Destiny didn’t come knocking on Charles Melton’s door. It rang his bell. Before the “Riverdale” star became Hollywood’s next big thing, he was pursuing his dream of playing in the National Football League, until fate intervened. “Getting a couple concussions in college stunted my path,” says the former Kansas State strong safety, with a trace of regret in his voice. “At that time I didn’t understand why. I was so conflicted [about giving up football]. But, that has led me to this moment where I’m in L.A. talking to you now about this feature film that’s about to come out.”
Fate came in the form of “The Sun Is Also a Star,” the buzzworthy film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s “New York Times” bestseller of the same name. “The Sun” stars Melton and “it girl” Yara Shahidi as two precocious American teens, one an idealist and the other a realist, who fall in love over the course of one magical day in New York City.
Melton says he instantly connected with his character Daniel Bae, a hopeless romantic facing that classic Asian American dilemma of pursuing a career his parents want for him while also harboring a secret, non-STEM-related passion, “He’s a dreamer,” explains Melton, who fondly recalls driving out to Los Angeles with $500 in his pocket, 60 cans of tuna and 60 cans of chicken noodle soup. “He believes in fate, love, destiny.”
Melton speaks with an earnestness that makes you wonder if he’s channeling Daniel or vice-versa. Regardless, it’s refreshing to hear a dude’s dude wax poetic about the virtues of love. “I’ve been there,” says Melton, who’s dating his “Riverdale” co-star Camila Mendes. “Falling head over heels is scary and risky, but to love without any fear of judgment or being hurt is the only way to live. Be vulnerable. Be open. What’s there to lose?”
It’s that duality of Jake Ryan looks and Lloyd Dobler sensitivity that has earned the 28-year-old actor teen heartthrob status, with an Instagram following larger than the population of his home state of Kansas. The irony is not lost on the military brat, who had struggled with his biracial identity. He felt like an outsider in his mother’s native Korea, as well as in the Midwest towns where he grew up. “It was like driving one way, but there’s two lanes,” recalls Melton. “Am I Asian American or am I American Asian?”
Those insecurities would evolve into opportunities that would make Melton stand out on the football field and fashion runways as a top model. Now, Melton finds himself breaking the mold as a new kind of leading man, in a studio movie centered around an interracial relationship.
“I’m exactly where I need to be right now,” says Melton, who will be going back to his athletic roots in the upcoming “Bad Boys for Life” sequel and for which he performed his own stunts. “We always try to find reasons why things are happening. Good or bad, you just have to let go and trust in fate. Whatever happens, happens. All you can do is just be present.”
This article appeared in Character Media’s May 2019 issue. Subscribe here.