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Ethnic Asian actors on the rise in Hollywood

More ethnic Asian actors are appearing in the cast of mainstream US programmes

Despite recent whitewashing and white saviour controversies surrounding the movie Ghost In The Shell and the Netflix TV series Iron Fist, it is encouraging to see more ethnic Asian actors cast in mainstream American projects.

What is even better, they are not playing the stereotypical geeky Asian either - they are portraying sexy romantic heroes, roles which in the past have traditionally gone to Caucasian actors.

In the case of Netflix TV series Master Of None, ethnic Indian actor Aziz Ansari is not just the star of the show, but also a cocreator and writer.


ARDEN CHO, 31

See her in: Teen Wolf (2014-2016)

The Korean-American Cho won over ardent fans of teen fantasy drama Teen Wolf as soon as she joined the show in its third season.

In the series, she plays high- school student Kira, who has the ability to absorb electricity into her body. She also gets involved in a romantic relationship with leading man Scott (played by Tyler Posey).

Fearless and a skilled fighter, her character was embraced by young TV viewers as a role model for women and also minorities.

Fans were shocked and upset when she announced in an emotional YouTube video her exit from the series last year, due to the fact that the show has "wrapped up with Kira's storyline".

Since then, the actress, who is single, has found other acting commitments, appearing in shows such as Tween Fest (2016).

Coming up, she will be seen in the movies Stuck, a musical, and Flexx, an action flick.


NICO SANTOS, 24

See him in: Superstore (2015-present)

In the sitcom Superstore, which revolves around the lives of employees at a hypermarket, Filipino-American actor Santos regularly steals the show as the ambitious staff member Mateo.

The Filipino gay character was originally written to be Latino and straight. Writers on the show changed the script after Santos, a stand-up comedian, impressed during auditions.

The actor, who was born in the Philippines but emigrated to the United States in his teens, is proud to be able to give minority groups a voice by playing this character.

He said in an interview with American telco Comcast last year: "Filipinos are the second-largest Asian minority in the US and we're hardly represented in the media and I'm happy I can share a part of my culture, the Asian side and the LGBT side."


ROSS BUTLER, 26

See him in: Riverdale (2017), 13 Reasons Why (2017)

In the popular long-running Archie comics, the character of smug rich boy Reggie is Caucasian, so viewers were surprised when Riverdale, the new TV adapation of the comics, cast Butler, who is ethnically Chinese, in the role.

In an interview with entertainment trade rag Variety last month, the actor admits how groundbreaking that decision was.

"Reggie was important to me because he isn't seen as an Asian character... he's just known as one of the guys, and in a comic that was based on American culture.

"The show is no different. I'm not the Asian kid of Riverdale. I'm Reggie and I just happen to be Chinese."

Even though his character is a bit of a jerk, viewers have taken to him, given his good looks and convincing bad boy charm.

He plays a similarly self-satisfied jock in Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of Jay Asher's best-selling book.

If Butler is not careful, he may soon be typecast.


GEMMA CHAN, 34

See her in: Humans (2015-present)

Chan has signed on to several major projects in recent years.

On TV, the British-Chinese model-turned-actress has been praised for her work in the sci-fi series Humans, in which she plays a Synth, or robot. The show has been renewed for a third season.

On the film front, she showed up in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016), playing a delegate to the magic world's version of the United Nations. She will also have a mysterious but key part in the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight.

Most recently, she was confirmed to join the likes of Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh in the film adaptation of Singapore-born writer Kevin Kwan's book Crazy Rich Asians, in which she will portray the "goddess", fashion icon and chic socialite Astrid.

Chan has been dating British comedian Jack Whitehall for six years.


VINCENT RODRIGUEZ III, 34

See him in: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-present)

This San Francisco native, who is of Filipino descent, has had stage experience with small roles in productions such as Disney's The Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 2014.

His big break came when he played Josh Chan on the musical comedy TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

In the show, the hunky star, who is married to a man named Gregory Wright, is the object of lead character Rebecca's (Rachel Bloom) affections.

In fact, she is so in love with him that she ditches her cushy life in New York City to move to the Californian suburb of West Covina so that she can be near him.

Almost the entire first season of the show is dedicated to Rebecca trying all ways to win him over, including impressing his large Filipino-American family during Thanksgiving.


AZIZ ANSARI, 34

See him in: Parks And Recreation (2009-2015); Master Of None (2015-present)

The American comedian and actor, whose parents hail from India, made TV audiences laugh in the cult comedy series Parks And Recreation as the sarcastic government official Tom Haverford. But it is in Netflix's Master Of None that he really gets to show off his comedic prowess.

As the co-creator, writer and star of the critically acclaimed series, in which he plays a struggling actor, he sheds light on the challenges that plague Asian-American actors such as himself. He also addresses the issue of interracial dating on the show, through relationships with white women played by actresses Noel Wells and Claire Danes.

Last year, the show picked up a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Comedy Series.

The second season of Master Of None premieres on Netflix on May 12.

He is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book Modern Romance (2015), which examines love and dating.


LEE KI HONG, 30

See him in: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-present)

The Korean-American became an instant heart-throb when he played the cool and athletic Minho in the blockbuster dystopian movie franchise The Maze Runner (2014).

He is filming the third instalment of the series, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, due for release next year.

On TV, he captivated viewers in the role of sweet Vietnamese immigrant Dong in Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - the character is awkward and a lot less slick compared with Minho.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns for a third season on May 19.

Outside of these mainstream projects, Lee is also a frequent collaborator with Asian-American film- making group Wong Fu Productions, having starred in several of its Web videos and its first feature film Everything Before Us (2015).

He has a fervent teen girl fanbase despite being off the market - he married his long-time girlfriend Choi Ha Young two years ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Casting Asians'. Print Edition | Subscribe