The Hollywood Portfolio Film

Charles Melton Will Go to Therapy for A Character. But He Won’t Suffer For Him

All clothing and accessories by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

For his role as a man married to his childhood sexual abuser in the taut Todd Haynes drama May December, Charles Melton did a lot of therapy. The 33-year-old actor didn’t just go for himself, but as his character Joe, too.

“My preparation is very technical,” he says, likening the process to how, as a former Division 1 football player at Kansas State University, he would prepare for game days. It tracks, then, that the brilliance of Melton’s first big-screen lead performance—in which he holds his own opposite Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman—dwells in the physical. Joe carries himself as if he’s being dragged through his own life, hunched and uncertain. “Joe puts everything before himself,” says Melton over the noise of a bustling hotel room. (He mouths a big “Sorry!” when our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of room service.) “There is a relaxation in Joe’s body, though we see it as repression, this awkwardness of not taking up space.”

Therapy also helped Melton unlearn the idea that creativity is pain. “You don’t have to suffer for your character. It’s a job,” he says. “It’s a gratifying job—I wouldn’t want to do anything else—but in the past, I’ve fallen into the trap of, ‘I need to suffer for my art.’” 


Now, Melton seeks empathy for his characters in the same place where he finds it for himself. "Character work is similar to personal therapy—understanding why you are the way you are, why you tick the way you do,” he muses. It helps that Melton is naturally introspective, a self-described dreamer who has never pruned his ambitions to fit his situation. An army brat, Melton and his family moved constantly—to South Korea (where his mother was born), Alaska, Germany, and Texas, among others—affording him plenty of time in cars and airplanes to conjure visions of a glimmering future.

Though he spent his teen years focused on football, a switch flipped when he reached college: After hearing a commercial for a talent showcase on a Great Plains radio station, he dropped out of Kansas State and moved to Los Angeles in 2012. Five years later, he landed his first major role, as high school football captain Reggie Mantle on the CW’s moody teen drama, Riverdale.

Though Melton wears the teen-heartthrob label well—he has a face made to be pinned to the inside of a locker door—he has, through his performance in May December, joined the elusive ranks of era-defining actors. This sharp rise would be daunting to most, but Melton is unruffled. After all, he’s a graduate of one of the most prestigious acting schools there is: 23 days on a film set with Todd Haynes.


“Todd encouraged me every step of the way, to lean into my instincts and trust them,” says Melton. (Haynes has said that he nearly discounted Melton for reasons of handsomeness—but the actor’s arresting audition performance piqued his interest.) “When you have someone like Todd—this legend in cinema—supporting you, you feel like you can do anything.”

Jazmine Hughes is a National Magazine Award-winning writer based in Brooklyn, New York, and Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.

CASTING BY Tom Macklin
STYLIST ASSISTANCE BY Andrew McFarland, Laura Cheron Haquette, and Arianna Thode
GROOMING BY Candice Birns
PRODUCTION BY Giulia di Stravola
DIGITECH BY Victor Prieto
SET DESIGN BY Romain Goudinoux
VIDEO BY Larry Armstrong

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