Tall, dashing and with irresistible boyish charms, you may know him as Reggie from Riverdale or Zach from 13 Reasons Why, but Ross Butler is the name to remember. This 28-year-old actor is bursting into the Hollywood scene after the success of the aforementioned Netflix series and he recently landed a role in DC Comic’s Shazam!.
What might surprise you is that Butler was born in our sunny Singapore island. Son of a Chinese-Malaysian mother and an English-Dutch father, Butler is an eclectic mix of east and west. With Crazy Rich Asians being such a box-office hit and more Asian representation in Hollywood, we spoke to this rising star on the current film landscape, his career and his memories of Asia:
You just starred in BTS and Steve Aoki’s music video “Waste It On Me”, alongside the Crazy Rich Asians cast and Devon Aoki. How did you become involved in this project?
I met Steve through a friend of mine and he told me he was a huge fan of 13 Reasons Why. We clicked really well and agreed that we should collaborate on something together. A few months later, his team reached out about the music video and I was immediately on board. I don’t think this will be the last project we join forces for.
Following Crazy Rich Asians, “Waste It On Me” is the second time we’ve seen an all-Asian cast this year (which is quite unheard of in music videos). Since you are part Malaysian, how does it feel to be a part of this and what is it like to work with them?
For the majority of my career, I’ve been a part of the vast minority in this industry; and I’ve gotten used to being usually one of the only Asian people in the cast and crew. This wasn’t too different than the experience I’ve had growing up in America. So to be a part of a full Asian cast was new to me, but it felt amazing. Everyone on set had an immediate connection and understanding because we all, for the most part, had gone through, and are still going through, the same trials and tribulations of being Asian American in Hollywood. It was refreshing.
You are well known for playing jocks on 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale. Given that you accepted these roles to subvert the stereotype of playing a martial artist or a geek, why do you gravitate to playing athletes?
I wouldn’t say I gravitate towards playing athletes, I just am one in real life. I made a point of wanting to play the cool jock characters because that was the opposite of the stereotypes I grew up seeing in TV and film, but jock roles aren’t the only roles out there that combat these stereotypes.
Most athletes in pop culture are always portrayed as one-dimensional characters. How do you break out of that trope?
I just don’t play into the stereotypes of the jock archetypes either. I don’t think stereotypes are interesting because they are predictable so I avoid taking on roles that don’t allow for growth and variety.
What’s your secret to getting in character?
Without getting to “actor-y” with this response, I like to build characters from the inside out. I try to dig deep and find out the core of where all my character’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions stem from. Getting into character from there is just accepting this core belief without hesitation or judgement while stepping out of my own core beliefs.
It seems like you’re very fond of superheroes. If there’s one superhero whom you’d love to play, who will it be?
My favorite superhero of all time is Wolverine. Ever since I saw Hugh Jackman portraying Wolverine in the original X-Men movies, I’ve wanted to be him. I even dressed up in the old school Wolverine costume for Halloween this year.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
I’d love to be able to learn anything super fast. I pick up a lot of hobbies and I’m constantly teaching myself new skills, so being able to do that, but faster and more effectively, would be a dream.
We also notice that you tend to star in TV shows that originated from books. If you have to pick a book and turn it into a TV series, what’s your top choice?
There is a sci-fi trilogy by the Chinese author Cixin Liu called The Three Body Problem. It is one of my favorite book series and I think would translate very well into a television series, more so than a film series due to its branching story lines and large, international cast.
While you’re mainly known for acting, you also play the guitar, piano and sing. What inspired you to learn music?
I’ve played music ever since my mom took me for piano lessons when I was young. Back then, I wasn’t very inspired, my mom had me classically trained. Instead, I always wanted to play guitar, so when I grew up, I decided to teach myself. I had always liked the idea of being able to take requests from anyone at a party and playing so everyone could sing along. So with guitar, I taught myself to be able to read chords and play on the fly.
Do you plan on releasing any original music anytime soon?
I don’t think so. I sing and play music mostly as a hobby for myself and friends. I don’t know if it’s in my future as a job anytime soon.
Lastly, what’s the one guilty pleasure you never told anyone?
Everyone was judging this woman for dipping her chicken fingers in soda at basketball games and, being a foodie myself, decided to try it out one night. I gotta say, it was pretty good and I’ve actually added it to my late night guilty pleasure meals.