Cape Town - Charles Melton and Yara Shahidi star in the film adaptation of Nicola Yoon's bestseller, The Sun is Also A Star.
A modern-day story about finding love against all the odds the film explores whether our lives are determined by fate or the random events of the universe.
College-bound romantic Daniel Bae (Melton) and Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley (Shahid) meet—and fall for each other—over one magical day amidst the fervour and flurry of New York City.
Sparks immediately fly between these two strangers, who might never have met had fate not given them a little push. But will fate be enough to take these teens from star-crossed to lucky in love?
In this Q&A, the Riverdale actor tells us more about his character, his memorable moments while filming, and what he hopes audiences take away from the film.
Tell me about your character, Daniel Bae.
Daniel is a first-generation Korean American, and on this specific day when the movie takes place, he's preparing for an interview to get into university to study and become a doctor—a goal his parents have wanted him to achieve his entire life. His parents moved to the U.S. to give him and his brother a chance at better lives. The fact that his brother didn't choose the professional path his parents had set out for him puts even more pressure on Daniel. But he has dreams of his own, which he realises he'd much rather pursue during the time he spends with Natasha, played by the phenomenal Yara Shahidi.
Was there a moment during production that was particularly memorable for you?
A moment? There were a lot of moments that took my breath away. The entire shooting process felt very real to me. I went through a lot of emotions, and with [director] Ry Russo-Young, the creative team and the cast, we were all on the same page and wanted the film to feel as authentic as possible.
There was a really emotional scene in particular with my brother, Charlie, played by Jake Choi, that came out of nowhere. He plays my older brother, first-born, and in the traditional Korean family, they are expected to set a precedent and fulfil our parents' dreams. He's supposed to be an example for the other siblings, a role model. The scene was meant to be just a fight they have in the family store. But as we continued shooting, it took on more weight, and I felt a huge undercurrent of emotion. It's amazing when parts of yourself—I have two younger sisters, and Jake has a younger brother—come in and inform the scene and give it a much deeper meaning. It was tough, but also very powerful. We were hugging after every take with tears running down our faces. It was an amazing day.
There is a bit of a scuffle. Did you guys choreograph that to avoid getting hurt?
We're both athletes. He's a former basketball player and played in Korea; he was very good. I grew up playing sports my entire life and played football at Kansas State. There was a fight choreographer there, and we rehearsed it a couple of times. Since we're both pretty physical, we just went for it. I don't want to spill any on-set secrets, but there were pads that I was supposed to put on under the ubiquitous grey suit that I wore throughout the 27 days of filming, but I opted not to. I just thought it would take away from my commitment to the scene. Throughout the movie, we were going for what is real, and I didn't want anything to take away from that.
And when shooting was over, where did you take all that emotion you'd been producing?
I hopped on a flight the next day, straight to Vancouver, and began nine months of filming Riverdale, which is such a well-oiled machine. Television is a little bit different from movies in my experience, and you don't get as many takes. There are 14 other great series regulars, and we're all sharing scenes across 22 episodes, which is very different from my experience on the film since most of the scenes were between Yara and me.
Because this movie is all about Daniel and Natasha.
Yeah, it's a very character-driven movie, and it spans a day, it gave us an opportunity to dive into the character and show the audience how our love story evolves.
Daniel is interviewing because his parents ultimately want him to be a doctor, but he has a passion for poetry. Was your passion always acting?
This is going to sound like a cliché, but I've always been passionate about life and film. As a military kid, I was constantly moving and used cinema as a means to relate with other people. But what allowed me to assimilate and adapt, changing from one place to a new place and then another was the fact that I played sports. In sports, your ethnicity, the colour of your skin, where you come from doesn't matter, as long as you can put points on the board. And I did that. I was always athletic and played defensive back—so I set a goal to play in the NFL, and that was my dream for ten years. I was a two-time All-State football player, and I had over 60 scholarship offers out of high school. I also practised Taekwondo as a kid.
Where did movies fit in?
I always went to the movies. Funny thing—when I was in third grade, my dad and I were walking out of a movie, and I said, "Dad, I want to do that, be in the movies." He replied, "You can do it, you know. You just have to keep up with Taekwondo, and you can be just like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee." That's the only reference my dad had, because of how I looked, and what had been shown onscreen. We are a country founded on immigrants, but in our frame of reference, we had never seen an Asian leading man. Growing up, I was called Jet Li or Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, and I was fine with that. But it also shows how far we've come in terms of the progress we've made in the diversity we see on film and television. I have always embraced my heritage and consider myself to be an American. But things have drastically changed and evolved for the better. Maybe today, a little kid in third grade can say, "Hey, that guy looks like me. Maybe I can do that."
When did you choose to concentrate on acting?
I trained in acting, but it became real for me about a year-and-a-half before I booked Riverdale, when I invested all my time and effort into being an actor. Getting the role of Daniel Bae gave me an opportunity to grow as an artist, and I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity.
So, Daniel is a combination of what's in the script and what you bring to him.
Yes. I picked up the dialogue fairly quickly because of how well I understood Daniel. I found inspiration by reading the book, which allowed me to embody the essence of the character by writing a journal; reading poems by his favourite poets, such as Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and William Shakespeare; and listening to music from his favourite artists, such as Tupac Shakur and Nirvana. Also, Ry was such a fearless leader and gave us a lot of freedom to work within the scene, which allowed us to be creative in our approach to playing our characters.
What would you like to see audiences experience when they see the movie?
I hope they experience love and hope and come to believe that life can be changed for the better in a single day.
The Sun is Also A Star releases in SA cinemas on Friday, 7 June.
(Photos supplied: Warner Bros)