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Todd Haynes On The 'Attraction & Repulsion' At The Heart Of 'May December'

Todd Haynes On The 'Attraction & Repulsion' At The Heart Of 'May December'​

Charles Melton and Todd Haynes on set while filming May December
Netflix

And Charles Melton opens up about the challenges and pleasures of bringing Joe to life, in PRIDE's interview with the director and star of the acclaimed new film.

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May December features the scandalous story of a woman, Gracie (Julianne Moore), who back in 1992 was caught having sex with a 13-year-old boy named Joe. During her prison sentence, Gracie gave birth to a child that she conceived with him. Decades later, Gracie is still married to Joe, who is now an adult man played by Charles Melton. Though the plot and characters of May December are all fictional, there are certainly real-life stories that inspired the movie.

Over the years, tabloids exploited the story of Gracie and Joe and turned them into celebrities, which prompts a biopic of their lives to be greenlit. Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a Hollywood actress, is cast in the role of Gracie and goes on to live with the couple to study their lives and learn more about what they’ve been through. This culminates in a complex relationship between Moore’s and Portman’s characters as they both have their own agendas in pursuit of what is the “truth” about this entire situation.

Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes on set filming May December

Netflix

Coming from a gay director like Todd Haynes, it’s not shocking that we feel like May December is somewhat queer-coded, even if the main characters don’t identify as queer. As Elizabeth obsesses over Gracie, we can’t help but feel the common queer experience of questioning whether you want to become a certain person or be with that person. And the dynamics between Gracie and Elizabeth do feel more complex than what meets the eye.

“I think there’s an attraction and repulsion that exists between the two women, or at least a sense of warning and self-protection that goes on… a guardedness, particularly on the side of Gracie,” Haynes tells PRIDE. “But what you see in the interactions between the two women is just so riveting. They keep you on your toes, in a sense, of how you’re interpreting the two women, and who you trust and who you believe.”

He continues, “There are places where that also shifts, and there is an attraction that exists between the two of them. A mirroring that exists between the two of them. A way that they are seeing aspects of themselves in the other and are attracted to that in the other. The criticisms that they see in each other are things they don’t see in themselves, so there are all of these partial visions that are being played out.”

Charles Melton in May December

Netflix

In the story of May December, Elizabeth has been hired to play Gracie in a biopic about her life. One interesting scene shows Elizabeth looking at audition tapes from young actors who are being considered to play Joe in this biopic, but none of them capture the man we’ve come to know through Melton’s performance. So, how did Haynes know that Melton was the right person to play this very complicated character?

“Charles’ reading wasn’t like anybody else’s,” Haynes explains. “There were some really fine actors in the mix, particularly as we narrowed down to our favorites. But there was something different in what he did. There was something more internal and unconscious and nuanced about it. All of a sudden, I felt that I could see Joe of the present story tense, of the time in which the story unfolds, but I could also see the past. The entire history, all of the sudden, became something that his performance made possible for me. I knew this was the guy who we would build this film upon.”

Best known for playing Reggie Mantle starting in season two of Riverdale, Melton has starred on other shows like American Horror Stories and Poker Face. On the big screen, he appeared in films such as The Sun Is Also a Star and Bad Boys for Life. But it is in May December that we get to see Melton fully unleash his talent and potential.

Watch PRIDE's full interview with Todd Haynes and Charles Melton

As of this writing, Melton’s performance in May December has been nominated for awards at the Celebration of Cinema & Television, Gotham Awards, New York Film Critics Circle, and Santa Barbara International Film Festival. He has won all four of those awards. On Tuesday, December 5, Melton was nominated for Best Supporting Performance at the 2024 Independent Spirit Awards – further legitimizing his path to a potential Oscar nomination.

“It feels cool,” Melton explains. “I remember the feeling I had after we finished filming for those 23 days in Savannah, Georgia… just being with Todd and Natalie and Julie and everyone on that crew. After we wrapped up, I felt like this is the way I want to work. I learned so much in that experience. It was the best experience of my career, and nobody could take away those 23 days we spent with each other. That was the gift. Everything else is just incredible and amazing, even talking with you. There’s a lot of gratitude that you see in the movie, right? It’s just very exciting.”

Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in May December

Netflix

Besides breaking out of the archetypes he had been known for playing before, Melton was also tasked to act alongside legendary actresses like Portman and Moore in this film – an experience he says is “hard to express in words” and “absolutely incredible.”

“Natalie and Julie, as we know, are masters and legends in what they do,” Melton explains. “And they’re even better humans. They’re so sweet and collaborative and encouraging. I felt so safe being with them on set and being creative. I call Todd, Julie and Natalie this ‘trifecta of excellence.’ They just elevate everything around them in a way that’s so natural.”

May December is now streaming on Netflix.

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Bernardo Sim

Editor

Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.