' Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the First Son of the United States of America, and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the second son of the British Royal Family, who are forced together following a rather public disagreement involving a lot of cake.
The sparks that they first assume are annoyance turn out to be chemistry as the men get to know each other and, who would have guessed it, fall in love. It's a surprisingly heartfelt story of reckoning with identity amidst prescriptive institutions, as well as being a romantic and steamy rom-com.
"There's something inherently ridiculous about fairy tales," López continues, with his passion for the genre very clear. "But I think there's also something incredibly fundamentally human about them and they actually represent our fondest hopes and desires. With this movie and this story, it's about challenging our old ideas about ourselves and the world we live in."
Young people in old buildings
That's what Red, White & Royal Blue is all about. Alex and Henry realize that while they're both from completely different backgrounds – and opposite sides of the Atlantic – they have a lot of similarities too. Alex desperately wants to be more involved in the reelection campaign for his mother (played by Uma Thurman in some inspired casting), while Henry feels trapped by the rules and duty of the monarchy.
Tackling these issues was something important from the start for López. "When we started to make this film, I always said to people, 'This is about young people in old buildings and this is about new ways of doing old things.' So, I think one of the things that makes the book so special to people is how, even when you are a Prince and when your mother is the President of the United States, you don't have to be the person you're told that you're supposed to be and you can be truthful to yourself. It's actually by being truthful to yourself that you can actually change the world. So, is it a fun, silly, lighthearted, escapist romantic comedy? Yes. Do I hope that people find something nourishing in it? Yes."
At the heart of creating that, naturally, was finding the perfect leads to be able to carry it off. "I went as far as telling my producers that if we don't find these actors, then we can't make the film," Lopez says of the "exhaustive process" of finding Purple Hearts star Nicholas Galitzine and The Kissing Booth's Taylor Zakhar Perez to play Henry and Alex.
While neither actor is a stranger to the rom-com genre, it was all down to their chemistry that crackled over Zoom (this was during the pandemic after all) in their first meeting. "I wasn't sure what we'd get because it was Zoom and not in person," López beams of his leading men. "They had chemistry from the beginning, from the moment they first said, 'Hello' and started to do their scene. They just started playing, inventing together, and riffing with each other."
This carried on to the set very naturally as well. "I think the smartest thing that either of them did was decide to trust each other. They're very different actors, each of them, and on set they worked so well together and they really supported each other."
There's no doubt it was an important casting decision, too because, well, Red, White & Royal Blue is something of a phenomenon. When the novel was first published in 2019, it shot up the New York Times Bestsellers list with reviews and readers alike praising its depiction of LGBTQ+ romance.
This following has only grown, with the excitement for the adaptation palpable (just take a look at the #RWRBMovie Twitter hashtag to see what I mean). So, no pressure then for the man to bring it to the big screen, right?
Well, Lopez laughingly admits he tries not to think about it because he'd "never even get out of bed" if he did. But, he adds, he has the advantage of knowing exactly what the fans want, because he's a huge one himself.
"The truth is that this is a movie that was actually made by a very big fan of the book, and I went to set every day with a bunch of people who were big fans of the book," López explains. "It wasn't just a job for many of us, we were really, really excited to be telling this story and it came from a place of passion. I knew if I didn't do a good job, I'd be letting down the number one fan of the book, which was me." He adds, taking a breath, "It was just enough pressure to give me petrol in my tank, but not enough to give me crippling anxiety."
Part of making sure this adaptation was right for those fans was making sure it does justice to the material, and in particular the physical side of Alex and Henry's relationship.
"Anybody who knows the book knows that in addition to their great banter and everything else, Alex and Henry have some pretty great sex and they really dig each other physically," López says. "To ignore that or to leave that out of the movie would not be to make this Red, White, & Royal Blue. So, I was very clear with everyone upfront. I said, 'This movie is going to be pretty sexy.'"
The final cut of the movie really leans into this, but Lopez does add that he's not sure the R-rating was entirely deserved. "I was never asked to tone things down to get a PG-13 rating," he continues candidly. "I mean, when we got the R-rating, I think on the one hand, I was a little surprised, but I was also not surprised. I did question whether or not if it had been a straight couple we would still have gotten an R-rating."
Lopez continues, "I fundamentally believe that the MPAA is really wrong-headed when it comes to sort of giving a pass to violence and really penalizing sex. I think they've got it the wrong way around on that. But no one at any moment in the process of making this film said to me, 'You need to tone this down so that it can be more palatable to a broader audience.' There was real support across the board for letting the movie be the movie that I wanted to make and letting Alex and Henry's sexual life together, be as full as I wanted."