First Look at May December, premiering Dec 1 on Netflix! – TRAILER

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In uscita il 1 dicembre su Netflix è il film drammatico May December con protagonisti Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman e Charles Melton. Diamo un primo sguardo!
May December, L to R: Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo with Charles Melton as Joe. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix

Premiering December 1 on Netflix is the drama May December, starring Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman and Charles Melton. Let’s take a first look!

First Look at May December, premiering December 1 on Netflix! – TRAILER

SYNOPSIS

Despite the beginning of a shocking relationship, 36-year-old Gracie (Julianne Moore) and 13-year-old Joe (Charles Melton) now lead an apparently perfect suburban life some 20 years later. Their domestic happiness is upset when Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a famous actress, arrives in their close-knit community to study her next role as Gracie. As Elizabeth ingratiates herself with Gracie and Joe’s daily life, the uncomfortable facts of their scandal come to the surface, resurfacing long-dormant emotions. In May December, director Todd Haynes (Safe, Carol) explores one of the great talents of the human species: our colossal refusal to look at ourselves.

CAST

Elizabeth Berry – Natalie Portman
Gracie Atherton-Yoo – Julianne Moore
Joe Yoo – Charles Melton
Georgie Atherton – Cory Michael Smith
Mary Yoo – Elizabeth Yu
Charlie Yoo – Gabriel Chung
Honor Yoo – Piper Curda
Tom Atherton – D.W Moffett
Morris – Lawrence Arancio

DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
SCREENPLAY BY: Samy Burch
STORY BY: Samy Burch e Alex Mechanik

May December explores one of the great talents of the human species: our colossal refusal to look at ourselves.

Through the narrative premise of a film being made about a particular American family, a family born out of a public scandal that became a national media event, an actress descends upon Savannah, Georgia, to study the woman she’ll be portraying and the lives that have carried on as a family ever since. It is through this delicate process of narrative exploration that this strange, unsettling story is framed, and that we come to learn about the past, the matriarch at the center of the scandal and her young husband, a Korean American, who she began her affair with when he was 13-years-old.

All lives, all families, are the result of choices, and revisiting them, probing them, is a risky business. But it’s hard to think of more volatile romantic choices than these. And all the more so when so many defenses have been called upon to shut out such unanimous contempt and judgment from the world. The rigid stasis Elizabeth, the actress, begins to penetrate is the result of two stubborn decades of Gracie and Joe Yoo’s persistence. Now on the final days leading up to their two remaining children’s high school graduation.

But as Elizabeth observes and studies Gracie and her world, and gets to know her husband Joe, her reliability as narrator begins to falter. The honest portrait she hopes to erect, her own investment in revealing truths, becomes clouded by her own ambitions and presumptions, her own denials. And as Joe comes more and more into focus, both for us and to himself, we begin to see more similarities between Elizabeth and Gracie than either seem capable of seeing in themselves.

Through this quiet shifting of perspective, the film moves from single to double to triple portrait.

What so appealed to me about Samy Burch’s exceptional script, which Natalie Portman sent me in 2020, was how it navigated potentially volatile subject matter with a kind of observational patience that allowed the characters in the story to be explored with uncommon subtlety. It simmered with moral and narrative ambiguity which, as a film, would enlist the viewer into an active and excited state of watching and questioning.

With such compelling material, the project provided me the long-awaited opportunity to work with Natalie Portman—to ignite the reflexive whirligig of an actress playing an actress. And if that was not enough, to pair her with Julianne Moore in the fierce and inscrutable role of Gracie. Completing the triad would be no simple feat. But the casting of Charles Melton as Joe would serve to fill in the storied past and depict the treacherous present with astonishing subtlety.

Immediate cinematic associations were undeniable. Persona, of course, and other Bergman’s which put women in confrontation with one another, or which put characters, in key moments. In direct address to the lens, like in Autumn Sonata, Winter Light or various films of Godard’s. (This direct address, when our three central characters confront themselves in mirrors, would become a through-line in May December.) In addition, films about older women and younger men, like The Graduate, Sunset Boulevard or Sunday Bloody Sunday (or the more traditional inverse variety. like in Manhattan or Lolita). But particularly those examples in which a stylistic minimalism — like in The Graduate or Manhattan — is nearly indistinguishable from how the film succeeds.

Due to shifting schedules the production was launched quickly during the second half of 2022. Creating a kind of synergy that would benefit a limited budget and extremely tight shooting schedule.

But everyone involved took hold and shared in the creative strategies that provided both an economy of style and a way, I hoped, to invigorate how the film would be experienced. One might call it an excited, at times mordant, suspense, often reflected in the film’s uncommon use of music.

Michel Legrand’s score for Joseph Losey’s 1971 film, The Go-Between, began as a working document during my preparatory stages. But quickly spilled into production, where the score was played throughout the film’s shooting. In ways I’d never used a singular existing score before—and on through the cutting of the film. Composer Marcelo Zarvos, in the end, used the Legrand in combination with his own compositions for his arrangement of the film’s completed music.

The result, like many of my films, along with its stylistic references, is a kind of dialogue between the themes and narrative strategies in May December and those of other films, directors and eras of filmmaking it evokes. The film’s remarkable script and lead performances. filled out by by Cory Michael Smith. Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung. Piper Curda, among others. And all of the beauty and nuance provided by my creative partners, have restored what I believe is still possible in cinema. To find identification in the least likely places. And be compelled and surprised by a story and its characters without ever being entirely comfortable with who is right or wrong.

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore are going toe to toe in the ripped-from-the-headlines drama “May December.”

They dished with “Extra’s” Melvin Robert about the film, which is inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, and react to Oscar buzz.

The movie is already getting Oscar buzz! Julianne said, “It’s hard to not pay attention to it,” adding with a laugh, “It’s like, listen… everybody loves praise, attention… but I think the most important thing is to enjoy your work… and look at it all as a celebration of what wonderful work there is in a given year.”

Portman explained the movie’s focus — it takes place 20 years after Gracie’s relationship with  Joe (Charles Melton) was exposed — saying, “Okay, what happens to these humans after all the noise has died down?”

She went on, “And then seeing then this kind of reignition of it, with this actress coming in to interfere with their lives while trying to represent their lives… I think it just makes for an amazing conflict.”

Mel asked about the emotionally confrontational scenes, and Julianne shared, “It was great. I love Natalie, and I found it incredibly easy to be with her and work with her, and it was a very strong partnership, I feel like, right from the beginning. So, I think we both went into it having a corridor of play and communication, and so it was very easy to lean into these things that were dark and difficult and weird.”

Natalie added, “I love Julie so much and it was so easy and so fun to just spend time and work together. And it’s so fun when you’re working with someone as incredible as Julie, that you can see the minor variations like, when you do something there’s a shift, you know? You can push each other… you can play within a scene.”

Moore shared, “I remember when we were doing the cooking scene because it’s like there’s a line about, ‘Be careful, because if you keep it on too long, you could ruin it.’ And I didn’t want to hit it too hard, but I just felt like I could hit it a little harder, because it was Nat… and it was just fun, really fun to do.”

Robert asked what the vibe was like in-between takes, and Julianne said, “Easy. Talked about our kids, talked about dinner, lunch. Lot of food. Stuff like New York. Just talked about, just, life stuff, really.”

Charles Melton, who just won a Gotham Award for his performance, plays Julianne’s character’s husband.

He said of working with Moore and Portman, “Think of the greatest sports athlete in the world, times that by two. Have them come to set. They just elevated everything around them. They elevated me.”

He went on, “I was so nervous, so nervous,” adding he was also “excited and kind of focused on the story that I had to tell, the character Joe and who this man was.”

The “Riverdale” alum continued, “When I came to work, it was, ‘Focus on Joe,’ and then after I finished filming those 23 days, I was like, ‘What? Did this just happen?’ You know, it’s still very surreal for me.”

When Melvin asked Julianne and Natalie who they would love to work with in the future, Julianne answered, “That is a good question. [Martin] Scorsese,” adding, “Let’s get in one of his movies… you and me.”

Natalie agreed, “Yeah, let’s do it! Deal.”

Portman even had a message for the Oscar-winning director: “You hear that Marty?”

Where did May December start for you?

NATALIE PORTMAN: Jessica Elbaum, who’s another one of the producers, sent me the script, and I was just so blown away by Sammy Birch’s writing. It was just astonishing, and I was so moved by the specificity of the characters and the exploration of subjects like performance and identity. I sent it to Todd, who I had always wanted to work with, and I had previously sent him other projects that he had not responded to. So, it was very exciting when he was taken with this story. And the rest just kind of rolled from there, into this dream assembly of people.

There’s a very vivid, real-life counterpart to this story? Did you know anything about Mary Kay Letourneau?

PORTMAN: I, of course, was very aware of the tabloids as a young person growing up in the US, I think it was really everywhere, and I think it was such, yeah, it was really just splashed everywhere. So, I was quite aware of it, but hadn’t really thought much about it and certainly hadn’t considered, I think most of us, quite callously, what happened to those people whose lives we consumed. What happened to them 20 years later? Where were they? What was the effect on their lives of the story that was told over and over again in such a lascivious way?

How did you approach the character? Because you’re playing two characters really, in the sense that you’re playing an actress who’s playing a character. Was there any overlap with your own process?

PORTMAN: Well, I hope it’s not how I approach characters! [Laughs] I think my approach is similar to a journalist’s or documentarian’s when you’re telling a story that is true, that is a real story. You try and not get involved in it, even though there is the inevitable aspect that it’s being told already affects the course of a story — the fact that it’s being documented, being publicized — even if it’s as faithful to the source as possible.

But of course, Elizabeth goes so much farther into getting involved in their story. And then, as for the preparation and the character, it was really layered, as you mentioned. It’s this meta thing of, I’m an actress playing an actress playing a character. Julie keeps joking about how she studied with a baker to learn how to bake the cake that she bakes in real time in the movie. Then I watched her to learn how to bake a cake.

It’s very layered, but it’s emblematic of how everyone’s identity is made up of various performances, particularly female identity. That’s something that’s always been interesting to me. Our appearance as female: the makeup, the hair, the clothing, the way we move, and the way we behave, of course, is also highly performative, whether it’s someone being aggressive with us and us swallowing it politely and smiling, or whether we’re performing, being a perfect mother or a perfect wife. All of the things that society places on us.

Even Elizabeth’s first entrance into this barbecue [is performative], like, “I’m this big actress, but look how down to earth I am.” That’s a performance of a sort. It’s reflective of the way Gracie is in the world, how she wants to be seen. Struggling for the narrative.

The bottle of wine you take to the barbecue is the bottle of wine that’s waiting for you in the goodie bag in your hotel, isn’t it?

PORTMAN: Yes. [Laughs] Repurposed!

What were you going for in the look of Elizabeth Berry as she presents herself?

PORTMAN: There’s a kind of typical actor style that April Napier, the costume designer, and I played with. There’s, like, a uniform of what actresses wear at the airport. [Laughs] We looked at photographs of various people, and their haircuts, and all of these kinds of Jane Birkin-inspired outfits that would obviously contrast with this kind of suburban lifestyle that Gracie leads, and which would eventually create quite a contrast when she gets closer and closer to Gracie’s appearance — which was obviously challenging, considering Julianne and I don’t look that much alike. So, in terms of creating a kind of appearance that could mesh without dyeing my hair or whatever, that was part of what we mapped out with hair and makeup and wardrobe.

It’s rare to see a film that uses the camera as a mirror quite as much as this, particularly when Julianne is doing your makeup. What was going on there?

PORTMAN: It was an incredible innovation of Todd’s that he brought to the script: the camera as a mirror, and it’s so evocative of performance as identity-reflection, because, of course, the mirror is literally the audience here. And it was technically quite difficult because we weren’t actually looking in a mirror. We were looking in a camera lens, and there was an X mark for where we were supposedly seeing ourselves and an X mark for where we were supposedly seeing each other. And we’d have to react off of it without actually seeing the other’s reflection, which was quite complex, but it was really an incredible way to absorb the artifice and play with that.

The makeup scene is, for me, the most moving, and shooting it was the most revelatory scene in the movie, because Sammy’s writing, which was deceptively simple on the page, just exploded with meaning when we started saying the words.

Because it wasn’t the words, it was the silences between them and what goes unsaid that is so full of trauma, particularly when my character says to Gracie, “What was your mother like?” Julie takes this long pause and then says, “She was beautiful.” And it’s just the most devastating line to me because of everything she doesn’t say about her mother. During this act of putting on makeup, which is, of course, the performance of being female how you’re supposed to be, and being kind of trapped in this way that society prescribes you to be.

And she’s saying that as the most important thing about her mother that you’re supposed to know. Or is it the only thing that is positive to say? It’s these two women confronting not having the mothers they needed. It’s a very vulnerable moment without actually saying it. And while having this incredibly intimate moment, where we’re sharing the performance of what it is to be a woman in the world, all of it was just so heartbreaking.

It’s not that Elizabeth morphs into Gracie, but does she borrow her characteristics, and she starts to mimic her, perhaps unintentionally. Did you have to spend any time with Julianne to pick up some of her mannerisms?

PORTMAN: We didn’t have rehearsal at all, and I didn’t know what Julie was going to do ahead of time, so it was very scary showing up to work on the first day. We shot the whole film in 23 days, and we had two bouts of luck on this. Point one was that we shot relatively chronologically at Todd’s insistence, so that I got to observe Julie in real time, which, of course, was exactly what my character was doing: looking at what she was doing and then practicing copying it.

And then, the second thing that was just so lucky is that, obviously, Julie’s such a brilliant actress. She makes these bold choices that are so extreme yet always completely human and believable. You just know who those people [she plays] are, but they’re like the characters in documentaries where you’re like, “I can’t believe this is a real person,” because they’re so wild, in the way that humans are wild.

But then she also was very thoughtful in creating her character, to choose traits, identifiable traits, for Gracie that I could mimic, that I could hold onto, which was very generous to consider my performance when she was crafting hers. And so, things like the lisp and her very feminine hand movements, those were choices that were incredibly right for her character that she had thought through. The childishness and naïveté of the character made sense with a lisp, but also it was something that I could really grab onto and identifiably copy.

How much did Charles Melton’s performance feed into this because, on second viewing, it’s clearer how the roles are reversed in that relationship. How childlike Gracie is, and how he’s been forced into being an adult from an early age.

PORTMAN: Well, he’s extraordinary. I wasn’t familiar with his work before. It’s such a challenging role because it’s really someone who you simultaneously need to feel was thrust into adulthood too early, he’s prematurely adult and stuck in childhood forever. He has this arrested development and premature adulthood, which maybe are two sides of the same coin. But he was so serious and so focused and worked so hard and was so professional, and then was so heartbreakingly wonderful in every scene he did, and is just the nicest, easiest, most wonderful human. So, it was just a pleasure.

And then, I think as the character, I think it’s so much about these two women vying for narrative dominance — whose version of the story gets to be told? — and they’re trying to use Joe as a pawn to win. Because, basically, whichever story he accepts will become the truth. Meanwhile, his journey is to find his own narrative and his own version of the story. And we don’t know at the end what that will be, but we do know that it will be his own. He’s not just going to go along with either of these women’s stories just because they’ve pressured him to, like, in the past. You feel that he’s developing his own voice and his own ability to narrativize his own experience.

There’s a darkly funny line when Elizabeth is talking to her partner on the phone while she’s looking at self-tapes on her laptop. She tells him that none of the young actors auditioning to play Joe are attractive enough, and he says, very sharply, “You need to come home.” Did you see the humor in it the first time round?

PORTMAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the line you referenced and I mean, it was very clear that Samy had a view of the ridiculousness of a lot of these situations and that she could hold the tragedy and the melodrama alongside the absurdity of our celebrity culture, of moviemaking, of the pursuit of truth in art that she had. I mean, even if you just look at the writing of the last scene of the movie that they finally get to, it’s ridiculous.

At the end of this entire artistic pursuit that’s overturned everyone’s lives, they make this movie, and you’re like, “That’s the movie?” [Laughs] I mean, so much of the kind of ridiculousness is pointed out. And I think it’s also thanks to Todd’s incredible grasp of tone, that you can hold all of these things at once, that they can be incredibly moving and real emotionally, and have this comedy and feel deeply unsettling and kind of off-kilter. I mean, that’s masterful direction.

Todd used music on the set. How was that for you?

PORTMAN: It was incredible. It’s the first time in my life that I have worked with the actual music as we’re shooting. And he not only had the music, he had the exact pieces of music, like which part of the original Michel Legrand score from The Go-Between, the 1971 Losey film would be in which part of the movie. So, when I was driving, he was playing one part. And it was so incredible, tonally, to understand that while we were shooting, because I think music does so much that sometimes the work you do in a scene has to be in opposition to it.

Normally it’s reverse-engineered: you shoot, and then you counter-program with the music. Here we had the music first, so I think we understood how much it was doing for us, and we were allowed to live in the restraint of Sammy’s words, because it’s such sparse writing, and so much is between the lines. So, it was an incredible gift to have the music in advance.

There’s so much going on in this movie between the lines, and the enormity of what Gracie has done is a slow burn for the audience. What kind of reactions have you had so far?

PORTMAN: Yeah. Well, it’s been really remarkable to hear audience reactions, because people have been so excited and provoked by it, and everyone’s just enthralled by being challenged in this way of not being told what to think. It’s something you want to talk about afterwards, and that’s rare. And it’s exciting, because it was so hard to get this financed that I think it’s pretty sweet now to know it’s something that everyone’s watching. Financiers were like, “Who’s going to watch this?” I mean, that’s why we had to shoot for 23 days, because they were like, “This is really complicated subject matter.” And it’s also a story with has two female leads, which is just inevitably harder to get made.

But a lot of it is because of Todd’s direction. Like the scene when the dramatic music plays, and Gracie says, “I don’t think we have enough hot dogs.” It’s so brilliant of Todd, because he lets the audience know that it’s OK to laugh. It’s so clear, it’s like a signal, and it’s such a release from all the discomfort. But the film is supposed to make you uncomfortable, because I think one of the big questions it poses, when you talk about Gracie and her behavior, is about whether art can really be amoral.

So many of us — and Elizabeth says a version of it in that scene with the theater students — think that bad characters are the most interesting to play, because you just kind of want to get into the human heart. Because it’s not about judging characters; it’s about understanding human behavior. We all say that. But can you depict a crime without somehow endorsing it or glamorizing it? It’s a worthy question.

Todd said you very much enjoyed playing an actress while also playing with the perception that people might have of you as an actress

PORTMAN: Yeah, well, it was very fun to do because many of the things that I’ve actually experienced and recognized the absurdity of them, we get to kind of depict, explore, and Todd kept me away from the great temptation of caricaturing. I think the most tempting thing was just to make fun of myself through it, and Todd really geared me more toward making Elizabeth feel — especially when we meet her at the beginning — like someone we actually might like and trust. She takes us into the story.

She’s kind of our detective at the beginning, so you’re really going into the movie feeling like she’s your vehicle through which you’re going to understand Grace and Joe. That she’s really just there to ask questions for us as an audience and help us understand Grace and Joe. And then all of a sudden, the carpet is pulled out from under your feet when you’re like, “Oh, wait, she’s not reliable at all. She’s not trustworthy at all.” And that kind of narrative switch was so important. That was completely Todd’s guidance.

How does he help you prepare? Did he show you any movies?

PORTMAN: Yes. It was the best. Before the film, it was the most incredible stroke of genius of aligning everyone’s vision. He called it his image book, but it was actually a file of 25 movies, maybe, that were inspirations for tone, visuals, content. And they ranged from… [Pauses] Obviously, I think you would recognize Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Winter Light, but also Manhattan, The Graduate, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her. That was a big one.

There were movies I had never heard of before, like The Pumpkin Eater and Sunday Bloody Sunday, and, of course, The Go-Between, and he shared them all with the entire cast and crew, so we all were on the exact same page. So, despite the fact we had no rehearsal, despite the fact that we had 23 days to shoot the film, I felt like we all knew exactly what we were making, which is very unusual. It was such a beautiful way to conduct us. I always feel like the director is kind of conducting us as an orchestra.

Interview to Julianne Moore

How did you get involved with May December?

JULIANNE MOORE: Well, this is my fifth collaboration with Todd. We’ve been working together for 30 years, which is kind of crazy. Jessica Elbaum, who is one of our producers from Gloria Sanchez Productions, sent the script to Natalie, and Natalie sent it to Todd to direct. And Todd, because we had this very long, really wonderful artistic collaboration, slipped it to me. He emailed it to me and said, “Hey, I want you to look at this: Natalie Portman sent me this script, and there’s a really great part for you.” And I was like, “Wait, are you going to be directing this?” He was like, “Yeah, I think so.”

I read it, and I flipped out. It was astonishing, and so complicated, and emotional, and strange, and demanding, and also incredibly unusual in that it had these two female characters in this, like a Face/Off sort of relationship. So often when you find two female characters opposite each other, either it’s a love story or it’s a familial relationship. And this was unusual, because here are these two very strong women who are in a struggle for narrative dominance. It was so, so unusual. Anyway, I said, “Yes, absolutely,” right away.

It’s inspired by the real-life story of Mary Kay Letourneau. How much did you know about that?

MOORE: Samy Burch, who was our screenwriter, grew up in the ’90s, which was kind of the height of tabloid culture. Those were the days when we still had magazines on stands, and all these images were splashed across them. There was Mary Kay Letourneau, Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, and all of these kinds of tragic and somewhat lascivious stories were everywhere. So, yes, I was aware of it. In the United States, it was impossible, if you were around at that time, to not hear these stories. But I wasn’t highly educated.

Did you do any research into the story at all?

MOORE: I did a little bit, but Todd was very clear, and Samy as well, that the screenplay was our document. That was where we based most of our work. It was interesting. There’s certainly a lot of documentation. There are television interviews, and there were magazine articles, and books, and I think we used some of them as references, but we were always very, very aware that we were telling the story that Samy had written.

It was challenging. I mean, for me, I think one of the things that was so compelling is her insistence on her personal narrative. I think that, psychologically, when someone has transgressed, but insists on presenting their narrative as not a transgression, as something utterly ordinary, I think people have a feeling of danger around them. Something feels uncomfortable, like being gaslit. I was so interested in it, and so compelled by it, and even frightened by it. It’s really scary when somebody demands — when somebody insists on — a narrative that’s patently untrue.

You chose to play her in an eternal present: Gracie always seems to be in the moment…

MOORE: Oh God, absolutely. I think it’s too painful for her to examine [her past]. These are two women who are incredibly self-regarding, but they don’t really look at themselves and their actions. But I do think that, with Gracie, there’s such a huge, huge difference between the narrative that she’s promoting, and the reality of what happened. There’s this vast space in between those two things. Because you see, in her private moments, her incredible emotional volatility. She falls apart all the time, and she’s sobbing all the time. There’s a tremendous amount of shame, remorse, and regret in there, but she can’t face it. She can’t look at it. So, she goes forward by staying in the present and staying, I think, in her fantasy.

Seeing the film a second time reveals more about Gracie. Like the fact that she falls apart when a cake order is canceled. Even though the customer is clearly in the middle of a family crisis, Gracie makes it all about herself.

MOORE: She’s tremendously selfish. She’s tremendously self-centered. She’s not crying because the cake has been canceled, she’s crying because she’s so ashamed. She has a lack of awareness about herself, or lack of self-examination. I do think she’s incredibly, incredibly self-centered. Also, she ropes Joe into that, and she always has. You realize this is somebody who’s elevated a child to the status of a man, in order to have this romance that’s going to rescue her from her life. So, like I said, that’s something that’s kind of shocking.

You didn’t have any rehearsal time,  did you?

MOORE: None, yeah.

So how did you prepare to play a character that’s being studied — and copied, basically — by Natalie’s character?

MOORE: Well, that was something that Todd and I spoke about explicitly, because we had very limited time, and Natalie was going to have to become me, or learn my mannerisms immediately. Therefore, I needed to really think about who Gracie was, be prepared with who she was, and then offer up things that were absolutely concrete for her to imitate. So, as I was doing my research on her, I realized that Gracie was someone who was so incredibly inculcated in gender, it’s as if she’s swallowed gender whole. I thought about her having this kind of hyper-femininity, so, physically, I came up with the way that she moved, and held herself, and her presentation was super, super feminine.

And then there’s her insistence on her naivety. I started thinking: what would be an outward manifestation of that? I hit on this idea of a lisp, which is a childlike characteristic, and often happens when kids don’t have enough musculature in their mouth and I called Todd, and I said, “I’m thinking about this. And I think it’s something very concrete then that I could have, that Natalie could imitate.” That’s how it came about. It was really an interesting process, because I’ve never done that before. It was exciting to work on it with Todd, and then offer it to Natalie. She didn’t hear the lisp until we did the first scene.

Seriously?

MOORE: Yeah. Because we didn’t discuss it. So, we did the first scene together, when she comes into the barbecue, that was the first time she heard it. And then when we were doing the dress shop scene, I have my arms crossed, I’m making these hyper-feminine gestures, and I can see, out of the corner of my eye, that Natalie’s doing the same. Of course, Gracie, who is so desperate for approbation from Elizabeth, is seeing herself reflected back in a way that she wants to be seen, and she feels pleased by it too. So, it’s this wonderful kind of symbiotic relationship that Natalie and I started having right away.

Gracie and Joe live very well, but they don’t seem to have any income. Why is that?

MOORE: Well, there’s a line that you might’ve missed, because it’s only mentioned once. When we’re in the dress shop, and I’m showing Natalie the photos of the wedding, I talk about selling our story — selling our wedding story — and that’s how we got the house. If you hear it, it’s, like, one little line. But it’s funny, because my father asked the same question. He saw the movie, and he was like, “I don’t understand where she got that house.” I said, “She sold her story to the tabloids.”

So, you realize that this is something that Gracie’s been doing for a while. I think you’re the first journalist to ask this question, actually, so I’m pleased, because it’s something that I think is implicit in the story, but it’s only mentioned once. Not a lot of people have picked up on it. They don’t have significant income. She’s a home baker, and he’s working as X-ray tech, but they have this big house, and they have these children. So, it’s like, how do they do it? And you realize they’ve sold these stories to the tabloids.

DEADLINE: The camera is literally a mirror throughout the movie. Could you talk about how that idea came up, and how it worked for you?

MOORE: Well, Todd is a master of construction, he really is. He has a formidable intellect, and a real knowledge of cinema; how you shape a scene, how you tell a story. And he created this wonderful distance in the way that he framed us, in these wide masters, where we kind of step in and out of the shot. And then all of these images were reflected back to one another. As I said before, Natalie and I played these characters who are incredibly self-regarding, so the idea is that we can look into a mirror and see ourselves but not examine ourselves.

And so, what does it mean to see yourself and not look? How does it change your own performative identity when somebody else is looking at you, as you’re looking at yourself? Is this really who you are? Are you performing identity because you’re being seen? And I think both of these characters are characters that are performing all the time.

The makeup scene is especially important in that regard.

MOORE: That’s my favorite scene. That’s absolutely my favorite scene. It’s remarkable because it’s a moment of their truest intimacy. They’re in this one shot together, and it’s in one take, doing something that is performatively female: putting on makeup. I think that Gracie is really saying to Elizabeth, at this point, “I want to put my face on you. I want you to feel what it is to be me.” And so, the two of them face each other, and then have this incredibly intimate conversation about their mothers. It’s so revealing of who they are, what their background was. Particularly Gracie. When Elizabeth says, “What was your mother like?” Gracie says, “She was beautiful.” And that’s it.

Technically, there was a lot of concern about getting Natalie’s hair out of her face, and they couldn’t tie the wig back, because it didn’t look great. I said, “I’ll do it. Let me just push her hair away from her face.” I love Natalie, and we got very close, very quickly, and really enjoyed being with each other. I think our closeness was helpful, because it just makes you want to do more. And, really, that moment of touching her, is incredibly intimate, and very seductive. Like I said, these are women who are in a battle for narrative control, and one of their methods of dominance is seduction. So, there is this seductive quality to what Gracie is doing to Elizabeth at that moment as well.

It was challenging, because I needed to get my makeup on Natalie in real time, so that when we turned into the mirror to look at each other, the level of saturation of makeup, color-wise, would be the same as mine. Honestly, that was my biggest challenge.

When they all go for dinner before the graduation, is that the first time Natalie’s character starts to lisp and speak with Gracie’s voice?

MOORE: You’re probably right. I think that’s when she’s fully inhabiting Gracie. It was wonderful for me, certainly as Natalie’s acting partner and even as Gracie. Natalie’s sitting right next to me, and we’re kind of twinning in our outfits, in our attitudes, and even vocally. And it feels oddly pleasant to Gracie, because she’s feeling seen. She’s feeling corroborated.

Gracie is always giving her children a hard time about their weight and their body shapes. Would you consider her to be a bad mother?

MOORE: I don’t think I would categorize it that way. I think she’s somebody who’s really very, very self-involved. Incredibly self-involved. And I think she has expectations for her children that are highly genderized. She talks to her young son about getting big and strong before he goes to college. Putting on muscles and being a man. She talks to her daughters about weight, saying. “This is something that you have to be concerned about.” Or she veils it, I think, with one of the comments about being a modern woman, “I was never that,” she says. “You’re so lucky that you are.”

And that wonderful line, “You try going through life without a scale, see how that goes.” [Laughs] I mean, it’s a very funny line, but it’s also horrific. But I think what Samy’s done so beautifully with that line is that it’s also a condemnation of gender culture. At the same time that Gracie is being maybe not the most helpful parent, she’s also saying, “This is the world that I grew up in. This is the world that has shaped me, and this is kind of oppression that I’m living with.” Not to let her off the hook at all, I just think it’s compelling.

Todd has always been interested in identity, and culture, and how we’re shaped by it, and who we are, in terms of how we live, and when we live. Our identity is not shaped out of nowhere. It’s shaped by the world, the culture, and the time that we live in.

There’s also lot of that going on in Charles Melton’s performance as Joe.

MOORE: Oh, he’s wonderful. I mean, he’s really, really terrific and I was there with him when he auditioned, and I was like, “This is the guy. I can’t see anybody else doing this.” He has this amazing availability as an actor, someone who can just really sit there and receive. And so receptive to all of Gracie’s incredible volatility. He’s just like, “OK.”

And you felt kind of the weight of that history, that this is somebody who’s been on the receiving end of this kind of barrage of emotions for a very long time. But he was also able to communicate, as someone in a state of arrested development, a kind of an opacity, like, not quite understanding what had happened to him. And I think his gradual realization that maybe he has been gaslit, that maybe this wasn’t the big romance that Gracie claims that it was, is really beautiful to watch. And also, he’s the loveliest person. My God, he’s a great person. He works so hard. He’s a real team player. I loved being with him. It’s wonderful to see a talent like him.

Todd used a lot of music on set, notably Michel Legrand’s music for Joseph’s Losey’s 1971 film The Go-Between. How was that for you?

MOORE: He actually emailed me about it really early on, long before we started working on May December. He just said, “Julie, I want you to listen to this score from The Go-Between, because this is an idea that I have for the film.” What happened so wonderfully in this Joseph Losey film is that you see all these relationships, these people behaving the way they do, and then this striking score pops in as a book end.

It indicates to the audience, like, “Oh, you think you’ve been watching something that’s fairly normal, but I’m going to tell you, as a director: ‘No, there’s something else happening here.’” He was like, “I’m really interested in using music in this way.” And so, when we were on set, doing these scenes, he played it for us, so we would have an indication of how he was going to shape the film.

It was just wonderful. I mean, he’s a director who shares his inspirations and his process with his actors all the time. It’s a collective, a film experience, so we’re all in that process with him. And then, of course, later on, when he was thinking about scoring, he’d become very, very attached to the Michel Legrand score. So much had been created with that in mind, he and his composer ended up reinterpreting that score and using it in the film.

Did he give you visual references as well?

MOORE: Yes. He always does that. Like I said, this is my fifth collaboration with Todd. He’s amazingly generous with his resources, and he’s incredible at communicating tone. Certainly, on the movies that he’s written himself, there’s so much that’s evident in his screenplays. And then when he offers you these cinematic references and influences you with the music. It’s a wonderful way to enter into a creative process with a director.

Was there anything that was particularly useful for you?

MOORE: I’d say Persona by Ingmar Bergman. I think that’s the most definitive. This idea that we were going to watch these people relating in these loose frames, and then also the intensity — the idea of two women bearing down on each other’s identity and absorbing it.

DEADLINE: To go back to Joe, the film reflects his awakening from a very disturbing situation, and, because the film doesn’t judge these characters, the enormity of that creeps up on us. How do you feel about that, and what reactions have you had from audiences?

MOORE: You’re right, it doesn’t judge the characters, it sort of presents them. We enter into this movie with Elizabeth, and we believe that she’s going to be a reliable narrator, and then, of course, she turns out not to be. So, it makes you question the nature of storytelling and how we present our stories to the world. What do we believe? What actually is the truth? Are we ever going to get to the truth of anything, or of any human being? This idea of a shared truth — does it even exist if people are always telling their own stories?

I love the ending of the movie, where you see Natalie’s character attempting to recreate this story in the most banal way. After all of this intimate, emotional exploration, you see her on a set with a boy and snake, saying, “I want to do it again. I want to do it again. It’s getting more real.” Again, what is real? What do we know? What is truth? Is everything performed?

People keep asking me, “What happens next?” [Laughs] We’re all so soothed, sometimes, by films, books, and storytelling, where everything is sewn up. But, in fact, there very rarely is that feeling in life. We don’t know. We live in a state of suspension. And this movie sort of ends on an inhale, rather than an exhale. And, in that way, I think it promotes discussion about behavior, and identity, and culture, and narrative, and our desire to tell stories.

DEADLINE: Are you relieved that people see the humor in it?

MOORE: Oh God, yeah, of course. Life without humor is deadly, right?

Charles Melton is explaining how his six-year, almost 100-episode Riverdale run prepared him for his critically acclaimed supporting performance in Todd Haynes’ May December, for which the actor is gaining serious Oscar buzz.

“Ten months out of the year, 22 episodes, eight to 10 days to film one episode … That’s a lot of work in a short amount of time, and it really took everybody on set to come together to execute this process,” Melton tells THR. “That experience alone, and working with nearly 100 directors on that show, really gave me this confidence and this foundation — as, like, my acting school in a way — to really be able to come to a set like Todd Haynes’ and just completely let go.”

The director, however, had never seen Riverdale, so Melton was an unfamiliar face to him when the actor auditioned for the role of Joe, a suburban dad who, when he was just 13 years old, became sexually involved with a married mother of three, Gracie (Julianne Moore). The scandalous romance rattled the pair’s close-knit community, but Joe and Gracie got married and had three children of their own.

Once he received the script, Melton started his “journey into the research of who Joe was,” says the actor, who discovered a process for preparation along the way. In pulling together his audition, he self-taped for six hours — a hefty time commitment, he acknowledges.

“I have to completely exhaust myself and give every fiber of my being, just so I could look back and be like, ‘OK, I gave everything I’ve got there, and there’s nothing else I would’ve done differently,’ ” says Melton. It got him through the door: Haynes sent him back notes. He self-taped again (for another six hours), which led to a chemistry read with Moore.

“I really felt like that six-week process was the best experience in my career, because I really learned how I wanted to work and how deep I wanted to go when it came to preparing to play characters like this, which was invigorating,” says Melton. “I felt so much comfort and safety and excitement of going really deep into the psychology of who this man was and really transformed into this physicality of how he navigated his own story.”

Melton gained 40 pounds for the role, although he and Haynes never discussed a certain way Joe was supposed to look. Melton calls it a “natural [and] external expression of the internal work I was doing with Joe. When you look at the facts, this is a suburban dad who’s 36 with three kids, a loving marriage, and has a job,” Melton explains. “Like, where does he really find time for his own vanity to really even look at himself?”

The actor ate a lot of Five Guys, pizza and ice cream alongside his best friend, Kelvin Harrison Jr., who was prepping to play Martin Luther King Jr. in Disney+’s Genius: MLK/X. “We were inspiring each other, watching a bunch of films, talking about our characters and eating well,” he says.

There was no rehearsal time before the 23-day shoot, so Melton didn’t practice his scenes with Natalie Portman, who in the film plays an actress portraying Gracie in a movie about her life. He often had dinners with Portman, Moore and Haynes, however, where they got to know each other on a “human level.”

Given the subject matter, Melton says his way to decompress after shooting was watching Abbott Elementary every day, as well as football on Sundays and the Japanese anime television series Demon Slayer. “That was part of my ritualistic comedown, and then I did acupuncture three times a week to really relax, because we carry emotions in our body. So keeping my body as calm and as relaxed as possible not only helped me, but helped what I would do when it came to allowing the technical work I did for Joe to really exist when I was on set.”

Looking back, Melton was never intimidated by the subject matter or his character’s complexities. “There’s just something about repression and tragedy and loneliness that I’m attracted to in characters, and Joe had a complex mix of all those things,” he says. “In spite of whatever the subject matter was, just understanding this human without any sort of formulated opinion or judgment and complete empathy really allowed me to just go to places that I always hoped are possible with Todd, Julie and Natalie.” 

INTERVIEW TO CHARLES MELTON On Walking The Red Carpet In Cannes, ‘Riverdale,’ And The Secret Of Making Good Kimchi

DEADLINE: Were you up in time for the Golden Globes announcement?

No, I got a phone call from my team. My sister, who’s my assistant, was on the phone call and she was laughing because I was just like, [woozily], “Hello…? Yeah…? Yeah!?”

DEADLINE: When did this journey start for you?

Last summer [2022] my team sent me the script, and it was a self-tape process that lasted for about six weeks. And I really felt this innate connection with Joe, who this man was, and what he represented. The first time I taped, it was for six hours, then I got another one, and it was another six hours. The next thing I know, I’m flying to New York to meet Todd and Julie to do a chemistry read. That six-month process really informed the way I wanted to work. After I got the call from Todd, I went to Savannah, Georgia, a couple of weeks before filming, and we filmed this independent feature in 23 days.

DEADLINE: Obviously, it’s inspired by a real story. Did you know about that?

I didn’t, but there was so much source material from Samy [Burch] and her script. It really was a fun, explorative process. I was constantly discovering new things about Joe, even during the filming process.

DEADLINE: What kind of things?

Certain mannerisms would kind of come to me innately, understanding his emotional makeup and what I could do with that. Understanding his repression, how it lives in his body, and how that would translate into his voice, like he’s scared to speak. There’s kind of a pre-verbal sense of not being able to quite articulate what he’s thinking. His body moves and thinks before he can actually think for himself.

Charles Melton with Natalie Portman in May December. François Duhamel/Netflix

DEADLINE: After a second viewing, it becomes clearer that this is really Joe’s story…

Joe is sandwiched in between these very extreme characters in Gracie and Elizabeth, women that are both telling themselves a story. Julie and Natalie talk about identity, and I think what’s emblematic of the many powerful scenes that they have together is the mirror scene, where Gracie is putting her face onto Elizabeth. It’s such a deep, complex scene. They’re telling each other their narratives, their motives. Gracie is kind of immersed in her delusion, her naivety, and then you have Elizabeth, seeking whatever truth she’s looking for and disregarding how it may affect the outside world.

And then you have Joe, who doesn’t know how to tell his story, but he lives in his story, which is his body, and he doesn’t know how to quite articulate that. If you went up to Joe and said, “Hey, why are you always hunched over?” He wouldn’t be able to articulate it. He’s just living in his story. That’s why I believe Joe, in the story, represents purity and innocence, and it slowly rises through the layers and rises to the surface with all these questions that are being asked of him from Natalie’s character, Elizabeth.

DEADLINE: Did you expect it to be so funny, albeit in a very dark way?

I did not. It wasn’t my perception because I was so into it. It was hard to separate because it wasn’t comedic while we filmed it at all. It’s a very heartbreaking story. I always find that as an audience member, when you’re watching something and there’s some sort of discomfort, maybe it’s easier to laugh than to cry.

DEADLINE: Were you intimidated to work with those two women?

Oh, I think anybody would be intimidated. Natalie and Julie, the masters of the craft that they are. And, gosh, even better human beings. We had so much fun in between scenes and we hung out when we were in Savannah when we had time. I felt so invigorated by them and their presence, and just empowered by them. I felt so safe to tell Joe’s story.

DEADLINE: You were in Cannes for the world premiere, weren’t you?

Yes, I was. It was my first Cannes. It was so surreal. There’s not a better place to do it. I mean, I was with Todd, Natalie, Julie, all our producers. Our cinematographer was there, our production designer, my sister, everyone. The carpet was so vast. It was very magical.

DEADLINE: What’s your most abiding memory?

Maybe calling my parents on the way to the Palais. We had, like, 200 feet to drive, but I was in the car for 20 minutes on the way.

Melton with Julianne Moore. Netflix

DEADLINE: What did you say to them?

[Laughs]. “Hey, Mom, hey, Dad, I love you. I wish you were here!”

DEADLINE: Did they always support you being an actor?

I think my parents have just always supported me. I could do anything. They just always support me and love me.

DEADLINE: What was your first job? I read that you were a dog walker.

Oh, yeah. I was a dog walker, and prior to being a dog walker, I worked at Wendy’s for a year and a half when I was 17. I worked at Arby’s when I was 16. I was a paperboy at one time. I’ve had many different jobs.

DEADLINE: And when did you make the move into the arts?

I think I attempted to move into the arts in the industry when I was 20. I left school playing American football to pursue acting, and I only had $500 saved up. And my mom packed me a bunch of ramen noodles, a bunch of tuna, and when I was 20, I drove out to Los Angeles from Kansas. From the middle of the East to the West.

DEADLINE: That must’ve been quite a culture shock for you.

Definitely a culture shock. I mean, I grew up as a military kid, so every two to four years I was moving with my mom and my two younger sisters. I lived in Germany for four years, Korea for five years, Texas for two years. I spent the majority of my life up until the age of 18 overseas, in Germany and Korea.

DEADLINE: How did you support yourself in those early days?

I was lucky enough to do a few modeling jobs, but, really, walking dogs was my bread and butter. I was walking dogs, working Chinese takeout and eating the same thing every day. It was like Groundhog Day with my meals for two years straight: chicken, quinoa and vegetables. Then I’d have eggs for breakfast and chicken again for dinner!

DEADLINE: So how did you get scouted for modeling? Were you talent-spotted?

Not really. I went to a little talent convention thing. I was on my way to American football practice, and I heard a voice on the radio saying, “Do you want to be an actor?” I was like, “Yeah!” It went on. “Do you want to be a singer, a songwriter?” I was like, “No, not really, but I do want to be an actor.” So, I called in, did this audition, and I went to this little talent convention. There was such positive feedback that it just encouraged me, I was like, “What do I need to do?” And they were like, “Well, you can’t do it in Kansas. You need to be in LA or New York.” So, I just packed up my bags and went to LA.

DEADLINE: What was your big breakthrough?

Oh, gosh. I did this web series that didn’t get picked up, as a pilot, but my first guest-star role was on Glee, Season 5, the New New York episode. I’m 43 minutes in, or something, for 42 seconds. So don’t blink your eyes or take a bathroom break, you might miss me. That was my first thing. It was so exciting. I played Gavin and I was a model, and my job was to tell the actor I was acting opposite of that if he needs anything, to talk to his roommate about it.

DEADLINE: When did you realize it was going to work out for you?

I’m not really sure. I think maybe when I got into my 2009 Ford Focus and drove to Los Angeles with my dad, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I just knew that I was walking into something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that was to be an actor. I didn’t know how it was going to happen. I remember my first day in LA, I was actually in Hermosa Beach with my dad. We were eating Domino’s pizzas on the beach, just dreaming and talking about life and everything. And now I’m here talking with you. It’s great. There’s so much gratitude.

DEADLINE: What kind of roles were you getting in the early days?

I was getting a lot of different auditions for many different things. And the great thing about auditions, aside from not booking them and doing many auditions, is you learn about yourself and the things that you’re drawn to and the things that maybe you’re not drawn to. And I’m lucky that it’s such a win to even get an audition. It’s such a great thing to even have an opportunity.

Charles Melton interview
From left, Jack Alcott, Charles Melton and Natasha Lyonne in Poker Face. Phillip Caruso/Peacock

DEADLINE: A lot of people will have seen you in Poker Face. How did you get involved with that?

It was really last minute. I got a call, and I had two hours to read the script, but I said yes before I read the script. Why? Well, there were so many great people involved, and anything Natasha Lyonne does is incredible, so it was a no-brainer. I flew out to New York upstate to film for two weeks, and that’s when I found out I’d booked May December.

DEADLINE: And so did that follow straight after?

Yeah, I chemistry-read for May December before I got the phone call about Poker Face. So it was like a waiting game to see if I’d booked it. And I was on the racetrack, filming with Natasha Lyonne in a racetrack suit, when I got the news.

DEADLINE: Did you have a mentor?

Yeah. I’d say I have many people that I love and hold dear in my life — I can count them on my two hands plus one — that always just really guided me and spoke truth to me and loved me.

DEADLINE: Do you speak other languages, from your travels?

I speak Korean, but not as well as I would like to. I love Korean cinema. I steal so much from Korean cinema and the performances that I see that I’m so moved by.

DEADLINE: Which actors have you stolen from?

I can’t tell you my secrets!

Riverdale
The cast of Riverdale. The CW Network, LLC

DEADLINE: And so where are you at now? Did the strike complicate matters?

Well, in my free time during the strike, I was making a lot of kimchi with my mom. And I just finished up six years on Riverdale, which was such a blessing. I formed lifelong relationships and I learned so much, and I wouldn’t be here talking with you now if it wasn’t for that show. And it ended, so I was able to focus on seeing family and making kimchi.

DEADLINE: Could you talk a little about Riverdale? Why did it mean so much to you?

I played this character called Reggie Mantle. I came in Season 2 and I filmed for six years, 10 months out of the year, 22 episodes. I learned so much. I worked with over a hundred directors. I mean, what a great, beautiful artform to be a part of.

DEADLINE: Did any offers come in during the strike or are they starting to come in now?

No, I’m just getting a lot of requests from my friends and family about the kimchi that I’m making.

DEADLINE: What is the secret of good kimchi?

Lime juice.

DEADLINE: That’s it? That’s the secret ingredient?

No! There are many secret ingredients [laughs]. I just gave you one.

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Source: Netflix / EW

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