"May December" star Charles Melton on family and fame

In the film “May December,” Julianna Moore and Charles Melton play a married couple with issues. We all have issues, but they have a bit more than most.

The movie is said to be loosely-inspired by a true story. Mary Kay Letourneau, a 34-year-old grade school teacher, served seven years in prison for having a relationship with one of her underaged students, Vili Fualaau.

Shortly after Letourneau was released in 2004, she and Fualaau — who was by then 21 — got married and raised their two children. 

For Charles Melton, the role of Joe, the much younger husband, was both a huge opportunity and a terrifying challenge.

“For Joe, there’s so much weight he’s carrying. And it really stems in his soul, just deep, this arrested development,” Melton says.

To help tell the story of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Melton changed the way he walked and put on close to 40 pounds.

“That transitioned into me going through a baggy clothes era, which I really enjoy,” says the actor, who made his name in anything but baggy clothes.

Actor Charles Melton discusses his starring role in “May December” — a performance that earned a Golden Globe nomination — and his winding path to Hollywood.

CBS News

As Reggie Mantle in the TV series “Riverdale,” he was an athletic high school jock who was lean and sometimes mean. That was a far cry from the real Melton.

He was born in 1991 in Juneau, Alaska. His dad, Phil, was a career Army man who met Melton’s mother, Suk-Yong, in her native Korea. The family settled for good near Phil Melton’s last duty station in Manhattan, Kansas.

Charles Melton was a sensitive kid who often wasn’t content unless he was holding his mother’s hand.

“My husband told me Charles is a mama’s boy. Because when we riding road trip, always, he got me, ‘Mommy, hand,'” his mother says. So, I’m in the front passenger seat and he is in the back, his car seat. And I have to give him my arm.”

Melton was raised to appreciate his Korean heritage, and he says he’s proud to be Korean-American.

“It wasn’t until I was about 20, when I came to Los Angeles, that I learned the term hapa, which is half of something,” he recalls. “I did not know what that was. I would prefer not to say that term anymore.”

Growing up, Melton wanted to play in the National Football League, a dream he says he’d had for 10 years. And he might’ve had a shot. Melton was a talented player who would train hard and then sneak back into the Manhattan High School stadium on his own for a little extra practice. 

“I’d jump the fence. I’d come here late at night. No one inside. I’d lay down, I’d look at the stars and I’d just visualize. I’d walk around this field and just visualize winning, making certain plays. And I would do that before every football game,” Melton says.

He went on to play college ball at Kansas State University, got a few modeling gigs, and, in 2012, with a month’s worth of food packed by his mother, set out for Hollywood to try his hand at acting. Melton came to L.A. with “$500 and a dream,” plus “a lot of ramen noodles.”

Fast-forward to 2023 and Melton’s riveting performance as a young man struggling with grown-up problems. His inspiration, he says, was drawn from a specific moment in his own childhood, when his dad, who was about to ship out for Iraq, told his 11-year-old son that it was time for him to step up.

It’s still tough for his dad to talk about.

“I sat down and I talked to him, told him he’s got to be man of the house and everything,” says Melton’s father. “And when I reflect back on it, maybe if something would’ve happened to be, he’d have been stuck in that role trying to be the one. … You don’t want to put that on somebody, but I’m glad he can use that, you know?”

Melton is keeping his family close. They were with him on a lot of the awards season red carpets, and they’ll stay at his side for what comes next — whenever, and whatever, that may be.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead,” says Melton. “I just trust and have faith that the right thing’s going to come when it’s meant to come.”

Produced by John R. D’Amelio. Edited by Mike Levine.

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