To all the fans: make room in your hearts to love Ross Butler.
Many will recognize the 29-year-old actor as Zach Dempsey in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why or Reggie Mantle in season 1 of CW’s Riverdale — perhaps even superhero Eugene Choi in Shazam! And on Feb. 12, Butler will make his debut in the Netflix sequel To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.
“It was honestly just such a fun time. It didn’t feel like work, it felt like a little mini-vacation,” Butler tells PEOPLE of his time on the Vancouver set with costars Lana Condor, Jordan Fisher and Noah Centineo, whom he was friends with “way before” signing on to play Peter Kavinsky’s best friend Trevor Pike.
In fact, To All the Boys author Jenny Han personally reached out to Butler to portray the new character. “She knew the relationship that Noah and I have. She was like, ‘Just come in and just have fun,’ ” he recalls.
And like many, Butler was already a fan of the first movie.
“I saw the movie just in support of Noah and it was so cute because, I mean, I love rom-coms but the concept, it was just so cute. And it’s just like the way that it was shot, it was so nice,” he shares.
Going into production, Butler felt closest to Centineo, 23, but he had been a big supporter of his fellow castmates.
“We did Teen Beach Movie 2 on Disney together,” Butler says of starring in the 2015 TV movie with Fisher, 25. “It was so fun seeing him again and bonding with him again, he’s such a delight to have on set.”
As for Condor, 22, he remembers seeing her in action on-screen. “I knew of her because I saw the first [To All the Boys]. Then I love X-Men and she played Jubilee. And I also love Deadly Class. I didn’t watch the show, but I read the comics and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so awesome.’ “
Soon, familiarity and friendship went hand-in-hand as they “ad-libbed” together, even when the cameras weren’t on. “When we had everybody together in the same room — we had some scenes where it was just all of us together — we just all riff off each other because we all comedically are so different. But when you put it all together, it’s so fun,” Butler fondly remembers.
Similar to his previous roles, Butler is once again playing a high school jock, this time trading in the football for a lacrosse stick.
“I’ve played a lot of onscreen sports,” he says, laughing. “A lot of my friends are like, ‘You should play high school as long as you can.’ And at first, I was just like, ‘No, I want to mature,’ and then I was like, ‘What am I talking about?’ Staying young mentally I think is helping me because I’m turning 30 in May.”
And he’s not exactly tired of portraying prepubescent teenagers. “I feel like I’m in my mid to early 20’s and honestly, it’s given me like a lot of energy. Creatively I can go and do my other things, but I’m not necessarily tired of it,” he shares. “As long as the characters are still interesting, that’s what really matters.”
Even more so, Butler is proud to represent an Asian American athlete in film. “It’s something that you don’t really see too much of. It’s like even when I was in high school, there were Asian jocks so I was like, ‘Why don’t we have this on TV?’ ” he says.
“Ever since the beginning of my career, I’ve talked about representation. And not necessarily just Asians playing Asian roles, but Asians playing non-stereotypical Asian roles,” Butler explains. “We think it’s such a great thing that Asians are always seen as the overachievers or the really smart people. When you grow up feeling like you’re genetically obligated to be an overachiever or genetically obligated to be a lawyer or engineer, the second you don’t get a good grade or the second you don’t excel in academics, you feel like you’re failing your destiny.”
The star, who was born in Singapore to a Chinese-Malaysian mother and a British father of Dutch descent, adds: “Playing these roles is kind of my way of saying, ‘We don’t need to always be the model minority. We can just be jocks, we can just be creatives, we can have a good time.’ And if you do that, you don’t need to feel like you’re failing your family. You can feel like this is a perfectly normal thing to do. It feels good to be able to play these characters where I don’t need to be an engineer or don’t need to be super smart or just good at everything. I can just be my man’s best friend.”
Aside from a storyline of being Peter’s best friend, Butler’s character may stir up a romance of his own with Lara Jean’s best friend Chris, played by actress Madeleine Arthur.
“Trevor flirts with everybody. That’s just Trevor, he’s a flirtatious guy. You never know what’s going on with Trevor, he’s all over the place, he likes to have fun,” Butler teases of the flirtatious banter between the two.
“They have fun together, you could say they get along really well. Whether they’re the new ship or not, if audiences like them, maybe! That’s up to the fans to decide!” Arthur tells PEOPLE.
When the beloved franchise rolls out the highly-anticipated second installment (with a third already filmed!), Butler wants fans to fall in love with the escapism and joy of romantic comedies.
“I want them to just be like, ‘Oh, this movie is great, but Trevor was the best character by far,’ ” he says, laughing. “No, I’m just kidding. Just have a good time, that’s it. I want them to be entertained because that’s what rom-coms are, they’re feel-good movies and they’re roller coasters.”
With that said, Butler hopes to see a resurgence of the rom-com genre he also enjoyed back in the day — and not just because Valentine’s Day is on the horizon.
“I was just having this conversation and it’s like the rom-coms haven’t been around for a while. Like what happened to the mid-2000s rom-coms where you’d go pay 10 bucks to go see a movie in a theater and you just have a good time? We need to bring them back. Or just movies like American Pie and all these things, just like the feel-good movies. I feel like movies have gotten a little serious recently,” he shares.
With another Netflix success soon to launch his career, even more, Butler says “it feels good to be recognized” for his acting chops. “I think as for actors, that’s kind of like the biggest hump you first get over is just kind of acknowledge that you’re in this subjective career and that you’re actually doing work that’s being seen. So it feels good, it’s given me a lot of confidence in my life,” he reflects.
While the sequel will, no doubt, be headlining many fans’ Valentine’s Day plans (or Galentine’s Day, Singles Awareness Day, etc.), Butler predicts he’ll spend the romantic holiday with a night-in.
“I feel like I’ve been notoriously single for the past decade,” he shares. “I’ll probably watch a movie with my dogs.”
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You streams on Netflix on Feb. 12.