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How Charles Melton transformed into a 'suburban father' for 'May December'

Here's why preparing for the role in the new Todd Haynes film meant drinking lots of Fanta.
/ Source: TODAY

"Riverdale" fans know Charles Melton as the captain of his high school football team. But in the upcoming Netflix film "May December," he's playing a 36-year-old father of three.

Melton, 32, tells TODAY.com he gained "a little bit more than 30 pounds" in preparation for his role as Joe Yoo in "May December," which premieres on Dec. 1.

"It wasn't so much, 'Joe's gonna look this way,'" Melton says of his conversations with the film's director, Todd Haynes. "We just talked about who he was: being a suburban father, 36, has a job, he's the provider, loving husband, three kids."

"There’s really not so much time that he can have for himself where everything else comes before him," he continues. "So we talked about what he would feel like. That work just translated into me making the informed decisions to eat whatever I wanted."

That meant drinking a lot of Fanta, one of his favorite drinks, when he was preparing for the film's 23-day shoot in Savannah, Georgia.

"I watched a lot of movies and ate a lot of food," Melton jokes. He went through Haynes' master list of inspirations for the film; his favorites were "Persona" and "The Graduate."

Charles Melton
Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. Courtesy Netflix

In "May December," Melton's character Joe is married to Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), a woman more than 20 years his senior.

The story deepens when the tabloid-fodder origins of their relationship emerge. 20 years ago, then 36-year-old Gracie was caught having sex with then 13-year-old Joe while working together at a pet store.

The couple eventually married and had children (the first of whom were born while Gracie was serving a prison sentence), and now live a relatively quiet life in Savannah, Georgia — until actor Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) comes to town to research her role playing Gracie in an independent film. Elizabeth forces the couple and their children to look hard at the facts of their family.

"(Elizabeth) is almost this catalyst for Joe’s own awakening and acknowledging and coming to terms with his own identity — despite the roles he’s carried for such a long time in his life," Melton says.

Melton credits the balance — and tension — between Joe, Gracie and Elizabeth to the film's director.

"It's incredible, what Todd (Haynes) does, is he sets the table for the audience and you pick and choose what you want from that table," he said. "And we kind of go on this journey through, what we first see from the lens of Natalie's (Portman) character, Elizabeth, but we really are just a fly on the wall of the journey of each of these characters."

As for starring in a film alongside Moore and Portman, two Academy Award winning actors?

"I think anybody would be nervous for an opportunity to work with two icons," he says. "But when I first met them, I just completely in awe by how incredible and kind and warm and silly they were, and I felt really supported throughout the whole thing."

Melton is reflecting on how far he's come since his time on "Riverdale" ahead of the release of "May December.

"I'm so grateful for 'Riverdale.' I learned so much being on that show for six years, making lifelong friendships, and just learning so much for being on that set for 10 months out of the year for six years," he says.

"To be able to have the opportunity to work with the legend Todd Haynes and the masters of their craft in Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman," he continues. "I just learned so much and was so excited to stretch as an actor and to really just explore this character based on Samy Burch' script.

He concludes: "It's bittersweet, I miss so many of those people — so many of my ('Riverdale') co-stars are amazing. We all keep in touch."