Joey King and Taylor Zakhar Perez on Choosing Family Over Work and Why ‘Red White & Royal Blue’ Is ‘So Steamy’ and Game-Changing: A ‘Kissing Booth’ Reunion

“Do you want to sit on me?” Joey King asks Taylor Zakhar Perez as he walks on set for their photo shoot

Published Time: 10.06.2024 - 19:31:38 Modified Time: 10.06.2024 - 19:31:38

“Do you want to sit on me?” Joey King asks Taylor Zakhar Perez as he walks on set for their photo shoot. Well, it is called “Actors on Actors.” Zakhar Perez strikes a pose, and for the next 20 minutes, the “Kissing Booth” co-stars (who’ve since become best friends) pal around, pulling silly faces and contorting themselves into surprisingly sultry positions on top of and underneath the Victorian dinner-party set.

King and Zakhar Perez offer a window into their unique world as they sit down to discuss their latest roles — Emmy-nominated King portraying a young Jewish woman whose family is torn apart by the onset of World War II in the Hulu miniseries “We Were the Lucky Ones” and Zakhar Perez as the son of the U.S. president who finds love with a British prince, played by Nicholas Galitzine, in the rom-com “Red, White & Royal Blue” for Prime Video.

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JOEY KING: If you don’t know much about “The Kissing Booth 2” and “3,” Taylor and I have some elaborate dance numbers, so we really got to know each other while doing rehearsals. I remember you asked me a question in the middle of filming — “Do you normally stay friends with people that you work with? Or do you get really close to them on set, and then you just don’t talk to them very much afterwards?”

TAYLOR ZAKHAR PEREZ: Valid question.

KING: It was a sweet question because I felt like the subtext was like, “Are we going to be friends after this?” And I told you, “It depends.”

ZAKHAR PEREZ: It does depend. But we were together; we had rehearsals and then went to South Africa for five months.

“Kissing Booth” was my first major project, with an incredible No. 1 on the call sheet. I’m going to say it: You lead a set in a way that makes everybody feel comfortable. You raise the energy levels, and people want to come to work. You were my intensive on how to lead. You’ve become a sister to me, but also, you’re a role model and a mentor on how I want to be. I take it with me on every set I go to. It sounds corny, but you totally inspired me.

KING: That is so sweet of you to say. You’re being nice to me for once. Is it because there are cameras around?

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Did I say all that right?

KING: Yeah, I told you to write that down last night. You said it pretty much word for word. Just a little tweak here and there.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: I added some spice to it.

KING: Let’s take that back again. But I really appreciate it. I’ve worked with people who aren’t as kind or don’t lead with grace. I’ve learned from both positive and negative experiences what kind of person I hope to be. When I’m working on something I’m really excited about, and I have lovely people like yourself around me, it’s just easy to be … I mean, it’s always easier to be nice than to be an a-hole.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Yeah. What is it? You attract more bees with honey?

KING: Should we just speak in idioms the whole interview? But I’m trying to be a big girl and take the compliment.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Take the compliment!

KING: Also, you and I don’t talk about serious things ever. What made you know you wanted to be an actor?

ZAKHAR PEREZ: “Saturday Night Live” lit my fuse because I grew up with seven siblings, and we would watch it as kids. We would watch Chris Farley, Dana Carvey, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey — the greats — and we would reenact it on Sunday morning after breakfast.

KING: That makes sense to me, because as someone who’s worked with you, you have a knack and innate joy for comedy. You have such good comedic timing. You come from a very large family; where do you fall in your siblings in terms of birth order?

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Number six of eight. My family is in pods — the oldest three, a middle two and then a youngest three. So I was raised to be an oldest for my younger two siblings. My sister Kristy, who passed away last year, was 44. She was 12 years older than me.

KING: I’m so sorry about your sister. She was so amazing and such a bright light.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: She loved you. You guys had very similar qualities — just loving, caring, always accepting. She was the glue that kept our family together.

It was hard doing “Red, White & Royal Blue” — and I’m going to start crying — knowing that she didn’t get to see it. My director, Matthew López, was like, “Do you mind if I put ‘For Kristy’ at the end of the film?” That blew my mind, that somebody was so thoughtful to think of my family in our time of need and mourning. We’re coming up on a year, and it’s tough. In the creative world, people throw themselves into projects to forget or to soothe themselves.

KING: To distract.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: I was like, “I can’t do that. I need to be with my family.” I’ve been with my family this past year.

KING: I think that’s the right way. The hard thing about our industry, and our country in general, is the more you work, the better. Sometimes people forget that tending to your real life is the most important thing.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: You’ve taught me that. You’re so grounded with your family. I could text, call, FaceTime your mom, and she’d be there for me. Growing up in Los Angeles and starting when you’re 4 — you’ve seen the track record with actors, and you are an anomaly. How do you keep that groundedness?

KING: Talking about the trajectory that a lot of child actors have gone down, and the tragedy of it, it’s really sad, because the statistics aren’t great. My friend Phoebe Dynevor worked with an actor recently who said something very wise: “In order to have an extraordinary career, you must prioritize an ordinary life.” That quote contextualized a feeling that I’ve always had: It’s really easy to get distracted by the exciting things that present themselves in our industry, but you also have to tend to the things that really matter. So my family, my husband, my husban -

d’s family — all these people that surround my life — is the world I want to tend to.

You visited me in Romania, where we were filming “We Were the Lucky Ones” for seven months. I was so appreciative. I missed you so much, and I was so happy you came.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: It was a heavy time. I remember it was winter, January, just freezing, and thinking of you there was tough. But also the subject matter that you were in. When I showed up, I was like, “Jo, are you OK? Because you’ve lost a lot of weight.”

KING: I got very, very, very thin for that show because my character is a Jewish woman passing as an Aryan woman. At the beginning of the war, they’re living off rations. And then the access to food is so limited.

We were trying to be as smart and safe about it as possible, but we were trying to be mindful that the responsibility we have to this story is so immense. The least we can do is find discomfort where it’s necessary. We’re not actually going through the Holocaust; we’re portraying a family that is. At the end of the day, we should feel uncomfortable when doing these scenes that require such heavy emotion. But filming the show was one of my proudest accomplishments. I’m just so honored that I got to portray this real-life woman, Halina Kurc, who’s just a miraculous human being.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: She’s a hero. It’s a family of heroes.

KING: It’s a family of heroes who didn’t see themselves that way. Who were just trying to fight for survival, to see each other again and to keep each other alive. It’s amazing.

I’m sitting here zooming out right now and looking at this, the fact that we’re here discussing the show. It’s exciting. I’m so grateful. I’m very, very proud.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: It’s hard to zoom out though.

KING: It is hard to zoom out, but it’s special. I’m sure you find this too — it’s hard to slow down and realize the moments that are big and soak them in. “Red, White & Royal Blue” was a huge movie for you. You were working with Uma Thurman. How cool is that?

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Working with Uma, I was hyped. I was really nervous, but I was ready. She’s such a powerhouse, and she lets you play. When it’s not her coverage and it’s on you, she does different things to get different reactions out of you.

KING: I love that. That’s so considerate. I want to talk about the scene where your character, Alex, and Prince Henry kiss for the first time. She fans herself.


KING: I was sitting in bed kicking my feet and giggling under the covers, because I had to rewind that scene about 14 times to see you say, “Shut up, stop talking,” grab him and kiss him. So steamy, so sexy. This movie is huge for the LGBTQ community, and that’s a big responsibility. What does that feel like?

ZAKHAR PEREZ: It was such a great responsibility. And Nicholas and I both had that weight on our shoulders knowing that this film is for the community. But it’s amazing that it’s universal for everybody to watch, which I think is new in queer cinema because …

KING: As it should be. It should be for everyone’s consumption. It should be more normal to see this on-screen.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Growing up, I never watched any queer cinema. It just wasn’t there. Rewatching it the other day — finally being able to remove myself from the equation and stop judging the acting and the continuity, and watching it like a giddy kid: Wow! What a positive representation of love on-screen.

KING: You were telling me the other day about how you hate watching yourself kiss and do the sexy scenes. Tell me more.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: My shoulders just start to slowly rise and tense up when I’m watching myself. If like my butt’s in it, or I’m like naked …

KING: You’ve got a great butt.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: I’ll take that. So do you. There’s a TikTok going around where there’s a guy on a plane watching it.

KING: He’s watching the sex scene.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: It starts, and they get into it, and he just fast-forwards like eight minutes.

But back to your question. I’ve been stopped by a ton of people telling me how much this film means to them. So many people have come up to me and said, “This project changed my life. I almost killed myself before I read this book. I had suicidal thoughts before I watched this film.”

KING: That’s so heavy.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Similarly, with “We Were the Lucky Ones,” you have such a great responsibility to tell this story for the Kurc family. What has the response been?

KING: The response has been so overwhelmingly wonderful and positive. Georgia Hunter, the author of the novel, it’s about her family. I was nervous for them to see it. The characters represented on-screen are now deceased, but their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren, they’re all alive.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: Were they on set?

KING: Halina’s daughter, Anna, came to visit set, which was so sweet. She came up to me, stretched her arms out and said, “Mama!” I was so emotional because she didn’t have to do that. She has no idea what my performance is like, she doesn’t know me, yet she’s there basically embracing me with her words, being like, “I trust you with my mother’s story.”

I got to attend a screening that was the first time they’d seen it. I cried. What a moment — to be able to sit there with these wonderful people whose family survived the ultimate tragedy miraculously. So many people in their same predicament, who made all the quote-unquote “right moves” didn’t make it. It’s a miracle. To sit there with that beautiful bloodline in front of me was incredible.

ZAKHAR PEREZ: I have the chills again.

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