Ross Butler Says Zendaya and "K.C. Undercover" Played a Major Role in His Success

Photo credit: Disney Channel
Photo credit: Disney Channel

From Seventeen

1. He was born in Singapore. But he grew up in McLean, Virginia and now lives in Los Angeles.

2. He studied at Ohio State University. He enrolled in 2008 and left after a year to take acting classes in LA.

3. If he looks weirdly familiar, it's because he's on two major TV shows right now. He plays Zach Dempsey on 13 Reasons Why and Reggie Mantle on Riverdale.

Photo credit: Netflix + The CW + Dana Tepper
Photo credit: Netflix + The CW + Dana Tepper

4. Or maybe you remember him from Teen Wolf. He was Nathan.

5. Or K.C. Undercover. He played Brett.

6. He listened to Thirteen Reasons Why as an audiobook after he landed the part but before he began filming. "When I was driving up to San Francisco, which is where we shot it, I listened to the audiobook the whole way," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I'd heard what it was about, the subject matter, and I was like, 'Okay, this is gonna be typical YA novel.' But I just found myself getting lost in it when I was driving, and by the time I was done, I was so moved by how real it was... As soon as I read it, I had so much more confidence and so much more drive to tell it the way it needed to be told."

7. He believes Zach is ultimately a good person. "The way that I went about creating Zach's character at that point [when Zach talks to Hannah in the diner] was, I'd always had a thing for her and I felt bad for her, and there was always something about her that I was attracted to, but because of her reputation and because of how all my friends talked about her, I didn't have the backbone to stand up to what they thought and go with how I felt," he told EW. "In that scene, after seeing it myself - because everything else that happened was pretty much rumor, or just things that were written on paper - after I actually saw it I felt so bad for her and I had to go with my gut. The rest of the boys walk outside and I tell them, 'I'll see you guys later.' It's just the moment where I had to stand up and do something because I believe that Zach is a good and decent person. His heart was pulling him too much in that direction to not do anything."

8. He asked his agent not to send him out for roles specifically written for Asian actors. Zach told Salon, "Usually Asian roles are reserved for martial artists or the tech nerds. At least that's how it was a few years ago. At the beginning of my career I saw that, and that's when I told my team, 'I can't go out for these roles.' I'm just not built for them. I'm 6'3 and athletic. I can't play a nerd or a Bruce Lee type of character."

9. He loved working with Zendaya on K.C. Undercover. "That was one of my first big roles," Ross told about his breakout role as Brett Willis on the Disney Channel show. "Zendaya was great. She's been in this industry for so long so working with her was super eye-opening even though she's 6 or 7 years younger than I am. At the the time she was so well-versed, so I learned a lot from her."

Photo credit: Disney Channel
Photo credit: Disney Channel

10. Playing Brett in K.C. Undercover gave him the confidence he needed to continue breaking down Asian stereotypes on TV. "The biggest thing for me was that role galvanized me to continue to go down this road of changing Asian stereotypes," Ross told "The role was originally cast as African-American and then they recast. I went in for the chemistry reads and I was the only Asian guy in the room. There were three African Americans, a caucasian guy, and me."

Even though he got a callback, Ross still wasn't convinced at the time that the casting directors were serious about considering an Asian actor for the role. "I remember being really insecure like, 'I'm the token Asian, so they can pitch it and see how it looks but they are probably going to to go African American again,'" Ross admitted. "But when I found out that I booked it, I was like, 'Okay, this is something.' I booked a role that wasn't written for Asians and race didn't play into the character at all except for when they showed my dad, who was Asian - which made sense," he laughed. "But other then that he could have been played by anyone.

"I'm really grateful to them because it was my first sort of leading role on a Disney sitcom," he shared. "The big thing was that it really gave me confidence that what I was doing wasn't for nothing."

11. Now he's most often cast as a jock. "[On Riverdale] I play kind of a jerky football player, and on 13 Reasons Why I play a nice basketball player who does a bad thing, and on Teen Wolf I played a lacrosse player," he told Refinery29. "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."

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

12. His favorite author is Neil Gaiman. When Refinery29 asked him which book adaptation he'd like to act in next, Gaiman's name came up right away. "He's a genius when it comes to mythology," he said. "His characters are so unique."

13. He would love to play the male lead in Disney's Mulan remake. "Of course," he told when we asked if he'd be into playing the role Disney fans desperately want him take on.

"Mulan is an iconic story for the Asian American community. I love the idea of it. Of course, I would love to read the script and everything, but I'm sure that Disney would do a great job of portraying it how it needs to be done. That's always something I'd want to do. It would be huge to represent a leading Asian man. Of course, if I ever got contacted about it, I would have to contain my excitement. That's something I'm going to keep my eye out for sure."

14. His celebrity crush is actress Cate Blanchett. Specifically, Cate in the upcoming Thor movie.

15. He's a Taurus. His birthday is May 17, 1990.

Hannah Orenstein is the assistant features editor at Follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

Noelle Devoe is the celebrity editor at Follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

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