May 17, 2017


Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Ross Butler's Mission to Become Your Leading Man

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today we're honoring Ross Butler, the rising actor who brought 13 Reasons Why's "Tape 4, Side A" subject, Zach Dempsey, to life.

Before being hit with overnight stardom via Netflix's most tweeted show ever, Butler was known by Riverdale fans as sarcastic jock Reggie Mantle. And before that, he played Nathan Pierce on MTV's Teen Wolf and Zendaya's ex-boyfriend on Disney Channel's K.C. Undercover. Rewind further back, and you'll find the now 27-year-old struggling with the dilemma of studying chemical engineering at The Ohio State University or quitting college to pursue a career he was actually passionate about.

Born in Singapore and raised by his Chinese-Malaysian mother in Virginia, Butler had always been drawn to film and performance but never saw acting in his future. His strict upbringing pushed him to focus on "academic" and practical career paths, a plan that derailed during his freshman year at OSU. To his mother's dismay, he dropped out and headed for Los Angeles, where a $25 acting class was enough to convince him that this was the career he was meant for.

Acting roles for Asian men—already few and far between—proved difficult to navigate. Six-foot-three with an athletic build, Butler didn't fit what casting directors traditionally deemed "Asian." He began auditioning for roles that weren't aimed at Asian actors and were, instead, everyday, typical teens. But the media's longstanding habit of ignoring the Asian American narrative meant that everyday Asian teens were rarely portrayed. Butler, whose Riverdale role called for an "American jock," showed that being American doesn't automatically translate to being white.

In an interview with Variety, Butler spoke out about the need for more Asian leads and why his casting on Riverdale was a crucial step for Asian Americans:

"There are no Asian leading men in Hollywood. There's not an Asian Ryan Gosling or an Asian Brad Pitt. Reggie was important to me because he isn't seen as an Asian character because he wasn't. He's just known as one of the guys, and in a comic that was based in American culture. The show is no different. I'm not the Asian kid of Riverdale; I'm Reggie, and I just happen to be Chinese. It's important because it's telling the story that Asian Americans are in American culture. They're a big part of our population. It's a stepping stone to helping find our Asian American leading movie stars. That's the next step."

Returning for the highly anticipated second season of 13 Reasons Why, neither Butler nor his social media following shows any signs of slowing down. Whether he's fighting for more Asian American casting representation, or snagging unexpected roles himself, it's only a matter of time before Butler graces our screens as a leading man in Hollywood.

Tune in to Fuse and come back to everyday for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with #FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.