In December 2016, the world got blindsided by the arrival of Netflix's series The OA. Among the supernatural, science fiction-heavy elements, actor Ian Alexander played Buck Vu, a transgender teen who rounded out a cast of kids helping Brit Marling's character Prairie Johnson on her secret mission to save her friends. For Alexander, whose previous work had been limited to community theater, being part of the pop culture powerhouse of a series was an exciting new chapter in his acting career.
For his next big role, Alexander stepped into the body-hopping teen drama Every Day, based off of the best-selling novel by David Levithan, to bring representation to the big screen and inspire a new wave of LGBTQ teens. In the film, 16-year-old Rhiannon falls in love with a mysterious person named "A" who changes bodies every 24 hours and appears to be someone completely new. On one of those days, A inhabits the body of a trans teen played by Alexander. It's a subtle moment in an already groundbreaking story of love that transcends gender.
As he celebrates the feature film and prepares for his next move, we caught up with actor to talk about representation, love beyond gender, and why the teenage gun activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are so inspiring.
OUT: As an Asian-American transgender actor, you’ve brought a lot of representation to the screen. What’s been the best fan response you’ve received for your work?
Ian Alexander: In some instances, people have told them that I gave them the courage to come out as trans to their family or friends. That means a lot to me personally because if I had had someone like that to look up to when I was questioning my sexuality or gender, it would’ve made things a lot easier.
If you could go back and tell your 10-year-old self about where you’d be at now, what would you say?
Things are going to be difficult but you will be able to accomplish anything you put your mind to—even if everyone is telling you no or that you can’t. You’re valid and you’ll be able to accomplish some of your wildest dreams.
You’ve gone from The OA to Every Day, which are both big pop culture moments. How’d you interpret the theme of the film in terms of gender and sexuality?
The overall message for me was that love isn’t limited by gender or sexuality. Love has no limits and it’s something greater than us. It’s greater than the labels we put ourselves into.
How has the fan reaction been?
Yeah, actually something I saw that struck me was a photo someone tweeted me of about 30 LGBTQ youth who went and saw the movie together. They mentioned that almost all of them were trans themselves so seeing that real life effect, it showed why representation matters. These are the people it’s impacting and that really touched me.
When you’re not on set acting, what do you do to unwind?
I’m an artist so I sketch and paint and do watercolor. Stuff like that. I also enjoy writing screenplays and poetry. I’m definitely an artsy person. (Laughs)
Do you have a dream role or dream director you want to work with?
I think any role is kind of a dream right now I’m just happy to be acting. I love any role that I get.
How’d you first get into acting?
I was taking classes at school but The OA was my first opportunity to really have a professional experience. I stumbled into that by sheer luck.
That’s a really good first role, too. I’ve seen on your Twitter that you’ve been talking a lot about gun control and that’s become such an important topic. How has this issue impacted you as a teenager?
It’s really important that so many teens are speaking up for themselves and a lot of them are my age. It’s very impactful how much of a positive change they’re making. They’re determined to do something about it because they feel that their government is failing them and I really admire and look up to them. I aspire to be as strong and brave as they are.
It’s so unfortunate that this is the only nation where this regularly occurs and students in general have to live in constant fear. It’s very important that these teenagers are standing up for themselves.