EXCLUSIVE: Matthew López, who won the Best Play Tony Award in 2020 for his drama The Inheritance, was at the BFI Imax theater in London’s Waterloo on Thursday night for the premiere of Prime Video’s romantic comedy feature Red, White & Royal Blue, which he directed and adapted from Casey McQuiston’s bestselling novel.
WGA member López stationed himself in a holding room inside the building, well away from the red carpet, because, he said, “I’m on strike as a screenwriter but not as a playwright and not as a director.”
His two stars Nicholas Galitzine (Purple Hearts, Cinderella) and Taylor Zakhar Perez (The Kissing Booth 3, Minx) were not in attendance. As members of SAG-AFTRA “they’re on strike,” López said.
After our conversation, the filmmaker made his way into the Imax auditorium and addressed the audience as director of the film. He noted Galitzine and Perez’s absence. ”They’re not here, of course, because they’re on strike,” he said. “And in solidarity we send our love to our actors, and you’ll see how amazing they are on the screen, and you’ll see how irreplaceable they are by AI.”
Backstage earlier, he lamented that a director being there “without actors and screenwriters is pretty pitiful. … “So we need to sort this strike out. We need to get a fair deal from the studios, and we need to get back to work.”
He stressed that “we want to get back to work, but we won’t go back to work until we have a fair deal. In the meantime, I am a playwright.”
When I sought permission to shoot his portrait, López shook his head.
”No, no, we’re not going to do that,” he politely informed me.
“I have made a personal decision that I don’t want my picture taken at the premiere because this isn’t really a premiere,” López said. “I’m keeping a low profile. I’m here as a director and I want to support the film and I have an obligation to support the film as a director, but I am first and foremost a writer.”
He added: “On the one hand, it’s very clear what my responsibilities are as a director, and it’s also very clear what my duties are as a striking writer. When this film releases and responsibilities as a director are over, I am purely a striking writer.”
What about, I suggested, a shot of the back of his head. Nodding his agreement, López turned around and presented his back.
Matthew Lopez agreed to turn his back to pose. (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Is this what’s it’s going to be like at the fall festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York and London?
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However, teams from Premier PR, Amazon and Concorde Media ensured that the Imax was packed. There were a few critics, wagon loads of influencers and folk I’d never seen before in my life.
I did spot broadcaster Paul Gambaccini and Alex Baley, head of marketing at the National Theatre. Baley’s building is next door to the BFI’s National Film Theatre on the Southbank nearby.
There were zero thespians.
A man and a woman were costumed in full-dress King’s Guard uniforms of red tunics and bearskins. They stood sentry in front of a Prime Video logo board. Guests were encouraged to snap photographs with them or in front of a stationary London cab.
Models attired as the King’s Guards at premiere (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
The press pen was empty. A security guard watched over it. He had excellent teeth. Could he be an actor between jobs? “Nah, mate. I just look after my knashers,” he explained.
Security guard on duty at empty press pen (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Observing the banter was Anthony Harvey, an agency photographer who’s usually to be seen with dozens of his colleagues. “There’d normally be about 40 of us at an event like this,” he reckoned.
Laughing, he said that the only place to find stars these days “is on the picket line.”
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Last week he was in the media scrum covering the London rally held by Equity in support of their SAG-AFTRA cousins. “Brian Cox and Hayley Atwell were there. It was great. There’s a big rally in L.A. at the weekend, and all the A-list stars are being bused in.
“Might jump on a plane and cover it,” he joked.
Lonely photographer Anthony Harvey (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)
Red, White & Royal Blue is about a romantic friendship that develops between Prince Henry (Galitzine), a British royal, with Alex (Perez), the son of a U.S. president (Uma Thurman). Clifton Colins Jr. plays the First Dad.
Casting was something “perfectly within my purview as a director. … I know the rules, don’t worry,” López assured.
He spent five months “auditioning hundreds of actors” searching for his two leads.
“I kept seeing them, then I’d go to other people. Then I’d go back to them. It was also important for me to see as many actors as possible … especially for the role of Alex.
“You don’t get many opportunities to cast a lead role in a studio film with a Latin actor, so I wanted to make sure that I saw everyone that I possibly could, mostly from the United States and throughout Latin America and Mexico,” the director and writer now relocated from New York to London told me. “I saw hundreds of guys for this role, which was heartening actually. It was Taylor, once I met Taylor. Then it was putting them together in a chemistry read and praying that they had chemistry.”
Both actors did their chemistry read on Zoom in different cities. ”Nick was in New Orleans and Taylor was in Los Angeles,” López said. “I was dubious as to whether or not this would work, but, I mean, if they had chemistry on Zoom, I’m assuming they’ll have chemistry on camera.”
Galitzine and Perez were off the charts, “and I can’t imagine the movie without them now.”
“One of the reasons I wanted to make this movie is because there was a American-Mexican lead and I wanted — I’m Puerto Rican, and like Alex in the film, I’m biracial. I have a white mother and a Puerto Rican father, and Alex has a white mother and a Mexican father.”
In theater, López has hit musical Some Like It Hot on Broadway and “productions of The Inheritance all over the world now.”
I was, and remain, a big fan of The Inheritance. I was lucky to have been on the judging panel for the Evening Standard Drama Award that gave López his first prize for best play.
Now, that was a terrific event. Packed red carpet, flashbulbs popping away, and every star in town was there.
Those were the days.