Charles Melton‘s performance in May December is already critically acclaimed — but he almost didn’t score the role.
“I’m so grateful Charles Melton came into our consciousness. I didn’t know him from Riverdale. His looks were almost a deterrent,” director Todd Haynes told Vulture on Wednesday, September 27. “I felt that Joe would be a good-looking man, but Charles has that sort of hunkiness and pin-up quality that wasn’t necessarily how I pictured him.”
Melton, 32, who plays Joe, gained weight before filming his scenes.
“[He did it] to change his chiseled self into something more familiar. A suburban man in this place,” Haynes, 62, added. “There’s such remarkable physicality in the choices he made as an actor. A friend of mine saw a cut of it and he said, ‘Charles moves like a child and an old man, a combination of the two’ — which makes so much sense given his predicament.”
Before booking May December, Melton rose to fame for his portrayal of Reggie Mantle on The CW’s Riverdale. He played the iconic Archie Comics character for six years and also starred in The Sun Is Also a Star, Bad Boys for Life, Heart of Champions and Secret Headquarters.
His role as Joe in May December, however, is Melton like we’re never seen him before.
According to the synopsis, the film picks up years after a headline-making romance between Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Melton) gripped the nation. The couple, who have a 23-year age gap, are getting ready to send their kids off to college when Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) comes to town in preparation for a new movie based on the couple. Elizabeth starts to do research on Gracie and Joe, which causes their dynamic to unravel as Joe comes to terms with what happened in his youth.
Earlier this year, Melton recalled how he prepared for a project, which he referred to as a “complex, compounded, voyeuristic experience” of the human condition.
“I asked my parents what it was like when I left the house, what kind of conversations they had in their own relationship. They said they were very sad,” he told Variety in May. “My mother is Korean, and I’m first generation on my mother’s side. She cooked every meal for me growing up. My dad was really good at letting go — at trusting that this new chapter would work out for the best.”
May December, which already found success at the Cannes Film Festival, draws inspiration from the real-life story of Mary Kay Letourneau‘s affair with her student Vili Fualaau, who was 22 years her junior. (The controversial pair got married following Letourneau’s release from jail. They remained together for over a decade before announcing their separation in 2019.)
Haynes recently praised Melton for his “understatement and a sense of understanding” of the role of Joe. “[I loved] the way he depicted somebody who was so stuck, so caged up, so bound up in this marriage, and who really had not learned yet how to take steps on his own behalf,” Haynes shared with Netflix’s Tudum earlier this month.
May December will be out in select theaters starting Friday, November 17, before it’s available to stream on Netflix Friday, December 1.