Todd Haynes Talks Casting Charles Melton in ‘May December’ and His Relationship With Casting Director Laura Rosenthal
When casting his movies, filmmaker Todd Haynes has a trusted go-to person for the job: Laura Rosenthal.
“I’ve worked with Laura Rosenthal since Velvet Goldmine in 1998 and I’ve never deviated,” Haynes tells Casting Networks. “We know each other so incredibly well. We are close, intimate friends and have a process we go through.”
Haynes, critically lauded for such films as Far From Heaven and Carol, said during their casting process, he and Rosenthal inevitably find themselves in a situation where they’ve had to “do the impossible and find an actor for a specific role who will be a tremendous challenge to find.”
One that comes to mind for Haynes was the casting of deaf actress Millicent Simmonds for the role of Rose in the 2017 film Wonderstruck.
“We were absolutely dedicated to casting a real deaf actor, which meant it would most likely be a non-actor who had never acted before,” he said. “We opened the floodgates and pursued every community in the United States that had deaf schools or notable deaf education or community centers that dealt with deaf or blind kids. That’s how we found Milli.”
On his latest film, May December, the duo faced another challenging situation: finding a Korean-American actor to play Joe, one half of a married couple with a very large age gap that was tabloid fodder twenty years earlier.
May December is loosely inspired by the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualauu, here depicted as the fictitious Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton), who first began a sexual relationship when the latter was in 7th grade and the former was in her 30s. Two decades and a couple of kids later, their lives are upended when an actress named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), who is set to portray Gracie in a biopic, arrives at their home to shadow the couple in preparation for her role.
Portman was attached to the project from the get-go, having found the script and bringing it to Haynes. He immediately thought of Moore – whom he’s now worked with five times – to play opposite her. However, finding the right actor to play Joe wasn’t a slam dunk.
“We saw some superb people who auditioned [for Joe] and sent in tapes,” said Haynes, admitting that he wasn’t initially sure about Melton.
The actor, best known to television viewers as Reggie Mantle on The CW’s Riverdale, is Korean on his mother’s side and American on his father’s. Melton fit the role ethnically and was in the proper age range for the character at 32. However, Haynes felt Melton was just too handsome for the part.
“He was more glamorous than I pictured Joe to be, but what Charles did in his reading was so remarkable,” Haynes said.
The filmmaker recalled Melton reading for Joe in a very understated way, bringing tenderness and fragility to the character with a pent-up quality. The actor brought a deep understanding of the character that Haynes said even exceeded his own, so he booked him.
Melton’s casting proved to be a success. In their reviews of the film, Slate Magazine called his performance “revelatory… boiling down decades of impossibly conflicted emotions into clenched body language and aloof speech patterns that feel unmistakably like those of a man in permanently suspended adolescence.”
Slash Film noted that Melton’s “willingness to break himself open completely — as both an actor and a character — doesn’t go unnoticed, and his capacity for vulnerability is on full display….”
More recently, Melton took home best supporting actor statues at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle.
The recognition of Melton’s performance underscores Rosenthal’s keen eye for talent and her ability to take on casting challenges for Haynes’ projects.
Haynes appreciates his relationship with Rosenthal because she also goes on location with him to find local casting, which, in the case of May December, was Savannah, Georgia.
Haynes says that local casting is done not just for financial reasons but for the opportunity to discover actors “from the soil” of where the shoot takes place and the surprises that locale can bring. He cites the Montreal casting for his 2007 Bob Dylan film I’m Not There as a significant example he’s never forgotten.
“I was astonished by the range of talents and the flexibility of the actors’ abilities to shift languages and dialects from French to English,” he said of the Montreal actors who came in. “I’ve never seen anything like that before….it’s an example of how rich local talent can be.”
Whether it’s Montreal, Savannah or any other location he’s shot in, Haynes says that when it comes to casting, “Laura and I do it all together.”
May December is currently streaming on Netflix.
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