How '13 Reasons Why' star Ross Butler avoids getting cast in stereotypical Asian roles

He’s breaking the mould.

By Jessica Chandra
Ross Butler on 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why, the Netflix breakout show that everyone’s watching and talking about, has people divided about whether the show has actually been helpful or the complete opposite when it comes to the issues it deals with: bullying, mental health and teen suicide.

But one way the show has been universally praised is with its diverse cast, and more realistic representation of what high school students look like these days — as in not everyone is white.

Two of the most popular students at Liberty High, the school where the show is set, are Asian: Courtney Crimsen, played by Michele Selene Ang, and Zach Dempsey, played by Ross Butler. Sure, Courtney is a smart student, but she’s not a weird, alienated nerd — in fact, you could pretty much call her the school’s Queen Bee. And Zach is the best basketball player in the school, and hangs with the jocks. This is different to the way Asians have typically been represented in pop culture before.

Ross, 26, who also stars in Netflix’s other hit show Riverdale, spoke to Mashable about his experiences of being offered stereotypical Asian roles. “[After] I started getting auditions and seeing that all the auditions I was getting were these stereotypical roles, that’s when I really first realised that there weren’t any Asian American male role models,” he said. “And it occurred to me that that’s what needed to change.”

He told his agent that he wanted to be eligible for all kinds of roles, not just Asian ones, and before he knew it he was landing auditions for roles like the “boy next door” and “cocky jock.”

Even on 13 Reasons Why, the character name Zach Dempsey has no Asian connotations, but the show gave him a Chinese middle name. “My full name is Ross Fleming Butler, it’s very British-Irish,” Ross said with a laugh. “[Producer Brian Yorkey] said ‘Yeah, we’re thinking about giving Zach a Chinese middle name, do you think that would fit?’ I thought about it and said yeah. I think my mum in the show would have wanted me to have a connection to my Asian roots.”

“I thought it was right for the show because it shows that I’m just like another one of the kids at school,” Ross continued. "I’m a jock, I fit in with my friend group, and I just happen to be Chinese too — and I think that is what most accurately reflects America right now. There’s so many Chinese or Asian Americans that were either born in another country like I was and raised in America, or born in America and raised in America. They’re normal Americans and they just happen to have a different heritage.”

As for Ross, he was born in Singapore to a Chinese Malaysian mother and an American father, and raised in Virginia.

If this opens up opportunities for more actors like Ross…

Then we are COMPLETELY here for it.