It all started with a Pop-Tart. A homemade strawberry Pop-Tart, to be exact. Yara Shahidi (grown-ish) and Charles Melton (Riverdale) were taking a break in the middle of their chemistry read for The Sun Is Also a Star when he asked for a bite of her dessert. “I will give you literally anything I own, except my dessert,” Shahidi says of her general food-sharing philosophy. “He asked for some and it was an anomaly of a moment for me because I said yes. That was the beginning of our bond because it was really out of character for me.”
Bonding is the central ingredient in the love story of their characters Natasha Kingsley and Daniel Bae in the film. Based on Nicola Yoon’s 2016 book of the same name, The Sun Is Also a Star follows the teenage pair for a (very important) day in both of their young adult lives. Daniel, a Korean-American, is preparing for a college interview and Jamaican-born Natasha has 24 hours to stop her family from being deported. But when Natasha and Daniel meet on the streets of New York City, they can’t help but wonder if they were meant to be together. Or at least Daniel can’t. “I loved the way the gender roles are reversed,” director Ry Russo-Young says. “As a female director, you read a lot of scripts that are very traditional. In this, she’s the science nerd, and he’s the romantic and the poet.”
And while Shahidi, 19, was Russo-Young’s first choice for the part of Natasha, finding Daniel took a little bit of help from social media. When author Yoon posted on Instagram asking fans who should play the two leads, Melton woke up to an overwhelming amount of notifications from fans tagging him. Melton then took a screenshot of the post, sent it to his reps, and asked for the script. “That same day I bought the book and read it,” Melton, 28, says. Essentially, Melton fell for Daniel faster than Daniel falls for Natasha. “Daniel’s very endearing. There’s a sensitive side to him that he’s not afraid of. I found a lot of similarities with who I am as a person. Have I told somebody ‘I love you’ after a day? Yes. Don’t judge me.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Natasha and Daniel aren’t quite ready to say “I love you.” Early last July on the movie’s set, Melton and Shahidi filmed a scene in New York’s Koreatown. Natasha has a couple of hours to kill before her appointment with an immigration lawyer, and Daniel is using that time to ask her question after question; before this day is done, he’s determined to know her. But in between the standard “getting to know someone” inquiries, they find themselves discussing identity and what it is to feel American when others don’t see you that way. “To be able to have the storyline about deportation and cultural identity at the same time as a storyline about love is what I really appreciate,” Shahidi says of the script.
And if those weren’t enough issues to tackle, the film also takes on the idea of destiny. When Yoon sat down to write the book, she says she wanted to touch on “how everything was connected.” And that’s one of the things that drew Russo-Young in. “I loved the fact that the book explored love in New York City and the topic of immigration and the fact that it also wrestled with these bigger themes of the universe and destiny and the odds of two people finding each other in this big, crazy world,” Russo-Young says. Because, if you really think about it, a lot has to happen for two complete strangers to bump into each other on a sidewalk in one of the world’s most populated cities — life’s not always as simple as sharing a Pop-Tart.
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