Stephen Fry stuns with new role as 'homophobic bully'

Red, White & Royal Blue director Matthew López has shared that Stephen Fry was delighted by his ‘subversive’ casting in the LGBTQ+ rom-com for Prime Video.

The 65-year-old actor and comedian has been a popular out gay figure for many years but was cast rather against type in the film adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s bestselling novel.

Fry plays King James III in the movie, who is the grandfather of Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) in a gender-flipping break from the book, where the reigning monarch is Queen Mary.

It’s safe to say that he is not impressed by his grandson’s budding romance with Alex Claremont-Diaz (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the First Son of the United States.

Explaining how the idea of casting the Blackadder and Wilde star came about, López told ‘If you are casting a fictional heterosexual homophobic bully of a monarch, you first go to Stephen Fry! Because it’s cheeky – and he knew he was cheeky – and he came in and he did such beautiful work.’

The director and writer also revealed that he felt Fry ‘took a lot of delicious pleasure in playing that role’.

‘We all knew, and Stephen knew it most especially, that there was something potentially subversive about that, and he played it to the hilt. We had so much fun together.’

The Royal Family characters certainly share superficial similarities with the current British monarchy, including names such as Henry, Catherine, Philip and Beatrice.

However, López, 46, explained his ‘ignorance’ as a non-Brit is keeping him from feeling too anxious about sharing the film with a UK audience, and that he’s keen to make a distinction between reality and the ‘fantasy’ of Red, White & Royal Blue.

‘I have the brash ignorance of an American on my side that I will use to my advantage! I think it’s very clear to anyone who sees the movie that this is not the Mountbatten-Windsors – even to the degree that I decided to change the family name in the film to Hanover-Stuart [in the book it’s Mountchristen-Windsor]; I just wanted to emphasise that.

‘I also think that if people are watching this movie, and they’re thinking about the Windsors, we’ve sort of ruined the magic for them. This is about fantasy, it’s about escapism, and we needed to maintain that throughout the film.

‘So no, I’m not nervous because I don’t have enough experience to know what to be nervous about – ignorance is bliss, I say!’

And speaking of movie magic, Red, White & Royal Blue shares its vision of a world with its audience where America has its first female President, played in the film by Kill Bill star Uma Thurman (a ‘f**king legend’, according to López).

Luckily, the role of the drawling Texan democrat wasn’t a hard sell for Thurman – director and co-writer López argued that once she read both the book and then the script she actually understood Ellen ‘even better than I did’.

‘She came on set and she taught me a lot about her, I think she probably taught [author] Casey a lot about her too. It was a lucky break getting her.’

López also disclosed that the Hollywood actress, 53, passed his own major test for Ellen with flying colours.

‘The first criteria I had when we put together the list for Ellen was, would you vote for her? And Uma Thurman, at the risk of losing her – to acting – if she decided to get into politics, I would vote for her.’

In his own right, López is an award-winning playwright, with one of his most recent works, The Inheritance, garlanded with praise and trophies from 2018 to 2020, including Oliviers, Tonys, Drama Desk Awards and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, on both sides of the Atlantic.

He was also nominated earlier this year for another Tony Award as co-writer of the book for the new stage musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot.

López is making both his directorial debut and his first movie with Red, White & Royal Blue, which he is candid about not necessarily being ‘the thing I assumed would be my first film’.

That said, I read the book and I fell madly in love with it, and I had this very strong urge to make the movie. You read things and you think, “Oh, it’s a seven on the urgency scale. Oh, that’s a four” – hopefully you don’t end up making the fours! And this was a 10.’

He also admitted that of somebody else got to make the movie of Red, White & Royal Blue, ‘I would cry myself to sleep for a year’.

López was very much the pursuer of the project, staking his claim and ‘really letting it be known that this was mine – and it worked!’

For him, the representation in the film – and in an industry that has made slow progress with LGBTQ+ focused stories, and saw last year’s Bros (the first gay rom-com from a major studio) bomb – was especially important.

‘I had never read a character like Alex Claremont-Diaz before in a book. I’m a gay Latino in his 40s and I think if I had read Alex when I was in my 20s… I wish I’d had access to a character such as him when I was younger,’ he shared. ‘It might not have made my life all that materially easier, but it might have made it just a little bit easier – and that would have been nice.’

Although he’s a fan of Henry and all the other ‘wonderful’ characters in the book, López knows it all began for him with Alex ‘because I could relate to him and I wanted to be the person who helped bring that character into the world’.

‘And then the bonus is that you also get to bring Henry into the world. He was a character about as far from me as you could possibly imagine – and my instinct with Henry was always that he needs someone to take care of him, and I need to do that. I needed to be his caretaker – until I met Nick [Galitzine ] and I could hand him over to Nick to take care of him,’ he added.

The novel of Red, White & Royal Blue has been tremendously successful since its original publication in 2019, helped along in large part by becoming a TikTok sensation and one of ‘BookTok’s’ (the literature lovers’ name for their community on the platform) most popular recommendations.

Amazingly, López was not aware of BookTok at all until he was deep into post-production on the film – his social media presence is limited to Instagram ‘to look at pictures of puppies and videos of people doing stupid things’, as well as remind people that he’s ‘alive and making things’.

‘I didn’t know about BookTok until well into the editing process of this movie, when someone very casually mentioned it to me and I’m like, “Oh, what’s that?”’

However, he’s happy that was for the best, avoiding any extra pressure.

‘I think if I allowed myself to understand just how popular the book was it might have frozen me in my tracks. I think I actually needed to have some sort of blissful ignorance over how many people in the world love this book. If you’re on the tightrope, you shouldn’t look down,’ he mused.

‘I had enough to deal with, making my first movie. I wasn’t going to look up BookTok… but I hope they look at us!’

Red, White & Royal Blue will premiere globally on Friday August 11, exclusively on Prime Video.

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