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‘The Perfect Date’ star Laura Marano on ‘The Royal Treatment’ and embracing Netflix’s multiverse of rom-coms

Laura Marano as Izzy in “The Royal Treatment.” (Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)
10 min

Laura Marano is the first to admit that her new movie, “The Royal Treatment,” isn’t wholly original. In the Netflix film — which she produced alongside her sister, actress Vanessa Marano, and their mother, Ellen Marano — the “Austin & Ally” alum plays Izzy, an outspoken hairstylist who is hired to give the prince of fictional Lavania (“Aladdin” star Mena Massoud) a much-needed haircut after his royal butler accidentally calls the wrong salon.

It’s not hard to guess what happens to Izzy and her handsome prince, who is betrothed to another at the start of the film. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. “Regular girl falling in love with a prince of made-up country is something we’ve seen before. And it’s something I love,” Marano said in a recent Zoom interview with The Washington Post. “It’s a subgenre that I think is one of my favorites, to be honest.

And it’s a subgenre the 26-year-old Los Angeles native leaned into thoroughly once Netflix, home to a growing number of royal-themed romantic comedies, acquired the film in 2019. Watch closely, and you’ll find callbacks to at least one other fictional Netflix kingdom and references to other rom-coms on the streamer.

“I am honored to be part of Netflix’s multiverse of rom-coms. I feel like, ‘Move over, Marvel,’ ” Marano said with a laugh. “I say this half-joking and kind of serious: I do feel the fact that we have Lavania in this film was a big reason why Netflix wanted to do it, because I think they are a little bit like, ‘Oh, more made-up countries!’ ”

The movie also prominently features two songs from Marano, who says her fans can look forward to more music — and a tour, with dates to be announced later this year.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: What attracted you to this project as a producer and as an actor?

A: I loved the character. I love Izzy. The number one thing I always look for when it comes to projects and picking projects is the character. Can I connect with them? Have I played this character before? Then I obviously look at the project itself.

In 2019, I had done “The Perfect Date,” which was kind of this like PG-13 teen rom-com. I did “Saving Zoe,” a movie I produced with my mom and sister that was a rated-R indie about grief and online sexual exploitation. And then I did “A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish,” which was this family film that was super adorable and Christmasy. So I very much was like, “What project do I want to do next?” And I loved Izzy. She was so opinionated and so a character that I really don’t think I had played before, and someone, ironically, that I really see myself in and connect with a lot.

I really infused a lot of myself and a lot of things that I love into the story, whether it’s my Italian New York family — I have a bunch of family in the Bronx that I really hope don’t judge my New York accent too harshly — or . . . this sense of belief in yourself that you can make a change in this world and in your community. It doesn’t matter if you’re the prince of a made-up country or if you’re a New York hairstylist. Everyone has the ability to create change in their community in the world, and I love that part of the script and in the story.

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Q: “The Royal Treatment” had to navigate the pandemic, which remains a tough time for so many people. Does it feel like kismet for the movie, which is delightful and very optimistic, to be coming out right now?

A: A hundred percent kismet timing. I can only speak for myself, but this new variant has me very freaked out and has definitely increased my anxiety, sadness, frustration — all of the feelings. And so I can’t help but feel grateful this movie’s coming out when it is, because it does feel like a time for some much-needed joy and escapism.

We sold it to Netflix at the end of 2019. We were originally going to film it in Europe . . . and because of the pandemic, we were delayed. That pushed us to decide to film it in New Zealand, where at that point covid was virtually zero. It was very much a logistics choice, but it turned out to be one of the best creative choices we made for a variety of reasons, one of them being the look of the film.

The scenery and the landscape of New Zealand is so incredible, and so not what you usually see. We have such an incredible, diverse group of actors, which I love and, by the way, how incredible are these actors? Shout out New Zealand and their talented actors.

Q: “The Royal Treatment” seems very progressive for a rom-com, even if it’s one that we’ve seen before. Not just because of the diversity you mentioned, but there’s kind of a gentrification story line. How important was that for this project and in general, how important is that to you for the projects that you work on?

A: Very, very important. That was part of why I fell in love with the script and fell in love with the story. This film is a movie that I think people can watch and totally escape in, and I think it really does touch on topics that I feel really passionate about and are really significant in the time we’re living in now.

For this movie, one could not exist without the other. I really wanted both aspects of this film: being easy to watch, being joyful, being this story and rom-com that we have loved, and having topics that deal with economic systems and with the ability to make change in your community and even — on a personal note — identity within yourself and identity within family.

Q: This is the second movie you’ve produced through Calabrian Rhode, the production company you share with your mom and sister. What is it like working with them?

A: Working with my mom and sister is special. It’s really hard. It’s complicated, right? Talk about a theme that I relate to: finding identity within self versus within family. But I feel like we’re such a great team because we just understand each other. We’re very much of the same mind when it comes to [creativity], and they’re two of my favorite people in the world — them plus my dad, who is not involved in the entertainment industry at all, which is amazing. He’s an Italian teacher.

Sometimes, I do feel like I go into the little sister/baby/youngest-of-the-family role. And it’s kind of interesting to me, because in other aspects of my career, when I’m just myself, I am very different. So I think that is something that we have been so active in working on, and we have a really honest, transparent relationship, which I think is a necessity when it comes to both working and being related: having those two different aspects of our relationship and our dynamic.

When it comes to my role producing, I’m a control freak and, by the way, so are my sister and my mom. So that sometimes can be a little tough, because we all have to give and take. But we’re all pretty heavily active in all aspects of the production, be it workshopping the script, casting, you know, preproduction, looking at locations, looking at wardrobe, looking at the budget, problem-solving.

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Q: You’re also a singer-songwriter, and have two songs — “Dance With You,” featuring Grey, and “Worst Kind of Hurt,” featuring Wrabel — in the movie. Can you talk a bit about why they are special to you?

A: Dance With You” is featured in the last scene and in our end-title animation sequence, which I think is super cute. . . . I know when it comes to the editing process, you quickly fall in love with a lot of different choices, but especially the music that is chosen, I really wanted to make sure everyone knew I wanted to do the song. But since I’m a producer, I was trying to approach it from a place of, “It’s a collaboration and I want to make sure everyone’s into it.” It was always with the caveat of, if it’s good and it works for the film.

“Worst Kind of Hurt,” which is in — without giving too much away — a very important scene in the film, happened very differently because I wrote that song not thinking of the film at all. The director asked me if I had a song that could work for that scene, because originally it was just score, which was beautiful.

Q: “Dance With You” samples Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” How did that happen? And is there pressure when it comes to using a sample from such a beloved, well-known song?

A: Someone on my music team happens to work with the original writers of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — the amazing Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill — who were also behind [the band] Boy Meets Girl. I’m still blown away that I got to work with them.

There’s pressure once you have decided to use [the sample] to use it well and do a good job with it. I definitely felt that using that 100 percent was going to elevate the song. And on top of that, we do have this really fun dance moment in the film. I was really inspired by that scene and that joy that I think that scene encapsulates. It felt like it fit together quite organically.

But for sure, the pressure was on. When I was writing it I was like, “Oh my God, do a good job, do a good job.” I came up with a gazillion ideas; I had all these voice memos. I remember driving to my sister’s house actually, when I came up with what we ended up using. . . . When I actually met Shannon and George after I had written it and they were so complimentary of the song, I was like, [sings] “This is the best moment of my life.”

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