What if you can fall in love with someone in just one day?
That is the main premise for the upcoming teen drama, 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 adamantly tries to persuade her. Natasha begs to differ, as she fights to stop her family’s deportation back to Jamaica. The film also stars Jake Choi as Charlie Bae, Daniel’s older brother (read our Q&A with Jake here).
In an interview with CAAM, Melton (Riverdale) talks about what it was like to be the male romantic lead, what it was like to portray an interracial relationship for a mainstream film, and also his thoughts about humanizing the stories of immigrants in this country. The Sun Is Also a Star screens at CAAMFest 37 on Wednesday May 15th at 6:00PM at the AMC Kabuki in Japantown. Its theatrical release will follow on Friday, May 17th.
In YA stories, it’s not that often that audiences get to see an Asian American play the romantic male lead. What has that experience been like for you?
I’m honored. I’m honored to be a part of this change that’s happening. You have this film which has a character portrayed by Yara Shahidi who’s Black and Iranian and myself who’s Korean American. So I’m very honored.
Can you describe your approach to playing Daniel?
I read the script and I’ve read the book. There’s clues in the book that I found like which poets that he likes, and I bought their books: Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, William Shakespeare. I was listening to different music; a lot of Nirvana and Tupac.
When it came to filming, we have a great director and a great cinematographer. [We had] powerful women in very powerful positions behind the camera working who’re part of the film that really helped set the atmosphere of filming.
I was in Daniel’s shoes for seven weeks. Everyday, just two characters. It’s just Natasha and Daniel so everyday, full days in the city of New York, it’s quite a long time.
Young love is a common element in YA stories, but not all of them are centered around interracial relationships. What does that mean for you to have depicted such a relationship with Yara, especially when diversity is in such high demand?
It’s great! I’ve been going to these screenings on this press tour and I’m seeing so many Asian men, Asian women, Black women, Iranian women, just all walks of life and different races coming to see this film and it’s amazing! It’s not so much [any particular] demographic or group or community, but encompassing all from this global perspective which has been very great to see.
I don’t know why diversity is in such high demand. This is what this country is, right? America is a representation of immigrants. It should be beyond what we see with the policies and politics in the news that there’s more to what America is in individual stories from people from all over the world that must be seen.
Immigration plays quite a role in the lives of both Natasha and Daniel. How do you feel about the film incorporating current social issues affecting immigrants and immigrant families?
When Nicola wrote this story, she didn’t write this story because immigration was relevant. This country was founded on immigrants and she comes from immigrants as well, as I do on my mother’s side and so does Yara on her father’s side. She really humanizes and puts a story to a face.
So we see on social media, you have all these policies and politicians who are seeing immigration in a theoretical perspective where it’s what you see instead of these stories that humanize what really is going on. There’s more to connect to when you’re seeing instead of just policies and politics and seeing the face of that. You’re seeing the individuals in this film who’re people first who deal with these struggles, and I feel that people relate to that. It’s hard to empathize when you’re watching the news. So it’s great that in this film, you can empathize with these characters. It puts a body to the face of what immigration is. It story-tells.
What do you hope for audiences to take away from watching The Sun Is Also a Star?
I genuinely believe that this is an aspirational love story. You walk away with hope, faith, and just a better understanding on how much alike you are with other people than you are unlike. When it comes to love, for example, it’s a universal theme. I just want people to believe in love.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.