The Untold Truth Of Ross Butler

If you've watched any teen favorite from the last few years, chances are you've seen the photogenic Ross Butler pop up in some capacity. The Singapore-born, Virginia-raised actor has graced everything from binge-worthy hits "Riverdale" and "13 Reasons Why" to Netflix's premier rom-com franchise "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and Zendaya's Disney Channel launchpad "K.C. Undercover" over the years.

But now in his early 30s, the perennial high schooler appears determined to leave all that teenage angst behind. He's co-starred alongside Kiernan Shipka in the short-lived Quibi's bite-sized remake of '90s psychological dramedy "Swimming with Sharks," landed a plum role in one of the DC Universe's never-ending, money-spinning franchises, and is now even rubbing shoulders with United States vice presidents.

As the one-time chemical engineering student enters the next phase of his increasingly successful acting career, what better time to take a look at his intriguing untold truth?

Creative outlets

You could never accuse Ross Butler of taking things easy during the early stages of the pandemic. The "13 Reasons Why" star might not have had any lines to learn, but he developed an exhausting list of hobbies to keep himself busy during his unexpected downtime.

Butler learned how to speak Japanese and Arabic, picked up the classical guitar, rediscovered his love of cooking, chess and literature, and took up wood carving, the latter of which he told Bello has become his favorite way to pass the time: "I wanted something I could make with my hands — a physical object. It's great for disconnecting from my phone and from social media for an hour or two." In fact, Butler speaks about carving as if it was more zen than a Buddhist yoga session: "The way I was taught is a very calming technique where you don't really think about carving any specific shapes — you let the grain guide you. It doesn't require a ton of focus, so your mind is free to think about whatever it wants to while your hands are busy."

The actor also told VMan in 2020 that he's appreciative of having some time and space to himself after several years of being on the Hollywood treadmill: "I've had all these ideas in my head and I finally have no work and reduced socializing so I can just be creative and get s*** done."

Ross Butler moves beyond high school roles

As "Dear Evan Hansen" star Ben Platt has found out to his cost, you can only get away with playing a high school student for so long. Ross Butler's youthful looks meant that he was a little more convincing as Zach Dempsey in provocative Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why." But after a decade of pretending to be a decade younger, Butler is now ready to act his age.

In a 2021 interview with Glamour, the actor acknowledged that there were certain upsides to always being cast as a jock: "Playing a lot of high school roles keeps you in a certain mindset. You look at the world from the point of view of a teenager, which is fun, but I'm ready to mature and start living like an adult." But he also admitted that he never wanted to grace a big-screen prom again.

Speaking to Esquire the year previously, Butler joked that he's now trying to at least make it to college with his next role. And he may well end up creating that kind of role for himself. The Singaporean-American explained how he feels there's a gap in the market for shows aimed at the late teen/early 20s market and that he hopes to create something that can fill it.

His true calling

Turns out that Ross Butler has plenty of brains to go with his brawn. Before attaining pin-up status, the "Riverdale" star briefly attended Ohio State University to study biomolecular and chemical engineering. But after dropping out of the course a year in, he realized where his true calling lay. And he has a generous friend to thank for his career awakening.

Yes, for his 21st birthday, Butler received the gift of a $25 acting class in Los Angeles. And this allowed him to explore a talent which had previously gone untapped. The star subsequently began to pursue a career in Hollywood, even though, as he admitted to Euphoria in 2019, his knowledge of the entertainment world was non-existent.

Butler said, "Of course, we all know acting from the standpoint of watching TV and movies, but there's a whole other part of the iceberg that we don't see ... The business of acting, the rejections, going to acting class, and there are just so many factors that people who aren't in the industry don't see. The whole moving to L.A. situation for the first two or three years was the biggest challenge for me." Luckily, Butler's initiative paid off, as by the age of 23 he was sharing the screen with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in feature-length Google ad "The Internship." 

13 Reasons Why

Ross Butler had already appeared in the likes of "Teen Beach 2," "Teen Wolf," and "K.C. Undercover" by the time he bagged the role of high school jock Zach Dempsey in "13 Reasons Why." But the Netflix teen drama took his career profile to new heights. Not only that — it entirely changed the way that the actor looked at life.

In a 2019 interview with Euphoria, Butler described his four-year stint on the adaptation of Jay Asher's novel as a "crazy ride," before adding, "If I'm being completely honest, it's made me look at things from a completely different perspective. It's made me a lot more aware of a lot of the psychological issues in the world and it's made me more open to learning about new issues that are coming up. I've always said culture leads how we act."

Butler is also now more aware of the challenges that today's teenagers face compared to his own generation, admitting that he's glad that the likes of Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram weren't around when he was at school: "We had social media back then, like MySpace, but it wasn't as accessible as it is today. Because everyone has these apps on their phones, there's this constant pressure to maintain an image you've created for yourself."

The actor's identity issues

Ross Butler wasn't allowed to watch a lot of TV while growing up. But his mother did let him develop a love for movies, with "The Breakfast Club" and "Forrest Gump" particular favorites. Unfortunately, much of what the youngster saw, or more to the point, didn't see, left him confused about his identity.

In a 2020 interview with Esquire, the actor admitted that when it came to the usual rites of passage, he always looked to Hollywood for guidance: "When I wanted to ask a girl out in high school, I watched how they did it in the movies. I could relate, but there was still a disconnect in that I didn't look like those characters, and I felt different because my mum wasn't a white homemaker who baked cookies every Saturday."

Butler, whose father is English-Dutch and mother Chinese-Malaysian, expanded on this disconnect in a chat with Men's Fashion Post: "Being mixed-race, I didn't know what my identity was. I didn't fit in with my white friends and I didn't fit in with my Asian friends, so I was always trying to change who I was in an attempt to find out who I really am." But the "Shazam" star also acknowledged that this constant reinvention helped him to prepare for life as an actor, too.

He loves curiosity

Don't expect to be wined and dined if you're lucky enough to be asked out by one of Hollywood's rising heartthrobs. When asked by Glamour magazine in 2021 about his ideal first date scenario, Ross Butler didn't give the traditional answer of a romantic candlelit dinner. Nope, alongside bowling, beachside painting, and grinding coffee beans, the "13 Reasons Why" star opted for laser tag. Yes, laser tag.

Butler went on to explain that a curiosity for life is a must-have quality in a partner. And although he's not entirely averse to relaxing, he much prefers to be on the go: "A big turnoff for me is someone who's comfortable not learning anything. I like chilling, but if chilling is the go-to thing ... that's not for me."

But it's not just potential love interests that the actor likes to keep busy with. Anyone who's friends with Butler is likely to be regularly dragged along to an infrared toy gun battle or something similar. He added, "When I socialize with people, I like there to be an activity so we're not so focused and self-conscious about, like, 'How do I look? Am I speaking weird?' or anything like that."

Is Ross Butler similar to Zach Dempsey?

Ross Butler spent four seasons playing high school jock Zach Dempsey in Netflix's binge-worthy teen drama "13 Reasons Why." So it's perhaps inevitable that some aspects of the character rubbed off on him, and that's including his reckless spirit. Luckily, the actor managed to channel this particular trait into something more positive.

Speaking to Flaunt in 2020, Butler revealed that playing a teen with substance abuse issues, penchant for violence, and a complete disregard for any consequences in the show's fourth season actually helped to change his outlook in real life for the good: "Getting into that mindset was a little cathartic for me as well, I started to let go a little bit with my diet and with my working out, allowed myself to just enjoy a little bit and weirdly that fed into not worrying about too many different things."

Butler also admitted that he already shared many qualities with Zach before the character went off the rails, including a rational streak and strong moral and logical compass. But the star was also keen to point out that he's far more vocal about anything he sees as an injustice: "Zach was a little bit of a coward at the beginning, and over the four seasons, you kind of see him turn into a man and take responsibility for himself and his friends."

Ready for social change

Ross Butler has ambitions far beyond the realm of emo teen dramas. Just like every beauty pageant finalist, the one-time Ohio State University student wants to make the world a better place, and he believes that humor, rather than preaching, is the most effective way to do so.

In 2020, Butler told Esquire, "My motto going into every project is, 'If you're going to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh.' Coming into the world of producing, I want to make social change, but how do we make people want to watch it? How do we avoid making them feel like they're learning a lesson?"

The actor then answered his own question: by using the trojan horse method. He explained, "A lot of people are programmed to dislike being told that they've thought about something wrong. When someone's world view is challenged, they take a very defensive position. If you make someone laugh, that defensive wall comes down." You might struggle to find any jokes in "13 Reasons Why," but Butler has been able to showcase his funny bones in the likes of the "Shazam" and the "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" franchises — although we're not quite sure what world views these have challenged.

Rejecting stereotypical roles

Ross Butler's IMDb page may have looked a lot busier had he been less selective about the roles he auditioned for early on in his acting career. But there was an admirable reason for the "Shazam" star being so choosy: He didn't want to reinforce the stereotypes of Asian Americans any further.

In an open letter published in Teen Vogue in 2018, Butler explained why he turned down so many cliched parts: "If you see me walking down the street, I don't want you to immediately pin me as a martial artist or a nerd without getting to know me ... If Asians were better represented onscreen, perhaps you wouldn't be as likely to have preconceived notions about me or put me in a box."

The actor then questioned why Asian Americans are rarely given the chance to play the love interest or a three-dimensional baddie. And he also offered some advice to the industry on how to eradicate all the clichés: "We want real, non-stereotypical stories, with narratives that have long been cast off as side characters — those plot lines should be moved to the center. People of color and other minority groups have interesting things happening to them all the time! And these events aren't always related to their race!"

Ross Butler vs. Will Smith?

After getting a taste of action comedy with supporting roles in the likes of "K.C. Undercover" and "Shazam," Ross Butler now has his sights set on taking center stage in one. When asked by Collider in 2021 what kind of films he wants to explore, the "13 Reasons Why" star answered, "Something like 'Bad Boys,' with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, in a buddy cop thing, would be great."

Smith, of course, has also pivoted into science-fiction in the likes of "I, Robot," "Independence Day," and "After Earth," an area that Butler seems keen to make a name in, too. In fact, as he freely admits, the actor is something of a nerd, citing "Dune" and "The Three-Body Problem" as some of his favorite books.

"I'd love to do something like 'The Expanse' on Amazon or 'Interstellar,'" Butler added. "I'm just obsessed with space and the future and theoretical physics, and stuff that we don't quite understand." We haven't yet seen the star spitting any bars, but considering how multi-talented he is, we wouldn't be surprised to see him give The Fresh Prince a run for his money in a "Boom! Shake the Room" rap battle, too.

Family difficulties

It seems fair to say that Ross Butler's mother didn't approve of her son's career choice. In fact, she didn't speak to the teen drama favorite for several years after he ditched his chemical engineering course at Ohio State University to pursue his Hollywood ambitions.

Speaking to Paper in 2018, Butler revealed that his Chinese-Malaysian mom saw acting as trivial and as a job that couldn't guarantee security. And the star believes that something needs to change in his culture to make his profession seem like a more viable route: "I think the problem isn't necessarily the decision to go into the arts. The problem is allowing Asian American kids to be creative at a younger age so that a choice down this path doesn't seem so radical or out of the ordinary."

Luckily, Butler is now on much better terms with his mom and was even able to draw from their conflict for one particular "13 Reasons Why" storyline involving his character Zach and his "tiger mom." In 2020, he told Flaunt, "That scene was especially hard for me, not to understand it, but more so to portray it because it was playing super close to home. It was emotional to try to tell my Asian American brothers and sisters that you need to open up to your parents and they should probably open up too. It was a tough, but rewarding storyline for me."

The actor had COVID-19

Ross Butler's ambitions to spark social change were given a major boost in 2021 when he was recruited by none other than Kamala Harris! Alongside his "To All the Boys I Loved Before" co-star Lana Condor, the actor was invited by the vice president to help promote the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine during a visit to Atlanta.

And Butler had the authority to talk about the effects of the coronavirus when unprotected. The "13 Reasons Why" star was diagnosed with the illness at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. He recalled, "I had it really bad. I had all of the symptoms before we knew what the symptoms were."

Butler also explained in an Instagram post why he decided to join the appeal: "I personally want to be able to hang out with my friends and family and not have any worries about who we are putting at risk. Every shot matters. Every person we get vaccinated brings us closer to never having to wear a mask again. Together #WeCanDoThis."

Is Ross Butler dating Madelyn Cline?

When asked about the state of his love life by Glamour in early 2021, Ross Butler claimed that there wasn't really much to report: "It's hard because we've been in COVID for a year now, so I haven't gone on any first dates in a while. I'm out of practice. My dating life is a little cold right now."

Step forward roughly nine months, and the "13 Reasons Why" star looked to be getting in plenty of practice. Yes, Butler was spotted hanging out with "Knives Out 2" actress Madelyn Cline on numerous occasions during Milan Fashion Week — they were even filmed showing off their dance moves inside a restaurant together — sparking rumors that the pair had become an item.

Cline had previously been dating Chase Stokes, her co-star in Netflix teen drama "Outer Banks" (via Us Weekly). But the pair's no-show at the Met Gala in 2021 was viewed by many as a sign that they'd gone their separate ways. None of the parties involved have publicly commented on all the gossip. But if Cline truly has swapped one heartthrob for another, then let's just hope she likes charades. In his interview with Glamour, Butler revealed that any potential love interest must share his passion for game nights: "I don't want to bring a girl over who isn't about it or doesn't want to play. That's just not going to be fun for anyone, and that's not a date I want."

The star's net worth

In 2020, Ross Butler waded in on the whole controversy surrounding Disney+'s decision to charge subscribers extra money to watch their live-action remake of "Mulan." In a statement that any Mouse House executive would be proud of, the star tweeted, "Normally it would have come out in theaters and a family of four would have to pay 60+ dollars for everyone to watch. Now, you can watch for half that ... I think the premium fee for watching Mulan is fair and Disney not taking a huge loss on it will allow them to continue making great movies."

Of course, that's easy to say for a co-star of a money-spinning Marvel blockbuster and Netflix teen phenomenon. The $30 needed to watch a single movie in your own home isn't likely to make much of a dent in Butler's bank account, if you believe the reports anyway. Indeed, according to various sources, the actor has a net worth of approximately $5 million!

Much of that figure will have been accrued from his stint playing high school jock Zach Dempsey on "13 Reasons Why." Deadline reported that Butler received a whopping $135,000 for every episode he graced in the emo drama's third season.