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In the summer of 2022, Charles Melton, who is best known for playing Reggie Mantle on the long-running and popular CW teen soap Riverdale, found himself in an unexpected position. “I was standing outside the door and I heard Julie and Todd talking. I just couldn’t believe where I was,” he remembers. The “Julie” and “Todd” in question were none other than Julianne Moore and her longtime collaborator, director Todd Haynes — their work together includes Safe, Far From Heaven and Wonderstruck — with Melton on hand for a chemistry read for their latest reteaming, May December.
The pipeline from CW supernatural series to Cannes-bound prestige indie drama isn’t well trodden. Throw in the fact that Melton, 32, would be starring opposite not one but two Oscar winners — Moore and co-star Natalie Portman — and landing the role leans toward a coup. Melton has been a part of the requisite YA love stories (The Sun Is Also a Star) and franchise fare (Bad Boys for Life), but May December doesn’t neatly fall into his list of credits. His character, Joe, is one-half of the eponymous May-December romance, a one-time tabloid relationship with a 23-year age gap. The story sees Joe and Moore’s Gracie over two decades after first meeting, as their kids are about to leave for college, leaving Joe an empty nester at 36. The arrival of a Hollywood actress (Portman), who is set to play Gracie in a film, only exacerbates the tension.
“Charles completely took us by surprise,” says Haynes. “He was more intensely good-looking than I had imagined [for the character] in this script but, my God, some stuff he did in auditioning for the role had this simplicity and innate understanding of who this guy was.” The understanding, admits Melton, came from weeks of prep before and during the auditioning process. He worked with acting coaches and absorbed films like the Ingmar Bergman classic Persona, the marital drama The Pumpkin Eater and any others that would help him glean new insights into Joe. “I haven’t had an opportunity to play a character like this,” says Melton of Joe, who comes with a fraught backstory and undercurrents of repression, loneliness and isolation. “I believed that I couldn’t have been overprepared.”
Along with readying himself mentally for his performance, the actor made a physical transformation. As a 36-year-old father, husband and the family’s primary provider, Melton felt that Joe wouldn’t have time to prioritize the gym. In a testament to his commitment, the actor, who played defensive back on Kansas State University’s football team before heading to Los Angeles to pursue acting, gained 35 pounds during the film’s six weeks of preproduction. “I had a triple cheeseburger with bacon with Cajun fries and a cheese dog and half a pint of ice cream every night,” says Melton of his May December diet.
May December will premiere May 20 at Cannes, where it is seeking distribution. Currently, Melton is finishing up the seventh and final season of Riverdale. After wrapping such a long-running series and on the precipice of what could be a career-changing film, he says he wants to remain grounded: “I’m just trying to stay present as much as I can to enjoy whatever moment is going to come next.”
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