Charles Melton: “I’m Proud to Be Korean American”

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Charles Melton for AnOther Magazine Spring/Summer 2024
Charles MeltonPhotography by Maripol

In the new issue of AnOther Magazine, Charles Melton talks about his discovery of the Korean term ‘han’, and how it influenced the way he thinks about his heritage

This story is taken from the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of AnOther Magazine:

“Maybe about eight years ago, the filmmaker Kogonada and I were talking – about experience, our lives. He said, ‘I’m going to send you this article about han.’ And it was so fascinating. Han is the Korean term that describes a mixture of sorrow, regret and rage. It stems from the idea that all Koreans are born with han, given the history of our culture. It’s difficult to articulate what han is in English – it’s hard to articulate pain and how it exists. How do we describe that through experience? There are so many painful moments in life and I think understanding the concept of han and this suffering – in a way, all of humanity carries some shape of suffering – is a part of our intrinsic emotional make-up, a part of existing. 

“I was able to see myself more clearly through this expression, to have a word for it. There is a sorrow and maybe an untapped rage that exists in the body. These emotions, these feelings are precognitive – they exist in the body without being processed. I think any Korean person – myself, my mother, my family – they feel sadness. They feel their own han. You don’t have to be Korean to feel han, though, there’s a version in all cultures. I think it’s good to question everything. For me, it’s about trying to understand and articulate what we are feeling, what we are going through, a form of expression through semantics. There is a sense of trying to comprehend, and therefore creating this language to interpret that. Han, for me, is on a universal level.” 

Born in Juneau, Alaska, to a Korean mother and American military father, Charles Melton embraces and celebrates the duality of his own cultural background. “I’m proud to be Korean American. I’m proud of my heritage,” he says. Melton rose to prominence in a six-series arc as the heartthrob Reggie Mantle in the Archie Comics-derived CW show Riverdale, after a few years spent as a model in New York. Taking the lead in a major studio teen romance, The Sun Is Also a Star (2019), cemented his desirability. Now 33, he is transcending any trite typecasting in his latest role as Joe Yoo in Todd Haynes’s May December. Haynes originally considered Melton too “glamorous” to play Joe, the suburban father first groomed as a teenager by Julianne Moore’s Gracie, but the actor’s career-transforming performance – both fragile and vibrating with pent-up anger and deep sorrow – has won international critical plaudits. At the time of writing, these include a Gotham Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. Melton appreciates that Joe shares his own background – but, equally, that that wasn’t the whole story. “I wasn’t telling something because it was Korean American. I’m Korean American but this is a human story,” he says. “That is a bit groundbreaking for me personally. It was a gift.” 

Production co-ordinator: Lino Meoli. Post-production: Samy’s Camera 

This story features in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now. Order here