Check out how Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton Are Lighting Hollywoodon Fire, from Cosmopolitan
Charles Melton believes in love at first sight. The 28-year-old actor, whose hair/body/face look like they were generated from a Create-a-2019-Heartthrob machine, is telling me how he knows the concept is real: It’s happened to him many times.
“I think you can fall in love in the snap of a finger, you know?” he says, running his own through those dark, swooping locks—something he does a lot, like he’s aware of what a gift it is to witness. I don’t know why, but I let him talk me into it. “It all started when I was 13 or 14,” he recalls, grinning. “Every girl I was with, I thought I was gonna marry.”
When I ask Yara Shahidi, who costars with Charles in the upcoming YA-adapted movie The Sun Is Also a Star, what she thinks about love at first sight, she takes her own distinctly analytical approach. Sitting in a makeup chair getting ready for the shoot, the polished activist and Grown-ish star reasons that yes, it must be possible, because her parents are proof. She flashes a smile at her mom, Keri, who’s hanging out on-set and who’s been married to Yara’s dad for 20 years.
These two perspectives—Charles might as well have cartoon Cupids floating above his head, while Yara is always prepped to give a well-researched theory on any subject—perfectly sum up these rising stars. He enters a room heart-first; she thinks about what she’s going to say when she gets there. The question is: How much of Yara and Charles’s images are crafted as marketable caricature, and how much is the real deal?
“She’s very practical and logical,” says Charles. “My head’s in the clouds,” he adds, waving his arms around. “I’m a dreamer. I’m a hopeless romantic!”
First things first: They did not fall in love at first sight. They met on the movie’s “chemistry read,” which is industry-speak for: Do these two potential romantic leads vibe together? (One producer described watching Rachel McAdams’ and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry read for The Notebook as “pure magic.”) And for a fast-moving rom-dram with some seriously gushy scenes, a high-stakes joint audition could have been awkward for Yara and Charles or even detrimental to their careers. Good thing they had a trick up their sleeves.
“We shared a Pop-Tart,” Charles tells me, referring to a homemade version Yara had brought with her.
“‘Share,’ that’s a generous way to put it,” Yara responds, laughing. But the bonding was real: “Dessert is something I’m very serious about,” Yara explains, “so if I’ve shared dessert with you? It’s another level of connection.” She may be joking, but I get the feeling they just naturally clicked.
Of course, noted love fanatic Charles is notoriously taken. His many public displays of devotion to girlfriend and Riverdale costar Camila Mendes make that clear, and the rabid Riverdale fan base can’t get enough. (The first pic Camila posted on Instagram of the two cuddling got more than 4.5 million Likes.) Still, Charles isn’t sure that he wants to talk about the relationship with a reporter. When I ask about Camila, he says, with a shy grin, “I just wanna talk about the movie.”
But he can’t seem to stick to it. At one point in our chat, he stares off into the distance, then explains, practically winking: “I was just thinking about my girlfriend for a second.” Later, during a break in the photo shoot, I spy them FaceTiming each other.
Unofficially, Charles admits that Camila helped inspire his performance in The Sun Is Also a Star. She’s the sensible one in the duo, just like Yara’s character Natasha. “I may or may not have been thinking about—when I auditioned, when I was doing my research—a certain relationship,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “Thinking about, you know, kind of how I’d be.”
He’s so personally devoted to the idea of romance that he has the word love tattooed on the inside of his left middle finger. “I heard, and I don’t think it’s true, but I heard there’s an artery that connects from this finger all the way up your arm into your heart,” he explains, tracing the alleged vessel with his other hand. “So I got love right there.”
Meanwhile, as a 19-year-old freshman at Harvard, Yara is way too busy studying to spend time swiping on Tinder or falling in love across the quad. She’s been an actress since childhood, first appearing in an episode of Entourage at just 7 years old. When her fame started to accelerate thanks to Black-ish, Yara didn’t do the typical Gen-Z celeb thing (start recording an album! Vlog her way to YouTube stardom! Release a fashion line with a massive department store!). Instead, she molded herself into a teenage political activist, befriended Michelle Obama, and started a voter-outreach program. She became the poster child for a new generation of impassioned young progressives.
Even her “just for fun” activities are extremely on-brand. When Yara appeared in Drake’s “Nice for What” video last year, alongside celebs like Issa Rae and Tiffany Haddish, she was shown in her Harvard sweatshirt reading textbooks in a library. “‘Cause that’s who I am,” she explains, laughing.
When she’s not at college, Yara works on Grown-ish, the Black-ish spin-off that follows her character Zoey Johnson to the fictional Cal U. The show, a breezy comedy, recently got picked up for a third season, and it’s proving to be fruitful not only for her career but also for her personal life: She tells me that its story lines sometimes dovetail with her own college issues.
“I can tell you that I give my friends the best advice, because my character gets into so much trouble,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, we tried the whole love-triangle thing. Doesn’t work.’”
She has formed fierce friendships with her castmates: She and fellow actresses Chloe and Halle Bailey, Francia Raisa, and Emily Arlook have a group chat called “girls’ time.” And she says Luka Sabbat and Trevor Jackson, who play her onscreen love interests, are like brothers.
“It’s really funny,” she says of the dynamic. “I forgot what story I was telling them—it wasn’t anything bad, but somebody wasn’t being the nicest to me, and I think they both offered to fight them on my behalf. I said no—I’m a pacifist! But I appreciated the gesture.”
Before our imaginary AOC-Shahidi 2040 run gets underway, however, Yara has highbrow, heartfelt movies to make. The Sun Is Also a Star shares some DNA (true love despite real-world obstacles, going HAM on sentiment) with other teen weepies based on YA novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Five Feet Apart. But the film gives audiences something new and necessary by centering the story on people of color. And the urgency of Charles’s and Yara’s characters’ love story comes from the fact that her family is about to be deported. Dealing with this issue onscreen feels timely and vital. Both Yara and Charles say that’s part of what drew them to the project. For Charles, just getting cast in the movie was meaningful.
“Being an Asian-American lead for a studio film—it almost seems like it’s not real for me, you know?” he says. “Growing up, I never saw anybody who looked like me, really. So it’s very emotional for me.”
After filming wrapped on The Sun Is Also a Star, Charles saw Crazy Rich Asians. “I cried seven times,” he says. “It was just so emotional. Everyone was of Asian descent, and I was like, Wow. And I’m thinking about the movie I did with Yara, and Yara is Iranian and Black. It’s very surreal.”
While Yara has time to decide whether she belongs in D.C. or L.A., Charles is interested in the prospect of superstardom. He speaks adoringly about A-listers like Will Smith (he’s currently filming Bad Boys for Life with him). And he’s starting to play the fame game, learning how to handle an increasingly obsessive fandom.
“If The Rock can do it,” he adds, “I can do it.”
On-set at the photo shoot, Charles and Yara easily agree on the soundtrack: lots of Drake Jay-Z, and Frank Ocean. As they dance through one of the last shots, Ariana Grande’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” comes on, and Yara starts laughing. “It’s your song!” she exclaims, referencing Charles’s starring role in the vid, as she points dramatically in his direction. Ever the heartthrob, he mugs right to the camera.