Don’t let the smouldering good looks fool you – Taylor Zakhar Perez is way more than just a pretty face (and yes, it is a very lovely face indeed). As soon as he started speaking to me on the phone, Perez was a true gentleman (genuinely asking how my family was doing), gave lengthy cerebral answers to my interview questions, and even opened up about his relationship history (he used to date the daughter of a Toronto Blue Jays player). To be honest, our interview didn’t feel like an interview at all – more like two people getting to know each other – and that’s rare (and truly special) in today’s climate. He’s a scene stealer opposite Joey King in The Kissing Booth 2 and I can’t wait to see the work he does in the upcoming The Kissing Booth 3. The following is a condensed and edited version of my wonderful phone interview with Taylor Zakhar Perez.
Brief Take: Hi, Taylor! How has your quarantine time been going?
Taylor Zakhar Perez: It’s been as good as it can be. I’m lucky that I live up in the mountain area so it’s a bit more open and I’m able to get out a bit more, and I’m grateful for that. I was talking to someone recently about the importance of community. Usually you’re in touch with your digital social community and over the past four months, I feel, personally, that I’ve been reaching out more to family members and neighbours and seeing if anyone needs anything, if I can take their trash out, anything where I can be of service because it’s just so nice to give back to the community.
BT: Congratulations on The Kissing Booth 2 and now you can finally say that there’s a Kissing Booth 3!
TZP: Yes! Thank you. It’s so exciting. It was really hard to keep it secret during all the press before hand because I’m a very authentic, straight up person – I speak the truth. So it was really hard to keep it back because it was just so exciting! The second movie was just a bunch of fun and the third movie as well is going to be, I don’t want to say it’s even better, but there’s even more fun to come.
BT: Fans of the movie are really loving your portrayal of Marco. He’s romantic, athletic, a good listener and a good friend. What did you like best about playing him?
TZP: My favourite part about playing Marco was definitely that he’s a goofball, you know? He goes into this friendship with Elle after she’s commenting on his video all over the PA system, and you kind of just from the beginning feel this rivalry. Kind of a ‘will they or won’t they’ in a way but it’s kind of cute, very high school. Then you transition into them becoming dance partners and I think the coolest thing about Marco would be that he’s redefining friendship with the opposite sex. He is very respectful, wants to help her out, and they don’t really start falling for each other until just before the competition when you see them almost kiss. So I think there’s so much integrity to him, I think they both have that. She has a long-distance relationship, he knows she’s in a long-distance relationship but sometimes you just can’t fight the way you feel. Then there’s the big reveal at the end where she actually kisses him, that was very surprising, and also very surprising for Marco. And even more surprising for Noah (Jacob Elordi) who was in the audience!
BT: Was your high school experience like Marco’s?
TZP: [laughs] I love that question. No, it was not. Marco is really cool. I was not as cool as Marco. I did have a handful of friends and I was a swimmer so my life was getting up at five in the morning, going to the pool, going to school, and then going back in the pool, homework, then probably going to rehearsal at the theatre from seven to ten. So it was non-stop for me. I have seven brothers and sisters, I have a big family, so I had a bit of a little bit more of a busier, structured life than Marco does.
BT: You had mentioned that you want to harness that outpouring of love towards you on social media and use that platform to bring awareness to topics that are important to you personally. I know you recently wrote about the importance of voting but what other topics did you want to address on your social media channels?
TZP: Thank you for asking that, I love that. It’s really cool coming into this movie with Maisie (Richardson-Sellers) – her as a Black woman and me, my Mom is Mexican, and bringing in a bit more…I hate to use the word ‘diversity’ because I feel like now it feels like a checkbox, whether you have it or not. I feel like Vince (Marcello) did such a great job of weaving these two characters into this world effortlessly. Black, brown, white – these colours exist in every day life everywhere. We also have the LGBTQ+ representation in the film and that’s huge too. I was doing an interview earlier with a Black woman and she was saying “I’ve never seen a YA film that has one of the leads being a Black woman. That’s something I missed growing up.” For me, too, I think maybe I had, in 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s maybe one Latin actor in there, but it’s mostly white actors in the YA genre. So it’s awesome to see this inclusion and it being so normalized.
And yeah, voting is right around the corner. My cousin called me about that post and said “hey, I’m part of this coalition of getting people registered to vote”, and I said “I would love to be involved with that but I’d love for it to be non-partisan”, because I feel like that’s the only way for anyone to make their own decision. You can’t be leaning either way when you’re promoting a right that you are born with in this country. So she said “yes, we’re a non-partisan organization. We just want to activate people”. I think people need to start speaking up. People have been quiet for so long and it’s of utmost importance to speak your mind now. Not just speak to speak, but really take a stance on what you believe in, kind of like your credo in a way. Marco has his credo of “I just roll with things”, and Elle’s credo is kind of like “I don’t know what I want to be, but I know who I want to be”. I feel like the youth of the world need to start young and to take a position and know what they want, and not be persuaded by adults. Really take note on what’s going on in the news, what they believe in, and I think everyone should exercise their freedom to vote.
BT: How does it feel having this huge fanbase now?
YZP: [laughs] I’ve been kind of staying off social media. There’s been posting stuff and doing Stories, and that’s fun, but the outpouring of love is a little overwhelming. But I’m so appreciative and grateful for the response from the viewers! We’re number one in the United States today, we were number one in Spain yesterday and Poland and Germany, and it’s really taking the world by storm. It really shows how relatable the film is. Of course there’s the layer of how beautiful the school is and how epic the dance competition is and the friendships, those are all ideal situations, so I hope that all ages get to enjoy this film. It’s not just high school kids that are tuning in, it’s also people that see Molly Ringwald and know her from Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles.
BT: During the fan event yesterday there were fans from all over the world, too. During that event, you said that the costume party was your favourite scene to film in this movie. What are some of your special memories from filming that sequence?
TZP: Oh yeah the costume party was awesome because any time you have a night shoot, it’s kind of like having a sleepover. Usually you get to set around five or six in the morning and you leave around five or six in the evening, and if you’re not in a scene with someone, you’re usually in your trailer waiting for the next day or you’re sitting on set waiting for your scene to be up, and everyone is very quiet. Whereas when you have a night shoot, everyone is forced to have the cast holding together. You take naps together, you talk forever, all the walls that you may have built up are down and you get the full experience of this person in front of you. I think that’s how I, personally, was able to create friends after being in Cape Town for four months.
BT: You had mentioned in a previous interview that the complex you were all staying at was like your personal Melrose Place, too.
TZP: It was amazing! Meganne (Young) was one floor below me and she’d come up for dinner all the time. Then other cast mates, like Josh (Eady), who plays Tuppen, and Judd (Krok), who plays Ollie, they’d come over and we’d sit out on the deck and then go for walks. Joey was upstairs from me, Maisie I didn’t get to see as much on a daily basis, we had to plan our weekends or outings together, but it was really cool just being so close to my cast mates that have become such great friends in my life.
BT: Did you and Maisie get to explore South Africa a bit during your outings?
TZP: Hell yeah! She lived there maybe seven months before she came back, so she was there almost an entire year and knew all the ins and outs. She has friends down there, well I have friends down there too and if I went back I’m sure we’d all hang out. But she knew all the ins and outs! We went to restaurants with all these tasting menus, went to places for wine tastings, took road trips in the Southern Cape and checking out the Seven Apostles, the large mountain range. They really celebrate diversity there. For a country that was a victim of apartheid thirty years ago, they’re such a strong country and community of people that are rising above it and making changes. They’re not afraid to talk about their past and not afraid to talk about what they want to do in the now and the future. This generation of kids that I got to work with are so loving and accepting of everyone. They’re excellent, excellent humans.
BT: No spoilers about the third movie, I respect that, but where do you hope to see Marco in the future?
TZP: That’s a great question. If I was a viewer and was watching Marco on the screen, having so much anticipation for this third movie, I would say that I’d want to know if he goes to university. I’d want to know if he pursues his musical ability at NYU or Carnegie Mellon or Berklee College of Music, so something that stretches him as an artist so he doesn’t have to keep being afraid of failing. I think Marco’s big thing is trying super hard and then failing and then getting embarrassed and let down. I can relate to that. Since I’m older than Marco, I’ve had a lot of experience and I think the more experiences you have at failing, the more you learn. You get back up and you try again and then try again. So I hope he either checks out a university or, honestly, travel the world. Maybe he can busk in Central America or South America, go to Europe. I went to UCLA so I’m definitely a big advocate for education, but I’m also a big advocate of experience. I worked the art department with my Uncle designing sets for years and I worked in the theatre and in a body shop on cars, so I did everything, and I have so much respect for everyone that’s behind the camera, as much as I have respect for people in front of the camera. I feel like Marco maybe needs some worldly experience to grow as a person. Fall in love and just learn about adulthood and mature. Well I think he’s a pretty mature guy as it is. I think the opportunities are endless.
The Kissing Booth 2 is now streaming on Netflix. The Kissing Booth 3 is coming in 2021!