CHICAGO -- Long before he was lauded as the internet's new boyfriend for his guitar-playing, smooth-dancing, ab-baring role in the Netflix movie "The Kissing Booth 2," Taylor Zakhar Perez was a star swimmer at Chesterton High School in northwest Indiana.
Zakhar Perez plays Marco, who distracts classmate Elle (Joey King) from her long-distance relationship with Noah (Jacob Elordi) in the high-school rom-com, which dropped July 24. Here's what we learned about Zakhar Perez from our 15-minute phone interview.
He comes from a large family.
Zakhar Perez, 28, said he has five sisters and two brothers, and before he started kindergarten, his parents moved from Illinois to "middle-of-nowhere-country" in Chesterton for more space. "Every weekend we would cut the lawn. It would take us three-and-a-half, four hours to do all the riding on the mower and then you'd have the weed whacking. I also grew up with horses," Zakhar Perez said.
He got into performing thanks to younger sister Maria's turn in "Annie" at Valparaiso's Chicago Street Theatre in 2004. "I was just there (at the theater) for day after day over Christmas break. I was like, 'Ohmigod, when is this going to end?' But then they asked if I wanted to be involved in ushering or helping behind the scenes because it was Christmas break. And I said, 'Yeah, sure,'" said Zakhar Perez, adding that he learned how to use lighting and audio equipment.
"Then I got involved in a summer theater program with my siblings because my mom was like, 'All of you are not choosing something else. You're all doing this thing together.'"
Now Maria has been styling his recent shoots for publications such as Teen Vogue, Glamour and Esquire Latinoamerica.
He 'wasn't a huge fan' of high school.
Retired Chesterton High swim coach Kevin Kinel recalled Zakhar Perez as a hard-working, popular student who excelled as a leader. He performed well in individual events and as part of relay teams.
"He was a good swimmer, but I think more than that, he was just a good person and a good leader for us through his high school days," Kinel told the Tribune. "And it's not surprising to me that he's going on to do big things."