Life isn’t straightforward, and the same can be said for The Sun Is Also a Star.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young and based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, it’s a story about Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), who bonds and develops feelings for college-bound romantic Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) over a typical day in New York City. The universe wants them together, as Daniel tries to persuade her. Natasha begs to differ, as she fights to stop her family’s deportation back to Jamaica.
In an interview with The Tempest, Melton (Riverdale) talks about what it was like to explore young love onscreen, Asian representation in Hollywood, and why our stories will always matter.
“There are a lot of similarities between Daniel and me. [He’s] a hopeless romantic, you know, his head’s in the clouds, you know, falling in love. It’s an aspirational love story.”
As a child of immigrants, the story really resonated with Melton. The story, Melton told us, goes beyond identity and immigration.
“Hopefully people can find their stories. I believe people can relate to the story and characters on so many different levels. Whether it is immigration, family or falling in love – or even pursuing your passions over maybe what your parents want you to do,” Melton said.
“Daniel, for example, he goes through the cycle of questioning: Is he Korean-American or American-Korean, all because his parents immigrated to the U.S. to give him a better life? How far is Daniel willing to go?”
Melton’s family also immigrated to the U.S. in the early 90s. He told us there are a lot of similarities between Daniel, whose family came to the U.S. from South Korea to give their children a better life, and him.
Playing Daniel, Melton said, brought a romance to screen often missing in Hollywood.
“There’s this vulnerable masculinity that we see in Daniel that I think is universal to all men, all over the world. Let alone, there is a stereotype, a stigma, surrounding Asian men that I feel is breaking in today’s culture in Hollywood TV and film.
Where to be an Asian man in romance, I had never seen anything like this five to 10 years ago. To be a part of this [representation] in a studio film, let alone [working with] Yara Shahidi, is such an honor and privilege.”
The movie explores a reality so many of us have to deal with: meeting the expectations of one’s family.
“He feels enormous pressure on how far he is willing to go in order to compromise his own self and his own passion to ease his parents’ dreams and aspirations for him. So, there’s a lot going on this specific day when he meets this girl that he falls in love with.”
On what it meant to bring Daniel to life, Melton explained, “When it comes to playing these different characters, it’s almost like a part of yourself that you kind of amplify, put on steroids and portray to be hopeless. Like, at times, I’m jaded, at times, I’m guarding my heart because I’m afraid to give it. Daniel’s hopeless in the sense that he, he doesn’t believe in guarding something that he wants to give and that’s his heart.”
“That’s something that, you know, this kind of innocence, this hopeless romanticism I feel like can get lost in today’s time. There is no expectation [from Daniel], he just loves to love. The character really embodies that and it’s very aspirational. I really admire that about him and a part of that lives within me. It was very nice, as an actor, to portray that by playing and living in Daniel’s shoes,” he added.
The film has many themes we can connect to, aside from being a biracial love story, Melton said. He guaranteed that audiences would find a part of their story – not just the characters of the film, but within the city of New York itself.
“If you’ve never been in love or maybe you’re jaded or are in love – I think this is a great film to see to be reminded to reunite, to give hope and to give faith. Personally, for my character, just the way he loves is very hopeless and very present. I just hope it inspires people.”
When asked what advice he would give fellow Asian Americans and children of immigrants who wish to follow in his steps, he reminded us of the importance of our own narratives. “You are loved, you have a voice and your story is important,” Melton said. “You mean something.”
We can definitely get behind that.
The Sun Is Also a Star is now playing in theaters.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.