“I just want to start to represent a non-stereotypical Asian actor in this industry. I’m not trying to be a kung fu master, I want to be a non-character actor,” says Ross Butler, 29, whose objective – to open up more diverse Hollywood roles for Asian actors – may not come as a surprise to most people but if you had asked Butler a decade ago what his future would entail, you would’ve gotten a completely different answer.
Hailing from a family that prioritized education, the Singapore-born actor attended Ohio State University, studying biomolecular and chemical engineering. He dropped out after one year due to his unhappiness and lack of passion for the path he was on. He then went back home to Virginia, still feeling “unmotivated” and “uninspired,” and eventually decided to move to Los Angeles. “I didn’t really like the environment I was growing up in. I just didn’t really see any opportunity there to explore life. I felt like I couldn’t really branch out and really find what I was interested in,” he recalls. Butler had traveled to L.A. on several occasions for SAT prep; enamored by the culture, he decided that he was going to make it in this city. “I was just drawn to the creativity and the entertainment industry,” he shares. “It was literally a decision I made on a Tuesday and moved there on Friday.”
Gifted an acting class by a friend for his 21st birthday, Butler embarked on his journey and has not looked back since. “I’ve always been a performer whether I’ve known it or not. Even if it was [done] academically, I’ve always taken the performance route,” he says. He eventually landed a number of roles on prominent television series and made-for-TV movies like Teen Wolf and Teen Beach 2, before being cast as Reggie Mantle on The CW’s Riverdale. Despite his budding success, however, Butler was at a crossroads: He was now a series regular on Riverdale and had also landed the role of Zach Dempsey, the kind-hearted but sometimes-misguided jock, on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why – but couldn’t be a regular on both shows. He ultimately chose the latter (“That was just mainly because I connected with my character on [13 Reasons Why] a lot”).
While Butler continues to expand his repertoire as an actor (he was cast in DC’s superhero spectacle Shazam!, and is set to reprise his role in the sequel), he also spends his free time volunteering at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice in Southern California to inspire the next generation of young creatives who may not yet see themselves in that light. “For me, one of my missions is to be more involved in cultivating creativity in the youth because I feel like the public-school system doesn’t do that as well as it should. Also, on a smaller scale, I think people who are creative are happier,” he affirms.
Writer: Alain Clerine
Photographer: Chris Constantine
Stylist: Savannah Avant
Stylist Assistant: Anna Lee
Men’s Grooming: Emily Sims
Videographer: Lottie Johnston
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Music City Hotel (@musiccityhotel & @musiccityhf - musiccityhotel.org) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)