Ross Butler Talks Riverdale & How He’s Breaking Asian Stereotypes

Photo: Michael Becker
If you're a fan of teen TV, you've likely already seen Ross Butler's face. The 26-year-old actor has had arcs on Disney Channel's K.C. Undercover, ABC Family's Chasing Life, and, most recently, MTV's Teen Wolf. His latest role is a comic-book legend — but not of the superhero variety. Butler appears as an updated version of Reggie Mantle on Riverdale, The CW's neo-noir take on the world of Archie Comics. Reggie, a football player and Archie's rival and frenemy in the comics, is the kind of jock who's jerky attitude is obligatory in any good teen drama. However, it's Butler's casting that is breaking barriers. In addition to teasing some intel about Riverdale and his upcoming Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why, Butler, who is Asian-American, spoke to Refinery29 about how he's tried to fight Asian stereotypes during his years in Hollywood. What can you reveal about Reggie's relationship with Archie this season?
"There's definitely a rivalry between the two. It stays true to the comics in that sense, in that they're friends but they are butting heads all the time. [Reggie] is always pranking everyone in the group, I'm hating on them, they're hating on me... It's a camaraderie that is staying true to the comics. We're keeping it more real — I'm not playing pranks by throwing a pie in [Archie's] face... We're butting heads literally on the football field. It's a timeless rivalry that fans [of the comics] will enjoy and new fans will be able to connect with." Did you read the comics before auditioning for the show?
"I wasn't an avid reader [of Archie Comics], but I was familiar with them. It was an interesting contrast to see how this new script and new story line compares to the super-famous, family-friendly version of Archie. [There's] a dark underbelly in this series."

There's a lack of Asian representation on TV, which is slowly changing. As an Asian-American actor, have you faced any particular challenges?

"This is something that has been a core [part] of me as an actor, ever since I [became one]. We're a very underrepresented population in Hollywood, but we are the majority population of the world. It's a weird dichotomy that we have here. It's starting to get better and we are starting to see more Asians in roles, but we're not seeing a lot of Asians playing roles [that are] not specifically written for Asians. So when I first started out, I was being sent on auditions for "the geek," "the techie." Let's be honest guys, I don't look like a techie [laughs].

"I told my agents, 'Don't send me out for [roles written for Asian actors].' For a while, I didn't get any auditions, or I'd get very few... But then I started to pick up momentum and started booking roles that weren't [necessarily written for] Asian actors. For K.C. Undercover, my role wasn't written for an Asian actor, and I was the only Asian in the audition room. That's a trend I see today, when I go out for non-Asian roles: I'll be one of the only Asian people in the room, if not the only one." Now you play a football player!
"When I was a kid, there wasn't an Asian-American Ryan Gosling, or an Asian-American Robert Downey Jr. that you would look up to... Now, [on Riverdale] I play kind of a jerky football player, and on Thirteen Reasons Why I play a nice basketball player who does a bad thing, and on Teen Wolf I played a lacrosse player. Asians can be athletic, we don't have to fit into this image that [the media] has for [us]. Booking these roles that aren't necessarily [for Asian actors] is something I'm proud of and, hopefully, will keep doing." Can you tease a little bit about your character in Netflix's Thirteen Reasons Why?
"I play Zach Dempsey, who is a basketball player, one of the jocks... He's a guy's guy, he fits in with all the guys, he's one of the bros. What I'll say about him is that he isn't what you expect him to be. He is a jock, but he has a depth to him that you wouldn't necessarily associate with a jock that hangs out in the popular group. He isn't as smart as the other kids, but he has a sensitive side to him. How that ties in... you guys will have to see." Thirteen Reasons Why is based on Jay Asher's book — is your character in the novel?
"He was in the book briefly... what they did with the book is that they used it as a foundation to build a whole story around. [The Netflix series] does stay true to the book, but it adds so much more to it. They give a lot more backstory... We have 13 episodes to tell the story and flesh out all of the characters."

Any dream book or other adaptations you would want to star in?

"Anything by [American Gods author] Neil Gaiman... He's my favorite author and he's a genius when it comes to mythology. His characters are so unique. I don't watch a lot of [anime], but there's this one — Cowboy BeBop, it's so good!... And anything Dragon Ball Z." Read These Stories Next:
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