Although we may think we’ve figured Ross out through analyzing his roles and projects, the actor, producer, and growing writer is way more than meets the eye. Ross meets with MOOD and talks about his return to Shazam! Fury of the Gods and his upcoming projects for the summer.
Ross wears Alexander Mcqueen
Ross wears Amiri
Ross wears Ami
Ross wears Moschino
Actor, Ross Butler, became a familiar face across coming-of-age Netflix dramas like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and 13 Reasons Why, but before returning back to high school as different fictional characters, he attended high school like any other student and was brought up in a typical way, sans flashing lights and television and movie sets. Growing up, Ross didn’t ever expect to see his name emblazoned across the big screen. But as a result of his tenacious spirit and ability to assimilate within any environment, his venture into acting in his early 20s led to the discovery of a lifelong purpose.
After receiving his first big breakout role — Ross was cast to play one of Zendaya’s love interests in the Disney Channel original series, KC Undercover — an unexpected leap of faith was proven to be the start of a fruitful career for him. Ross then went on to play a role in the television series Riverdale and was cast in several movies, including Perfect Addiction and DC Studios’ Shazam. Over the course of his career, Ross has maintained that he will always be intentional — intentional about his project decisions and how he chooses to represent his community, as Ross fiercely champions Asian American representation within the entertainment industry.
But with Ross now entering the deeper phases of his craft, he is focused on balance. Although many of his early roles shared consistencies — Ross has multiple hypermasculine, gym-bro archetype characters under his belt — he is now concentrating on showing the world his multiplicities. He is not only an actor, but he is a producer, a growing writer, and a jack of all trades. He has a few tricks up his sleeve, including a hidden breakdancing talent and a passion for history. Although we may think we’ve figured him out through analyzing his roles and projects, Ross is way more than meets the eye.
Mood Magazine met up with the entertainer over a Zoom call to discuss his emergence in the industry, the importance of maintaining an enriched life, and what’s to come.
Although many in Ross’ position have been training for years, taking acting classes as young children and often being bred into the industry before they can even complete their times tables, Ross stumbled upon his knack for show business in a totally different way. When he turned 21, one of his friends gifted him an acting class, unexpectedly changing his life forever. “It was a super cool, unique gift. I was just like, why not? I did not see it possibly becoming a career whatsoever,” he reflects. For many, diving into a skill like acting at a later age could have been extremely daunting — but Ross is always up for a challenge. He shares that he appreciates his humble beginnings, as they prepared him to advocate for himself in an industry that can often sweep people and their autonomy away. “There's a part of me that's glad that I grew up academically because this industry is still a business. Hollywood is a business. I think my academic upbringing helps in a lot of ways; it hurts in some ways when you get too logical about things, but I think I've gotten over most of that,” he shares.
Since Ross didn’t exactly grow up daydreaming about receiving his big break, he picked up a slew of hobbies and interests as a kid that inform his dynamic, charismatic persona even today. “The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was an archaeologist. When I was a kid, I loved dinosaurs. But not like how most kids love dinosaurs. I loved learning about them so much,” he expresses. As a child, the actor was incessantly curious about other cultures and ways of living, taking up an interest in Egyptology and studying ancient tombs and technology. “I actually just went to Egypt for the first time, so I fulfilled a lot of my childhood fantasies there.” But although he grew up and grew into his professional pursuits, Ross still holds onto that childlike wonder in all of his endeavors, stating that although he is now 32, he will always see himself as, “an adult with a 14-year-old mind.”
Even after taking that first acting class when he entered his twenties, Ross shares that he still didn’t exactly feel like he’d reached certified adult status. “At 21, I definitely don't think you're a fully-formed adult. It still blows my mind that people go to college when they're 18 to 22 and then they have to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life,” he posits, “Your twenties are for two things: figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life and then getting over childhood trauma so that you can move on with your life to do so. So by 30, you're ready to just launch.” And now a couple of years into his thirties, it seems like the actor is ready to do just that.
When he was first finding his footing in the television and film scene, many of Ross’ roles shared distinct qualities and personality traits. “In my beginning roles, I was kind of a jock, someone who was very arrogant. And for that, honestly, I just channeled all the douchebag jocks in high school that I hated growing up and exaggerated their personalities,” he jokes, “I also grew up watching a lot of those early 2000s high school movies, like Not Another Teen Movie, The New Guy, and American Pie. [In those roles] I just was as much of an asshole as I could be, knowing that I had the comedic license.” But after making a name for himself and playing the twisted, unrelenting Zach in 13 Reasons and the arrogant athlete Reggie in Riverdale, Ross became more deliberate about the roles he opted into.
“Now that I've got my foot in the door already, it's about finding things that I haven't done before and constantly changing people's perception of me,” says Ross. “I told my agent that I didn't want to audition for Asian roles anymore because there were too many stereotypes. Those roles didn't represent who I was. That was a big step in my own self-discovery because I decided at that point that I was going to represent what I wanted to represent and I was going to be who I wanted to be,” he continues, sharing his experiences with unearthing identity amidst all of the bright lights and tv sets. “It's a weird irony that I'm playing somebody else constantly as my job, but it totally has helped me discover who I am.”
Though he has gained a clearer sense of the self through his line of work over the last decade, he also confirms that his adaptable disposition has been a tenet of his character for as long as he can remember: “Ever since I was a kid in high school, I've always been a social chameleon. Mainly because it stemmed from a point of not knowing who I was, and has now evolved into knowing exactly who I am and maintaining a main characteristic.” In school, Ross would float from posse to posse, blending in effortlessly — a talent that surely aids in his seamless ability to take on new traits in his daily occupation. “I love changing. I love learning. I love being curious. I have all these weird party tricks and all these different skills just because I'll find something that really interests me and I'll do a deep dive into it; I'll do that with characters that I'm portraying as well,” he continues to elaborate, “You just try on different things and you live with it for a couple of months and it's like trying a new fashion style and thinking, 'Oh, I like how these colors look with my skin’ or ‘I like how these oversized things fit me, so I'm just gonna start doing this more often.' I have taken personality traits with that as well.”
Ross wears Acne Studios
Ross wears Bode
Through his many roles, which have now been elevated from high school student-athlete to professional boxer and even superhero in DC’s Shazam, Ross shares that he is constantly learning more about himself and the world around him. “I'm always trying to reduce myself to a beginner-level mindset about different things because that is what keeps me, I think, mentally young.” He goes on to share the habits and idiosyncrasies that have become etched into his being through his projects — “Personality wise, I'll try on different personalities — that's kind of a weird thing to say. But I mean I'll find certain things about each character and I'll say to myself, 'Oh, I really like how I feel doing this.'” On 13 Reasons, he mentioned receiving a feeling of guilt, stemming from his character’s turbulent actions, while he cites To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as one of the more true-to-self portrayals he has completed, as it was “literally just me and Noah [Centineo] improvising every scene that we had together. Literally, maybe 10% of the lines we have were actually written.”
Continuing on our trip down memory lane, Ross pauses upon his recollections of filming and acting as Kayden in the film, Perfect Addiction. “Kayden is a very introverted character. He's a lone wolf, and, actually, there's a lot of him that I keep with me.” Looking ahead to his future role in Shazam: Fury of the Gods, the second installment of the DC Comics character Shazam, played by Zachary Levi, Ross shares fond memories of filming both movies as Eugene. “Eugene is probably the most like me than any other character that I've played. Playing him has been such a joy in my life — and playing an Asian superhero that's not like a kung-fu master is so refreshing to me.” He recalls his childhood again, revisiting our discussion of early occupational desires. “That's another thing I wanted to be as a kid; I didn't want to be a martial artist superhero. I wanted to shoot lightning, I wanted to be Wolverine, I wanted to be Batman. So to know that in some ways this is contributing to breaking down stereotypes is the icing on top of the cake.”
Although after speaking with Ross, it seems he carries many superpowers — some of the most covetable being his persistent state of curiosity and zest for life — he shares that he, of course, has thought about what his superpower would be if he were a real-life mythical hero, cape and all. “My superpower, and I've thought about this a lot, is literally if I could look at somebody doing a skill and be able to pick it up immediately. So if someone was break dancing, and well, I can break dance a little bit, but if I were to watch an expert break dancer, I would have the power to immediately be able to copy what they did. That would be my dream.” This comes as no surprise, as through our conversation I am becoming more and more certain that Ross is a yes-man in the best sense — he’s always willing to try new things and would never shrink away from a learning experience. As such, he also meditates upon the flip side of that superpower, stating that he would practice it warily as he would not want to lose sight of the wonder that comes along with learning. “I would love to have that power, but then there is a joy to learning that I think I totally would lose. Part of being able to do something is knowing the hours you put in to do it and being proud of how far you’ve come.”
Proud is exactly the feeling Ross should carry with him, now with a flourishing career that has just begun to take flight and a healthily maintained personal life. When he is not behind the camera, Ross is taking up new hobbies. “If I were to make one impact on society, this is what it would be: I want people to have more hobbies. Hobbies are self-fulfillment. You don't need to do them for anybody but yourself.” Among Ross’ current hobbies are writing and golfing, but he states that he’s always willing to put himself in the vulnerable position of the unknown because the result yields a further enlightened mind. “If you have a hobby, whether it's learning how to paint or draw and you're just doing it for yourself and you're not putting it on Instagram for external validation, that will give you self-confidence. That will give you happiness.”
Looking through Ross’ roster of accomplishments already signals a seasoned actor who has put in the work to display his multifarious, shapeshifting qualities, but he shares that he is really just getting started with the impact he’d like to make on the industry. “Everything I do has representation in mind. I'm always thinking, 'How do I help the Asian American community as far as representation, and it's not just about putting a bunch of Asian people in a movie together. It's about, 'What haven't we seen before? How could we build a better community for future Asian Americans to get into the industry? Because notoriously, Asian Americans aren't involved in the creative arts as much.” Every step of Ross’ career has been paving a path for other young Asian American creatives — just by gracing the big screen in boundary-defying roles, he has proven that there is space for him and those who can identify with him and his background in Hollywood.
On what’s to come, Ross has already made up his mind that he is married to the world of cameras, costumes, and creating stories. “I've made the decision that I'm gonna be in this industry til I die, right? I love this industry. Not just acting, but telling stories. Because at the end of the day, stories are what guide change, and stories are the things that we relate to.” Ross has stepped up his storytelling game as of late, not only pursuing acting roles but taking on producing and writing — two things he hopes to improve upon in the coming year. “I'm now diversifying within. So I am writing now, one of the movies I just did I also produced, and I'm going to produce a bit more. So that's where I see myself going, just being more ingrained and having more creative choices, especially as someone fighting for representation. I want to tell the right stories and give more opportunities to others.” But those pursuits wouldn’t feel true to Ross if they didn’t also incorporate a little bit of lighthearted fun as well, as he expresses that some of his future projects may edge more into the world of comedy. “I love doing comedy and one of the mantras I live by creatively is 'If you're gonna tell people the truth, you better make 'em laugh.' So I would also love to make people laugh [through my work] and make people feel less lonely. That's where I see my career heading and I've already taken steps to go in that direction, so I'm very happy with where I am going.”
The actor, now producer, and burgeoning writer also aims to level up in his personal life this year as well, attempting to dip into his creative side more and use his free time constructively. “I want to start changing my neutral setting to being more creative. So I hope the rest of this year is just habitually doing the thing that I love to do that I know will contribute to my future.” And inevitably, all along the way, Ross will keep doing what he does best: throwing himself confidently at novel opportunities. “That's one thing we lose when we become adults; we lose our curiosity, you know? I think we should all feel free to suck at things because — who’s judging?”