When his agent first sent him a copy of Casey McQuiston’s New York Times best-selling novel Red, White, and Royal Blue during the pandemic in 2020, Matthew Lopez initially thought he was being approached to adapt the story into a stage musical. But the award-winning playwright made his feature directorial debut with a vibrant and searingly romantic comedy, becoming Prime Video’s No.1 film globally last year in its premiere weekend.

Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter produced the film, and Lopez co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Ted Malawer. The story follows the public altercation between the son of the American President and Britain’s Prince Henry, which threatens to drive a wedge between U.S./Britain relations until the two are forced to stage a truce that sparks something unexpected. Taylor Zakhar Perez stars as America’s first son Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nick Galitzine as Prince Henry-Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor, and the film also features Rachel Hilson, Uma Thurman, and Clifton Collins Jr. Amazon MGM Studios has announced development on a sequel with Lopez returning to write the follow-up film.

Lopez is best known for writing the Tony award-winning Broadway play The Inheritance, inspired by the 1910 novel Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. He knew that the adaptation of Red, White, and Royal Blue would need to focus on Alex and Henry, both together and individually. He endeavored to watch hundreds of self-tapes to find the right actors to portray the central couple.  

“Both Taylor and Nick rose quickly to the top. There was something really special about them,” explains Lopez. “Taylor was the last person we saw, and I remember getting on Zoom… it took less than five minutes for us to know that we had found our pair.”

Awards Focus spoke with Lopez about combining characters from the novel, how he used the dock scene to change perspectives, the scene he is most proud of, and how he found magic with Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. 

Awards Focus: I want to start with when you first encountered the novel and how you came to adapt and direct the film.

Matthew Lopez: I first encountered the novel in early 2020, right before the pandemic. I had just opened The Inheritance on Broadway about two months before. I was looking for a movie to make, but I didn’t read Red, White and Royal Blue thinking I had found that movie. I read the book in like two days and just devoured it and fell madly in love. I quickly realized that I’d found the first film I wanted to make, and Greg Berlanti had the rights, and he was one of the producers of ‘The Inheritance.’ So, I reached out to him and told him I must make this film, and he said it was a little early, but interest has been noted. 

I remember thinking about it, and then almost a year went by. It wasn’t so much that I forgot about it, but I just sort of let it go. Sarah Schechter then reached out, and we started talking.  The prospect of making this came back to me and was pretty exciting. It was really those two characters, Alex and Henry, their love story, them as a couple, and them as individuals that sparked my imagination. 

AF: Was there ever a consideration of the novel being adapted into a different format other than film? 

Lopez: By the time I came on board, the project had been set up with Amazon as a feature. The funny thing was that my agent sent the book to me for a possible musical adaptation. That’s actually why I read it. So, by the time I came on board, the project was very well on the way in terms of the studio deciding that this would be a movie, and that’s how they were going to put it together. 

AF: I found the adaptation to be faithful to the novel, but a few impactful characters were missing, like Alex’s sister June. What propelled you to combine June and Nora into one character, and as Nora specifically? 

 Lopez: I had started working on the script with the assumption that June would be in the film. I had a conversation with Sarah Schechter where I said we could either have two roles for two young women in which neither of them really has all that much to do, or we can have one role for one young woman who, every time she shows up, it’s an event, and she’s got great scenes. 

The decision really was that the only thing that matters is Alex and Henry. That’s all that matters insofar as all the other characters serve their story. That’s what I cared about. It was very clear that I couldn’t have both June and Nora in the film. I opted for Nora because I liked Alex being an only child in my version. I think it helped without the benefit of the narration to explain who Alex is. 

I’ve been very grateful that audiences find it a faithful adaptation because, along the way, you inevitably have to change, reframe, and condense the story. In the case of June and Nora, you composite them, and foremost in my mind was that this had to be an emotionally faithful adaptation. It’s a movie, and you can only fit so much into it. 

AF: The dock scene at Alex’s family home was beautiful, but it’s also shot in a way where we see Henry’s reaction rather than Alex talking and laying his soul bare. How did you conceptualize that scene and your visual style as a director? 

Lopez: That scene is a perfect example of a slightly altered adaptation in the book. In the novel, the scene takes place at night, and they’re in the water, not on a dock. I was in pre-production, thinking that I didn’t want to shoot this scene at night. I also didn’t want to shoot this scene in England in the water because these guys will freeze to death. 

There was nothing about how the scene appeared in the novel that felt appealing in terms of how you actually make it. And most importantly, I can get over my own personal discomfort, but I knew it would impact their performance. I always knew it was about Henry when we started structuring the script. I described it as Alex’s point of view for the first two-thirds of the film, and then the point of view switches, and it becomes Henry’s. The looking glass for us is Henry jumping in the water, which was actually scripted very early on. 

Once we got to that scene, I was talking to our cinematographer, Stephen Goldblatt, about how everything needed to deliver that idea. We filmed it, and then I cut it in such a way that it’s first about Henry, but it’s about Alex taking action at the beginning. He comes onto the raft, and he starts the scene in motion. It’s the dynamic that we’re used to. As we were filming it, I was actually interested in Nick, and it was the first scene in the film where I favored Nick over Taylor in terms of not having a 50/50 coverage. I didn’t answer on Taylor’s coverage. I was getting Nick and that beautiful shot that Stephen had with this crane skimming over the water and getting in so tight on Nick’s face. We were watching this take, and I knew that we had what I needed.

I love the way we had such great operators because even on such a long lens, we could follow Nick as he sat up. I’m very proud of that scene as a filmmaker because it does exactly what I knew I needed to do in that moment and the sudden handoff from Alex to Henry in terms of who’s driving the story. That’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the film. 

AF: That dock scene was an emotional punch to watch, but then you get that tender scene in the museum when Henry and Alex dance together and hold each other. What was that moment like to shoot with both Taylor and Nick? 

Lopez: [laughs] That was another one of my favorite nights. We filmed that overnight at the Victoria and Albert Museum from around 10:00 PM. It was Summertime, so we only had a sliver of nighttime before the sun would rise. It was beautiful because it was the full crew, but it was just those two characters together. The scene has very little dialogue, and it is just a lot about the visuals. One of the limitations we had was that the museum wouldn’t let us bring in any lights, so we had to light the scene with the existing lighting in the museum. Stephen discovered that this beautiful directional light was on the arc, so he brought down all the lights, the ambient light around it, and bumped up the lights on the artwork. 

We filmed so much of that in shadow because we had no choice. But then we realized what was really fascinating was that Alex and Henry went to this place to hide, and they were in the shadows. I remember Stephen putting on a blue filter as we were shooting it, and there was just something really magical about that night. It was just this simple, delicate scene that we had to film before the sun rose at four-thirty in the morning. 

AF: You also had two wonderful actors who grounded this relationship. What was that casting search like, and were there many different chemistry reads and combinations you were trying before deciding on Taylor and Nick? 

 Lopez: I remember I was watching hundreds and hundreds of self-tapes for both roles. It was one of these situations where I wanted to watch them all. Both Taylor and Nick just rose so quickly to the top. There was something really special about them. We found Nick first, and he did a series of chemistry reads with several different young guys. Taylor was the last person we saw; I remember getting on Zoom. Taylor was in LA, and Nick was in New Orleans making ‘Bottoms.’ It took us less than five minutes to know we had found our pair.

I remember taking my phone out and putting it under the camera range, and I just texted Sarah Schechter and said, we’ve got ’em. It’s funny because they thought they were still auditioning for the parts, but I had an hour of their time, so I started rehearsing. We just started playing, and I wanted to test them to see what they could do. We got very, very fortunate with the two of them together. Individually, they’re so special, but when you put them together, they make magic.