Paul Rudnick on giving the royals an LGBTQ prince and a sense of humor in Playing the Palace
Plus, an update on The Devil Wears Prada musical.
Screenwriter (Addams Family Values) and playwright (Jeffrey) Paul Rudnick has always wondered why the royal family hasn't yet had an out LGBTQ member of the inner circle - so he went ahead and invented one.
In Playing the Palace, which hit shelves May 25, Rudnick gives readers Edgar, the crown prince of England. When "event architect" (that's a fancy word for party planner) Carter Ogden finds himself face-to-face with Edgar at a glamorous New York event, the two strike up a romance - that gets a whole lot more serious when a photo of them goes viral.
Suddenly, Carter is being whisked off to England to meet the Queen and get a crash course in what's expected of him as half of a royal couple. But when they get three weeks to prove to the royal family (and the world) that they're right for each other, they don't plan on needing to also convince themselves.
EW caught up with Rudnick shortly after the book's release to talk about why he thinks it's the perfect read for Pride month, his passion for IHOP that spilled on to the page, and if he'd ever want to see Playing the Palace adapted for the stage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This isn't your first novel, but audiences know you best as a screenwriter and playwright. What made you want to write a royal romance novel?
PAUL RUDNICK: I had the idea and the title years ago. I knew it was going to be a gay romance, but I wasn't sure what final form it would take. I did think about a screenplay or about a play, but they never felt quite right. It finally landed when I thought of the main character Carter Ogden, this sort of woebegone, valiant, New York associate event architect, and I started to hear the story in his voice. Suddenly, things fell into place. I thought, "Oh yes, this wants to be a romantic comedy and it wants to be a novel," so I just surrendered. One of the few things I've learned over my career is to let the material dictate the form. This made the most sense as a book.
How did you devise the character of Edgar specifically? Was he inspired by any real royals?
I'm still amazed that there hasn't been an openly gay royal, at least in the English royal family quite yet. It's a very large extended family; there's got to be somebody out there...Edgar sprang forth from my imagining what it would be like to be in that position - as any sort of royal who undergoes constant and endless scrutiny of every move he makes, especially any romantic move, and then, to add to that, the sense of being the first openly gay guy in his position. He's then beholden both to his country, to his family, to the crown, but also he'd become a role model and a lightning rod for the gay community as well. People will be looking to him for either perfect behavior or political behavior or any possible mistake. I wanted it to be somebody who wasn't complaining about it or feeling sorry for himself because he's living a life of enormous privilege, but certainly a guy who was up against it. He was someone I could find for real sympathy for, despite his being so wealthy and handsome.
I was interested in a powerful gay man, who had real influence in the world, because I think often gay characters are very embattled and suffering enormous prejudice, which is a completely justified choice for a gay character. But there are gay people and trans people in positions of authority, so I want to have a gay guy who's in charge.
Are you much of a romance reader? Were there any particular texts, be they books or films, that inspired you?
I'm pretty much a hopeless and devoted romantic in every possible form. We live in a very cynical, and at times, jaded world and a world of divorce and a world of Tinder and Grindr and every other possible dating app, and it makes us mistrust romance. So in my work, what I like to do is to see if it's possible to justify a romance, especially with a happy ending. To see, "How can this writer or this performer make me buy this and not feel like I'm being played or as if I'm a fool?"
Have you read Red, White & Royal Blue or The Royal We or any of those royal rom-coms and did they inspire your story at all?
I read Red, White & Royal Blue, which I thought was absolutely terrific. I became aware that there was this whole genre of LGBTQ royal romance. It's a tradition I was proud to join. I think it's about time. It reminds me of when Disney had their first Black princess, which was so long overdue and there certainly needs to be many, many more. They still haven't made their leap into their first gay or LGBTQ prince or princess. Even though most Disney princes usually seem pretty gay. But I love the fact that royal romance is a trope or a fantasy or a dream that's so endured; it's a weirdly enduring fascination that I totally share.
How important do you think it is to have more rom-coms and happily-ever-afters for the LGTBQ community in storytelling?
It's essential. Equality isn't just about the perfect shining role models - or the absolutely necessary equality in the workplace, in the electoral process, and everything else - it's also about a romantical quality and a sense that a gay person's dreams and a gay person's swoons are the equal of anyone else's. No worse, no better. And that's why you need gay characters in Game of Thrones or on Dynasty, or on any of the more mainstream forms of pop culture. We deserve representation, not just in the boardroom or on the ballot, but on the romance shelf. So often minority representation is about suffering, or about a kind of impossible valor. And that's always very much needed, But we also need an equality of pleasure, and we want the same good time everyone else is after. Certainly, I see that reflected in the gay people I know everywhere.
You're known for your wickedly sharp sense of humor, which comes out in the book. The royals haven't really been much source for laughs lately - so how did you find humor in that?
Part of what fascinated me is that the royals are almost forbidden from having a sense of humor. Because they never want to be misinterpreted, and they never want to seem insensitive, and they're also very private. They don't give a lot of interviews or a lot of access. Which allowed me to let my imagination run free. Everybody needs humor as a way of maintaining your sanity. Plus, comedy often really benefits from social structures, from a sense of protocol and manners. Once you've got a lot of rules in place, it means people are going to be funny because people are going to be desperately trying to live up to impossible standards and be polite, under the greatest possible stress, and that was part of the fun I wanted to have. The royals lend themselves to comedy, even if they are not themselves often the funniest folks on the planet. The royal family is comedy ground zero in a lot of juicy ways.
You have your characters go on a date to IHOP, which is so charming, and I understand has a personal connection to you. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
I grew up in New Jersey and any family trip to IHOP was a great reward for good behavior or our weekend jaunt. When I met my partner of many years, it was something that bonded us very quickly. We both loved IHOP, and we have visited IHOPs in almost every state in the union. It's one of those great American institutions, and it's a great equalizer - when you go to IHOP, you see families, couples, singles. I have never been disappointed by an IHOP meal. Also, when I was a child, I had such a crush on the syrup caddy. When you had your choice of four or five or six syrups, that gave me this weird visceral satisfaction.
When can Carter get his own HTGV show? I feel like they need an event architect series.
Absolutely! If they are not the perfect pair of flippers, I don't know who is. They could flip palaces. Carter even mentions toward the end of the book his ideas for branding the royal family, so you could have His Majesty homewares. It would be a way of raising money for worthy causes. But yeah, I think Carter and Edgar would be the Chip and Joanna Gaines of Buckingham Palace.
You are currently co-writing the book for The Devil Wears Prada musical. Can you tell me more about your approach to that and where it's at?
It's scheduled to have a tryout in Chicago next summer. Elton John is doing the score and Shaina Taub is doing the lyrics. What the group is trying to do is to certainly pay tribute to this beloved movie that people can't stop watching, but also update it to include the enormous developments, especially in the fashion world, in terms of inclusion and reflecting far more diverse lives. I had been warned early on that musicals sometimes take years to perfect and that certainly has been the case. I love the material. It so lends itself to to musical form because it's got these two great female leads and it's set in a world that lends itself to to dance. So, it will get here pretty soon.
Would you ever want to turn Playing the Palace into a musical, or even a straight stage play?
It's interesting that you say that because something I've always aimed for in all my work, whether it was novels or plays, was the level of emotion that could be achieved in a musical. That sense of just deliriously heightened reality, that joy that's only accessible through singing and dancing. I thought, "Can I ever infuse other forms with that level of pure celebration?" So, I could certainly see Playing the Palace on stage. When you fall in love that helplessly and that overwhelmingly and that quickly, you're going to sing about it.
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