[Interview] Taylor Zakhar Perez flexes his dramatic muscles (and his real ones) in ‘THE KISSING BOOTH 2’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

It’s not easy being the newcomer, but THE KISSING BOOTH 2’s Taylor Zakhar Perez makes it look that way. The affable actor enters into Netflix’s gargantuan hit franchise with the smoothest of ease and in one of the year’s most indelible character introductions: abs and pecs first. In much anticipated sequel, he plays the school’s new student, Marco, who propels Elle (Joey King) into somewhat of a love triangle what with her steady boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi) on the other side of the country attending Harvard. It’s a tough job, but Marco is up to the task, providing Elle with the support she needs.

Full disclosure: I am Team Marco, all the way. I feel like he’s a far more supportive influence on Elle.

I couldn’t have done it without [director/ co-writer] Vince [Marcello]. He crafted that character to be that way, which is awesome.

Do you think it’s odd timing releasing a movie called THE KISSING BOOTH in a time of Covid-19?

Yes, it is a bit odd. I’m so grateful for all the first responders that are out there and have been on the front lines this entire time. I’m hoping this project can be a bit of levity in a bit of a dark time. Especially because kids didn’t really get to have a graduation. We have one here and have a little speech. Hopefully they can live through our experiences for senior year.

Given your background in musical theater, if they – forgive the obvious word – tailored the script to you? I love that you sing “What I like About You” in Spanish.

That was really fun. Definitely. Marco was created with a Mexican Los Angeles background. My mother is Mexican. There’s different types of Latinos and it’s so cool to have different kinds of representation in this film. When I got the “What I Like About You” lyrics, they said, “Standby, we’re gonna translate these.” I was super excited. I think it adds another layer to this old, cool song.

When you got the script and read how Marco was going to be introduced, were you like, “Oh shit. I have to get jacked!”

[laughs] Yes. 110% that’s what I thought. I’m a pretty active person anyway. I grew up being a nationally ranked competitive swimmer and every day I need some kind of physical activity. This just made me double it. When I read, “He’s sweaty. He’s muscular. His chest…” and she’s like, “Look at that butt! I don’t know if I want to lick it, smack it…” I was in tears at our table read. Joey did such a fun job with it. All the walls were down, we were having such a fun time with it.

How was it being the newcomer on set? Did anyone take you under their wing?

I feel like they didn’t really have to. Everyone was so authentic from the beginning and forthright with information and support. I didn’t feel like I had to ask Vince for info, or ask Joey for info. Of course, my first question to Joey was, “How are Vince and [Producer] Michele [Weisler]? Are they fun? How’s South Africa?” The basics. They were so welcoming. I think I auditioned January 7, 2019 and I didn’t book it until April 12. It was a long audition process. I got to know our casting directors a lot better, Vince and Michele a lot better. They got to South Africa half way through casting and it was a lot of Zoom calls. I felt accepted and loved and supported. I was so grateful for that.

Joey King and Taylor Zakhar Perez in THE KISSING BOOTH 2. Courtesy of Netflix.

Was it a bonding experience being so far removed from LA and y’all are cloistered together?

Oh yeah. Totally. I would much rather shoot outside of LA any day. You really settle into the character. You don’t have your friends always calling you, or your partner coming through, or your manager meetings and travelling around town. You’re just immersed in this world. Meganne [Young] was my neighbor and Joey was upstairs and Joel… it was kinda like MELROSE PLACE. We were always running lines with each other, or working out and at rehearsal. It was a dream.

This movie is choreography heavy. Did you have a lot of experience prior?

Oh my god [laughs]. I wouldn’t say I had all of the experience, but I had it by the end of the movie. When we first started choreographing, we had two dance doubles in LA, showing us how to do it. Joey and I walked in and said, “We’re gonna learn a few step today – maybe like 30 2-counts. Nothing crazy.” And then there’s a DDM machine in the dance studio and they did the whole dance. And these kids are from DANCING WITH THE STARS JUNIOR. They’re crazy good dancers. Joey and I just looked at each other like, “What is this?! Are we learning this today?!” These kids had been learning this for the past week to show us, so that they can be the leading foremost experts on these dance moves. Vince allowed me to take some liberties with our choreographer in South Africa. There are multiple rehearsal sets Elle and I get. So there we got to pull from stuff that we found on the internet that we could bring into it.

My research got to expand, especially on the performative side – the singing and playing guitar side. I’d never been on a stage singing and playing a guitar before, so I had to look up the Steven Tyler’s, the Elton John’s and Billy Joel’s of the world and think about how they would fill that arena. I would have dress rehearsals in front of Vince and just be red, “oh my god, oh my god. I hope this is good.” It was very intimidating. I think that was the most intimidating part of the whole project was going to go 1:1 with Vince to sing and dance and play guitar in front of him.

Would you be ready for a KISSING BOOTH 3 if asked? Has that already been announced?

Hell yeah! I’d be so down for a KISSING BOOTH 3. I feel like there’s a lot of room for new exploration.

THE KISSING BOOTH 2 begins streaming on Netflix on July 24.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.