Charles Melton has done this before. He strolls into the photo studio, orange-tinted glasses on, armed with two outfit changes, with teen heartthrob hair and an immediate confidence that comes with such cheekbones and a swelling acting career.
He knows his way in front of the camera, and drapes his arms around the shoulders of the crew, making sure everyone likes the shots. And now that that’s out of the way, he’s ready to sit down to business.
Melton has been making the rounds while in New York, on a brief break from the “Riverdale” shooting schedule in Vancouver, and he’s exhausted.
“I came off a red-eye, right, and I tried to get some sleep. That didn’t work out too well: a lady spilled her wine glass all over me,” he says, lounging on a leather sofa, back in his street clothes.
The 27-year-old is in demand these days, as his character on “Riverdale” has been bumped up to a series regular for the mammoth show’s third season. There’s a bit of Melton his team would prefer he not discuss: his relationship with costar Camila Mendes, along with a spout of bad press from earlier this year when tweets from 2012 landed him in hot water. Melton has grown up, he says, and he’s ready to be taken seriously.
Just as “Riverdale” will wrap its third season, he’ll jump to the big screen and costar alongside Yara Shahidi in the May release of the film adaptation of young adult novel “The Sun Is Also a Star,” based on the number-one New York Times bestseller by Nicola Yoon.
“I was on my social media and I woke up to being tagged in [a photo] Nicola Yoon posted, asking her followers who should play Daniel Bae. And I found out that day that she was asking these questions to the fans, that it was being turned into a movie by Warner Bros. and MGM and so that same day I bought the book,” Melton says. “I reached out to my reps, I was like ‘guys, get me the script.’ They were like, ‘Charles, they just announced the news today.’ So I bought the book, read it in two days, fast-forward 10 months, got the script, auditioned for it. I’m very passionate about the role and knew that I wanted to play that role.”
The book takes place over the course of a single day in New York, and tells the love story of Natasha and Daniel; Natasha, played by Shahidi, is a level-headed, practical young woman who is desperately trying to find a way to stay in the U.S. as her family is hours from being deported to Jamaica, while Melton plays Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, who is following his parents’ wish for him to apply to Yale and seek a career in medicine, though he would rather become a poet.
Melton is not afraid of a romcom. “It was very appealing that the character is such a hopeless romantic; I strive to be more of a hopeless romantic every day. And I believe in love so, like, it’s been nice to play that,” he says.
He seems to know he’s a natural for such a role. When explaining how his character and Shahidi’s fall in love using the famed “36 Questions That Lead to Love” questionnaire that gained fame in a New York Times Modern Love column, he demonstrates.
“So that scientifically proves — if we were to ask 36 questions intimately and look into each other’s eye without saying a word for four minutes, we would fall in love, statistically speaking — scientifically speaking it would happen,” he says, gaze intense and fixed.
Melton joined “Riverdale” in season two, replacing Ross Butler as the character of Reggie. “I really didn’t know what I was walking into,” he says of the level of attention the show would bring him. “I mean, if you want to look at numbers, my social media following is up. You know, it went from 17,800 to, like, 2.7 million, which is kind of crazy.”
His father was a big fan of the Archie comics and told Melton that his experience as a high school athlete would make playing the character of football bro Reggie Mantle a natural fit.
“When I told him I was playing Reggie Mantle, he was pretty pumped up and excited,” he says of his father.
Melton grew up in Juneau, Alaska, but moved around frequently due to his father’s job in the military and by the age of 18 had lived in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Kansas, Korea and Germany.
“Growing up, my best friend was the movie theaters,” he says. “I’d go to the movies every week, multiple times a week, with my dad or alone. We watched everything: ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Armageddon,’ ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,’ ‘The Notebook,’ the Marvel Universe movies. But I think my favorite movie I watched with my dad would be ‘A Knight’s Tale’ with Heath Ledger.”
He played football at Kansas State University, “in front of 60,000 fans at every home game,” he says. “That was really cool.” He has football to thank for his acting career; he was 20 when he left school to pursue a career in front of the cameras.
“I was driving in a car on my way to football practice and I was listening to the radio and they had one of those like art showcases, like ‘do you want to be a star? Do you want to meet talent agents, managers, producers?’” he says. “And I called in and I drove 45 minutes to Salina, Kansas, to a Marriott hotel, and did a Twizzlers commercial audition. And I got a call back at 3 o’clock in the morning, thinking that I made it, and from there I paid a $3,000 fee to go to a talent convention, where I got scouted.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 2012 with, as he tells it, “$500 in my pocket, 60 cans of chicken noodle soup and 60 cans of tuna.” That, and a dream. “And that’s all I needed. And so I figured out the rest.”
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