Ross Butler has been making a name for himself in teen dramas lately, first appearing as Reggie on The CW’s Archie Comics adaptation “Riverdale” and then as Zach Dempsey in Netflix’s drama “13 Reasons Why.” The 26-year-old actor also happens to be an Asian-American.
In an interview with Mashable, Butler revealed that in order to get the all-American parts he wanted, he had to stop going out for roles specifically written for Asians. Part of that was because most of the leading roles are not written for Asian men, and part of it is that Asian-Americans are still not perceived as Americans.
Butler, who was born in Singapore and whose mother is Chinese-Malaysian, said, “[After] I started getting auditions and seeing that all the auditions I was getting were these stereotypical roles, that’s when I really first realized that there weren’t any Asian-American male role models. And it occurred to me that that’s what needed to change.”
Only once he started auditioning for non-Asian parts did he really get the roles he wanted. And as luck would have it, one show in particular wanted his specific type of American heritage. After “13 Reasons Why” cast him as Zach Dempsey, the show decided to give the character an Asian mother and sister, in addition to a Chinese middle name: Shanyun, which means “virtuous essence” in Mandarin. The Asian middle name is a frequent practice for mixed-race kids whose mother is Asian, so that there’s some representation of their heritage in their name.
Butler’s success on “13 Reasons Why” might be the explanation for why he’s unfortunately going to have to bow out of “Riverdale,” which is recasting his role according to TVLine. While there has been no official word yet, it looks like Netflix will renew “13 Reasons Why” for another season.
Meanwhile, the fight for inclusivity continues. ”As a community, we’re fighting for Asians to play Asian roles,” Butler said. “And then there’s the other battle which is Asian Americans playing roles that aren’t written for Asians, and I think that’s something that completely should happen. Why can’t an Asian-American male just play a leading cop figure… or the Matt Damon roles?”