Noah Flynn is so 2018. The Kissing Booth 2 is going to introduce you to your new Netflix teen rom-com crush: He can sing, he can dance (… dance revolution), and he's the total opposite of Flynn's aggressive bad boy. Meet Marco, played by Taylor Zakhar Perez.
The highly anticipated sequel to The Kissing Booth is out now, and while Elle Evans (Joey King) thought her happily-ever-after already arrived with Flynn (Jacob Elordi), her Harvard-bound beau, she learns pretty quickly that life isn't a fairy tale. Long-distance relationships are hard even for the strongest of couples. And when she meets the new kid in school, Marco, just when her trust in Flynn starts to slip, new feelings will complicate her old assumptions of where her life was supposed to go. And yes, the titular kissing booth returns to inspire more shocking romantic declarations. Duh.
But how did The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2 writer-director Vince Marcello find someone who could compete with Elordi's Flynn? It took four months of intensive auditions that included acting, dancing, and singing before Perez even met King for a chemistry read. Soon after, he officially landed the role of Marco.
"People are going to fall in love with Marco because everyone has or has had a Marco in their life, that silent champion, that supportive friend that you don't see maybe as anything more than a friend, but they're just always there for you and they want the best for you," Perez says of his new heartthrob role. "There's really nothing in exchange that Marco wants other than transparency and friendship from Elle, and maybe something more, but he's respectful."
The funny, creative, and kind Marco will throw Elle — and viewers — for a loop because he represents a kind of rom-com character that is rarer that you might think: He's just a good guy, plain and simple. "More guys should be like Marco," Perez says. "The bad boy is overplayed, and you get your heart broken twice over unless you have a proponent of emotional intimacy and support and transparency."
Swooning yet? Below, Perez breaks down what fans can expect from Marco, what it was like joining the cast of a hit franchise, why some fans are going to be kicking themselves after meeting him, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: From the moment Marco arrives at school, he's known for being the hot new guy. In Elle's own words, he's not just a snack but the whole entire meal. Are you ready for that kind of attention and adoration?
TAYLOR ZAKHAR PEREZ: [Laughs] So weird! It's so weird. For years you work in this profession just trying to get a job. No matter what it is, you're playing a waiter or fitness instructor. And you're like, "I just want a good job." And then this happens, you hit the lottery and you book this IP that is so major on Netflix and beloved by the world, and you're like, "Wow, I'm about to be on blast for the rest of my life." My life is going to change because of this two-hour-and-six-minute film that's going to live inside everyone that watches it for the rest of their lives. I still remember watching She's All That, with Freddie Prinze Jr., and he lives in my mind as that character forever. I'm fine with it. I can't wait to do more movies and keep diversifying. I love the ability to be able to take on new characters and take on new talents and learn new skills.
You said it yourself, your whole life is going to change when this movie comes out. Did you anticipate that while you were filming?
I didn't really think about it until people started asking me about it. Even Joey was like, "Just wait, Tay, it's going to get crazy." I laughed and kind of scoffed like, "Yeah, okay." I'm not looking forward so much to it, but I'm not against it. If I could meet some fans that want to fangirl out and that brings them some happiness in that moment, why not?
Sometimes fans have a tough time separating the art from the artist, so are you prepared for any kind of hate you'll get for your character coming between Elle and Noah?
Yeah, I always liken it to Jacob and Edward, that kind of polarization in Twilight. I'm just bringing this character to life. So the hate people will give will just live on the internet and I don't have to respond to it, right? People just want to pick fights. Everyone is a king of the castle at their computer. But bring it out to the open forum and let's see how tough you are. But it's a YA novel, so I'm not worried too worried about it. Politics and human rights is a different story, but this is all fun and games and teenagers and high school stuff that's make believe.
Even though you know how the love triangle plays out, were you rooting for Marco and Elle, or were you rooting for Elle and Noah?
I have always been pretty Team Marco. I mean, I guess I'm biased because that's who I play. I was able to step back and have good conversations with Vince and Joey about it. Even in the first movie, Elle and Noah, we've seen similar relationships in the YA genre. What's a little bit less out there is that relationship with Elle and Marco. It's just very transparent and supportive. The only drama between them is about Noah, and you just see the way Elle shines when she's with Marco. It's cool to see that.
Did you watch The Kissing Booth back when it first came out?
I didn't watch the first movie until about my third audition. I had no idea that it was a sequel to The Kissing Booth. I had no idea what The Kissing Booth was. I didn't know who Joey or Joel [Courtney] were. I went in very blind to this.
What did you think of it when you finally saw it?
I love how it pays homage to John Hughes, it has elements of Grease in it. It's such a throwback, and I just thought Joey was freaking adorable.
At what point did you start to realize how big the fan base is?
We [the cast] were traveling internationally together, so when we would go to Dubai or we'd go to Istanbul, people in the airport would swarm them. And I was like, "Oh, what do I have in store for me? Oh my gosh." And I would just take the pictures. I'm like, "I'll take your pictures." [Laughs] I became their personal photographer while we were in airports, which is kind of funny.
I bet after this movie comes out a lot of fans are going to be digging up the photos they took with the cast in an airport and realizing their mistake of not having you get in the photo with them.
[Laughs] It's like when when Paris Hilton hired Kim Kardashian as her assistant back in the day. There's all the photos of her trailing her and like being of service, and now you're like, that's a change in jobs!
Were you nervous about coming into the sequel after this cast had already been through so much together with the first movie?
Yeah, I did. I was really nervous. I was intimidated, but as soon as I started rehearsals with Joey, and Joel, I was immediately alleviated from any of those fears. And then as soon as I got to South Africa [where we filmed], we were thick as thieves. We traveled for 27 hours together. We had some crazy experiences in those airports that we'll never forget, and that kind of solidified it. You can spend years 10 years working with someone in an office, or you can be with someone for 12 hours a day in their space sharing everything and you get to know them so much better in a matter of two weeks and become a lifelong friend. I felt like I'd be lifelong friends with Joe and Joel in the first week that I met them. The first time I met Joey in the chem read, she came in, she was wearing jean overalls and she had maybe like two inches, maybe less, of hair because she had just come off The Act. And she was just glowing. She was like most beautiful thing, and so kind and open and fun. Right off the bat Joey and I had really great chemistry, and we just hit it off.
What was it like building Marco and Elle's dynamic?
Joey has the smallest ego — I don't think she has an ego. She's very powerful and always gives 100 percent on her end. She's tearing up at the table just reading through the script. She's always so present for all the other actors. We hung out a lot, we practiced a lot, we talked on the phone, we'd crash in each other's rooms all the times, we made dinner with each other, we just hit it off right away. I think I fell in love with her at the chemistry read when she walked in the room and was just her, just 100 percent her and not trying to be someone she wasn't.
What it was like bringing a musical element to the sequel with all Marco's performances?
I grew up in theater and musical theater and I kind of stopped for a moment, but I kept taking vocal lessons and playing the piano because it brought me joy. I was working my ass off to make Marco come off as effortless as possible with his performances, and it was awesome bringing music back into my life. My parents are sending my childhood piano to me, it's a nice little upright, and I'm like, "I'm going to put this in my place because I'm done playing this keyboard."
That first busking scene where we see what Marco is really made of is so great — what was it like filming that?
I had butterflies in my stomach the entire time because that was legit the first scene we shot of the entire film. I had like two weeks of straight rehearsing before I even stepped foot on that street, going through all the movements and just getting loose with it. That was really fun because you can fake playing the guitar, you see it all the time, but my goal was like, I have to play this. I'm doing this 110 percent, I want you to see my fingers, I want you to see me strumming, I want you to see everything. It looks like you're at a concert and you're just getting different angles of this person actually performing. I think it came out really well.