To say Charles Melton is the embodiment of charm would be to understate his charisma. We meet late on a Friday evening via Zoom, hopping on just before close to midnight in Singapore and nine am in Los Angeles, where Melton is currently based. The actor spends his time flying between New York and the West Coast most weeks, depending on his audition and filming schedules. He greets me by my name, with a dimpled smile and instantly seems laid-back in that effortlessly cool kind of way, that makes you want to be his friend in a flash. With his black glasses in tow, he’s sitting in a sun-soaked room at his home in LA and sipping on his first coffee of the day.
What strikes me first about Charles is: he’s early to the interview. Not something I often get to experience when it comes to celebrity chats. I get it, they’re busy people and I don’t mind waiting; it’s almost always worth it. But Melton arrives a whole five minutes before his allocated hour and when I point this out to him, he tells me he can’t help but be particular when it comes to time management as a result of his former football days.
“When I used to play college football, we used to have this clock and it had a hand for minutes, but also for seconds. Everyone knew you were meant to show up 15 minutes early. So if it was 2:00pm, you should be there by 1:45pm. Then we’d all stand, wait and watch for the person who’d walk in at 1:59pm and 59 seconds and laugh. So, I think that stuck with me, you know? Now I try always to be on time.”
If it’s being timely that we’re talking about, then Charles is succeeding in more ways than one. Starring on the CW hit Riverdale (a mystery-fantasy adaptation of the formerly popular Archie comics produced by Warner Brothers, also airing on Netflix), there’s certainly been no better moment for him to be in the spotlight than now. The series which debuted in 2017 to a viral response, has since gone on to be one of the longest running on the streaming platform, with a final and seventh season due to air in 2023. Melton portrays the ever-complex character of Reggie Mantle – a rebellious varsity football captain for the Riverdale Bulldogs and Veronica Lodge’s (portrayed by actress Camilla Mendes) love interest and partner-in-crime at her underground bar, Le Bonne Nuite.
We don’t have more than an hour for our chat before his next engagement [something he apologises for multiple times], so I jump into the interview after we exchange laughs and pleasantries. What follows is an intimate, personal and endearing glance at Charles Melton, in his own words.
Charles! How are you feeling about your time on Riverdale, especially now that it’s going to be coming to an end?
Well, I mean, I’ve spent half-a-decade on this show! Half-a-decade sounds so much cooler than saying it’s going to be six years, doesn’t it? [Laughs]. It’s such a feat to have a show go on this long. One, for it to even get made and two, for it to go past the first season, then the second season and now, we’re about to have seven seasons! To be a part of something like that; it’s hard to think that maybe I’ll have this kind of experience ever again. It’s been the time of my life. I’ve made relationships with everybody on the cast. I met some of my best friends in the world through this experience, that I’ll talk to for the rest of my life. It’s opened so many doors for me and I’ve learned so much in this process. It’s the longest commitment I’ve ever had aside from sports, playing American football.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of being a part of Riverdale?
For sure it’s been seeing someone that looks like me onscreen. [In the past], we’d [actors of full or partial Asian origin] always be a side character maybe, and it was something I knew could be a challenge when I moved out here [to LA]. But I just wanted to act and do the best I could. When I got Riverdale, I realized that this was bigger than me. It wasn’t only about me giving a great performance or being a part of a great show; it was about the representation to say, a little Charles or my sister [that look like me], or just the younger generations of actors who can relate. I get to be part of this wider conversation and transformation of what we’re seeing onscreen, and it’s powerful when you realize that it’s bigger than you.
Does that put pressure on you in any way, in that you now feel a need to abide by a certain mannerism in which Asian-American characters are meant to be perceived or represented?
I think it’s all relative. I wouldn’t say pressure is the right word, but the process has led me to examine my own life, and to show what I know. It’s led me to examine my own ancestors. At the moment, I’m learning Korean. I can speak Korean pretty fluently already, but I’m trying to grow my knowledge with lessons, so I can connect better with the whole side of my Korean family. I want to be able to ask them deep questions about their lives and who they are, because it matters to me. The whole process has been a catalyst for me just to self-examine myself and my identity, and define what it is to actually be Asian-American for myself and specifically, what it is to be Korean. The show has been a partial self-discovery journey.
Why is it so important for you to explore these elements of your identity at this point in time?
I mean, every day is a discovery in a way, you know? Once I became aware of the desire to do so, it’s been very transformative for me to understand who I am, what I am and why I am. I’ve always felt this kind of unique pull between two different worlds. I’m half-Korean, half-Western. I’m saying Western, because maybe it’s more of a universal term. It can be confusing, because it’s like, what do I pick, and do I have to [pick]? What do I take? What am I? At times when you’re grappling both worlds internally, it can feel like you’re not Korean enough for the Korean community, and at others, like you’re not Western enough for the Western community. You kind of grow up in this dichotomy of who you’re meant to be, and I’m constantly in pursuit of solving that mystery.
Speaking of mysteries, you play a rather iconic and beloved comic book character as Reggie Mantle on Riverdale. Were you a fan of the Archie comics growing up?
Yeah, definitely! I was a huge Archie comics fan growing up, and I was really excited to see the adaptation. I think it’s really cool to see a variety of different people from different backgrounds playing these amazing characters that we all had so much nostalgia for. And I don’t think anyone who truly is a fan of the comics, or a fan of the show, really cares what race someone is, as long as they’re doing a great job.
So, has playing this role taught you something about yourself that you didn’t expect?
It’s taught me many things about life. It’s taught me about work ethic and discipline. Showing up and doing the work. Understanding your character, understanding the lines. Like with every part in every project that I do, I have to kind of create the structure of what I want my life to be; because you know, as actors – we don’t really do a nine-to-five. So, I have to ask myself: what am I doing outside of those days? How do I keep myself fulfilled and my spirits high, and how am I persevering through life? What helps me the most is just a routine and discipline. The biggest takeaway for me is to apply what I’ve learned in life as far as discipline and work ethic [even from my football days] to whatever I do now and do next, and do it to the best of my ability.
So how do you switch off when you’re not working? Are you going to take some downtime once the show wraps up?
For downtime…I did some travelling this year. I’m shooting and directing a short film next month [September]. It’s close to home and a personal story. I’m going to shoot it, star in it, write it etc. I’m just staying creative. I ask myself: what’re the meaningful stories I really want to tell? I like to always be prepared for what might come knocking on my door. It’s good to stay prepared, so you don’t have to get prepared. In our job, there’s a lot of waiting around and going through multiple rounds of processes [from auditions to test rounds to role offers] and I just like to make sure I’m ready for it all. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, I don’t know [laughs], but I’ve just never been someone who can wait and then react later. I need to be ready to go now.
Otherwise, I try to focus on taking care of myself. If I can be the craftsman of my own life: take care of the people I love, see my family and be with loved ones, go to movies alone, and sometimes go to restaurants alone, then that’s all I really need.
Do you ever get tired of pushing yourself?
It’s about picking what the priority is in our lives, you know? Which is something everyone feels and it’s universal. Honestly, sometimes a little bit of positive self-doubt really motivates me too. It’s just this fear of not giving it everything and then regretting it later. There’s something very liberating about knowing that I did everything I could, you know? I take pride in what I do, and I think we should be proud of the work that we do. In sport we have this saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” There are many more talented people than me, but I want to work hard. I think it brings a lot of growth.
You’re very passionate about filmmaking and the art of it. What made you want to get into this business?
I kind of just fell into it! I think a love of storytelling really played a huge part. My dad has told me so many stories about life, and I’ve learned so much from him, from a really young age. He’s always loved movies and growing up; we’ve watched everything together. Each time, we could always find some sort of kernel of truth in them, that made life more inspiring. Movies in that way, have kind of shaped me. Yes, sometimes you have to take what you see with a grain of salt, but they’re a great way of finding the connection between art and life.
Is this why you love going to the movies alone?
I don’t know! When I was younger, I just loved being alone. I love being in my own little space; it’s like an escape into a beautiful world. When you’re watching [movies], even if you can’t always relate to the scene, it’s fun to ask yourself: what is this person feeling? I also love seeing people’s reactions. Once, I went to the movies [to watch Transformers] and the whole time, the person sitting near me was watching the movie with her eyes so enlarged and engaged. It was really fun to see her reaction and view it from someone else’s eyes. Movies are like this universal escapism in a way; like a shared love language. My favourite person to watch movies with is my dad though. He always has the best reactions.
Speaking of reactions, Riverdale has garnered quite the roaring reception when it comes to new-age teen-romance heartthrobs. How do you handle the attention that comes along with playing an onscreen bad boy?
What even is a heartthrob honestly! [Laughs, as he pours himself a cup of coffee and politely says he would’ve made me one too, had I been there]. At the end of the day, it’s really flattering and so lovely for people to show me so much love. Like I said, a lot of Asian-origin actors never thought they’d find themselves in a place where they were seen as trendy, coveted or desirable [in a mass media way], because we just never grew up watching that reflected onscreen. So, it’s really humbling to have this happen. I will also say, at the end of the day – I’d love to be known for my work first and for being a good person, and then maybe my cheekbones! [Laughs].
So, for anyone wanting to know the way to your heart, what do you look for in your partner?
I always like someone who can ground me, and remind me of what’s important. I can be all over the place with work and my schedules and between trying to see my family and spend time with the people I love. So, I appreciate it when someone can make me feel centered and calm when I’m with them and yeah, really just grounds me to feel safe, happy and like myself.
You raised a point earlier about Asian-origin actors and the idea of being not historically being seen as trendy or desirable. Much of fashion and what’s considered stylish and sexy today is being influenced by K-Pop culture and the like. How has your own style evolved over the years?
I mean style to me is such an individual thing. I never grew up with this notion of being ‘fashionable’. I went to school in Kansas, and it wasn’t until I really moved to LA that I started to get an idea of what my unique take on it [fashion] could be. I was just in Rome for a couture show and I was asking myself: am I really here? Isn’t this so cool, you know? To me, being stylish is to be comfortable. Clothes are so unpredictable. You go to one store, and you fit into a pair of jeans, and you go to another and suddenly the same size doesn’t fit! So comfort is key. But I definitely like to play with my style and experiment and try new things. As long as I feel good in it and it reflects my personality and who I am, it’s stylish to me.
Finally, what’s next for you Charles? Both in and outside of work?
See, this is how I know you’ve gotten to know me during our chat, because you said both inside and outside of work! [Laughs]. I’m excited! I’m excited to shoot my creative project. I have a few really big things lined up that I can’t really talk about, but hopefully, if they come through, it’ll be life-changing and things I’d be really pumped to do. I’ve been redoing parts of my house here and there [like my backyard and my pool]. I haven’t had much of a chance to settle things down and now I’m finally getting to do that. I’m prepared for whatever comes next and I’m going to enjoy it. At the end of the day, that’s all we can really do, you know?
Riverdale is now streaming on Netflix.
PhotographyMike Carreiro / Art Department LA
Creative DirectorVanessa Caitlin
Fashion EditorGordon Ng
StylingCarlee Wallace / Art Department LA
Prop stylingShelby Kay
On-set producerScott Chebegia
Production assistanceLindsay Sipe
1st assistantTimarie Bryce
Styling assistanceBoyd Sloan
Prop assistanceMadeleine Forbes