In 'Red, White & Royal Blue,' a director centers true queer intimacy on screen
It all starts with a royal wedding and catastrophic cake smash.
What ensues is an enemies-to-lovers romance between Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the U.S. president, and a British royal, Prince Henry. That's the plot of the new Amazon Studios movie, Red, White & Royal Blue, that's now streaming on Prime Video.
It is a screen adaptation of Casey McQuiston's bestselling novel of the same name, published in 2019. It's also the directorial debut of Matthew López, the first Latine to win a Tony award for best play, for his play The Inheritance.
López told All Things Considered host Juana Summers that he was captivated by the main characters after reading the novel.
"For me, especially Alex, you know, I'm a queer Latine, biracial son of the South, and so is he," López said. "I had never encountered a book before that had a character like him at the center, and it really just made all of my imagination, you know, light up."
López also spoke about the challenge of adapting a popular book to the screen; how his own life influenced his approach to the story; and the importance of showing queer intimacy on the screen.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juana Summers: Look, I have to tell you, I am a huge fan of romance books, and oftentimes when I read them, I feel like I'm kind of scripting my own movie in my head. I'm envisioning what the leading characters look like, the way their voices sound, the soundtrack that plays as they're interacting, and I know I'm not the only person who reads these books that way.
And that, I think, is one of the things that can make tackling a movie adaptation really tricky. Like, can the movie that a director and a cast are building ever live up to this incredible thing that I've created in my head? How did you approach that with a book like this one that's the source material, that has just been so beloved by so many fans?
Matthew López: I think you really identified it with your question, because every reader of a novel is a film director while they're reading the book. They have control over everything: costume, design, casting. As you're reading a book, it's your little movie in your head. And with a book as popular as this one, you've got millions and millions of people with their own version of it in their head. And then there's one person who makes the movie, right?
The high wire act that I was engaged in is, "How do I take a very popular bit of literature and make a movie of it?" And the answer I really came to was, I have to make the movie that is inside my head. I have to make the movie that is personal to me. I have to make the movie that I'm capable of making — my response to the book, in many ways.
Summers: You've talked a good deal about how much you immediately were drawn to and related to Alex's character, but do you see shades of yourself or were there parts of your own story that inspired the way that you think about Henry?
López: You know, growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s, my experience was a lot more like Henry's than it was Alex's. Alex's story is kind of only possible right now, and it's not something that I had in my life growing up. I knew what it was like to pretend I was something I'm not. I knew what it was like to believe that if I wasn't this thing in the world, that I believe that I'm supposed to be, I would be letting down my family; that I would be out of step with the nation. So even though Alex demographically and sort of personally checks a lot of boxes for me, in my experience, the pain of being a young queer kid in the 1980s and '90s is really reflected very strongly for me in Henry's story. It is what allowed me to access Henry. I think in some ways, Henry represents my past, and Alex represents my present and my future.
Summers: I can't have this conversation with you without talking about the intimacy of this film and the way that it depicts intimate moments in sex. I mean, there's one scene that I'm thinking about in particular. It's when Henry and Alex are in Paris, and it feels personal and sensual and not at all contrived, and I don't know if in any other romantic comedy that I've watched, that I've seen a sex scene between two men portrayed in that way. I'd just love to talk with you a bit about how you approached as a director depicting their physical relationship.
López: That scene in Paris was something that we discussed from the very beginning of the process. It was the scene that I told the studio and the producers that if they hired me, they were gonna get, and that if they didn't want that scene to be in the movie, they should find another filmmaker. It was a big bluff, but it worked! I had never seen in mainstream studio finance movies, a scene between two men, of love and communion, that reflected the way I as a gay man have sex. I wanted to show a scene of two characters genuinely making love and having a night that is life changing. But I also wanted to show a scene that quite simply made logical physical sense to anyone watching the scene who has had this kind of sex before.
I do think that the difference between a romantic comedy and a love story is sort of that scene, and when we talked about where that scene falls in the film, I was telling the studio and the producers that that's the moment the romantic comedy ends and the love story begins, and it's almost through the looking glass.
And as a result of that scene, we are now in a different storytelling mode and we are in love story mode and that energy carries us. There are still tons of laughs, hopefully, through the movie, but we understand and we care about the characters in a very different way after that scene.
Summers: One of the things that I really loved when I watched this movie is the fact that even though there were parts of it that were hard and complicated, it was incredibly hopeful and optimistic at a time where for some of us it can be challenging to find that joy. What do you hope that people take away from this movie when they see it?
López: I hope people remember what it feels like to believe in their ability to change the world through the simple act of being themselves. There is a power to fairytales, which is why fairytales are one of the earliest forms of storytelling, because they are our fondest hopes and wishes set within a framework that we can understand that the world is perfected in fairytales, because that's possible, because we cannot often perfect the world on our own.
But they are reflections of our hopes and they are reflections of our desires. And so we now live in an age where we know that our hopes and desires are something that we can achieve. But we always have to keep telling ourselves stories in order to remember what our hopes and our desires are. So yeah, I hope people watch this movie and are thoroughly entertained. If people watch this movie and just say, "That was so much fun," that's enough for me. But if people also watch this movie and say, "That made me remember why I love politics; that movie made me remember why I used to volunteer for campaigns; that movie made me remember that I actually have some agency in the world;" well, that's a good thing too.
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