Weaning off caffeine and dairy, Alexander Hodge is on his way to order a decaf oat milk latte – iced.
Of course, this isn’t just any coffee run and Alexander isn’t just any Australian-Angeleno: it’s a mid-pandemic respite for the Hollywood heartthrob of the moment.
Despite his partially-obscured face, Alexander’s quest for a midday pick-me-up is noticed by a nearby pick-up truck.
“Hey man,” shouts a masked construction worker. “You’re the guy from that show, the one who gets with the girl?” He waits for confirmation. “My man.”
“That show” is HBO’s runaway hit, Insecure, and “the girl” the stranger speaks of is its perpetually unlucky-in-love lead, Molly (Yvonne Orji). Although he’s only a recent Insecure regular, Alexander’s character, Andrew, has all but won Molly’s heart already – earning Andrew and Alexander, alike, the title of “Asian Bae.” As the series has progressed, Twitter has become increasingly dehydrated – every quick quip or thrust of his naked buttocks prompting another wave of parched posts to flood the platform.
Speaking of his newfound “bae” status via a socially distant phone call, Alexander Hodge can acknowledge the oddity of his situation. It’s one thing for a young Australian to bat big enough to land a recurring spot on a major network series, he says, and a whole other for an Asian man – rarely positioned as sex symbols – to become the subject of an overnight obsession. An academically-challenged Irish-Singaporean from Sydney, the 28-year old never envisioned himself a future as the leading man. In fact, when asked by an acting coach to identify the kind of roles he could repeatedly take on throughout his career, he couldn’t. In truth, there was no one on screen who looked like him.
Between his relationships with the industry’s brightest and a fanbase determined to propel him to stardom, he’s now poised to become the hottest ticket in town, leapfrogging typecasting in the process. Very Good Light caught up with the up-and-comer to learn how.
How is navigating life in LA? Has your Australian upbringing given you an edge?
There’s a level of bias toward any kind of exoticism. Accents that are attractive and carry cultural capital, British, Australian, New Zealand. And then there are those deemed threatening. We won the lottery of dialect bias.
It comes back to colonialism doesn’t it.
That’s true, I never really thought of it like that.
Then there’s the “what are you working on?” questions, that feel very specific to LA.
Yeah, I just don’t give a fuck about it. I’m very intentional about who I surround myself with. I try to live by one mantra: run towards what brings you joy. I run towards people that bring me joy. The people who ask those vapid, or baseless questions aren’t the people I’m running towards — so I don’t see that side of things as much.
But you do have to work hard to not be influenced by what is “cool.” If you chase the “cool,” you’re going to be surrounded by the people who are chasing status and ask you those questions. I’m not surrounded by the social hierarchy.
So what happens when you are cast in the kind of television show that instantly elevates your ‘status’?
You just enjoy the meaningless of it. I’m very lucky and grateful to have had the experience I’ve had and be in the situation I’m in, but on the other hand I remember when I was a broke delivery boy living on dollar slices. And I can appreciate the fact this doesn’t change anything about me. It makes me realize that chasing the status is bullshit because, because now it’s been handed to me I don’t feel any different. I’m no more important than I was before.
And probably no more secure in your abilities.
No not at all! I watch myself and go, Damn, you suck. Nothing about me has really changed, it’s just more public scrutiny. The bad things people say about me I’ve probably thought about myself before. But sometimes people get creative and then I think, Oh, alright, and move on. I just don’t put any value on it.
[Laughs]. Someone tweeted that they would find me attractive if it wasn’t for my forehead. Because if I went down that rabbit-hole, putting value on things strangers say on me I would get messed up. I would be giving a lot of people I don’t know a lot of power.
But on the one side it’s a whole lot of “Asian Bae.”
Right but then there are the people saying, “I don’t get it he looks so boring.” It’s a plethora of varying opinions. If I get too caught up in that stuff, then by proxy I would have to get caught up in those saying how butt ugly I am. It’s nice to hear people’s thoughts, I just don’t have to take anything away from it.
So you’re comfortable just plowing through the comments?
Sometimes! Sometimes I can, other times I feel more self-conscious or — buzzword — insecure. But during those times I get off my phone. I can’t look to Twitter for a pick-me-up, even though I love the fans.
I’m curious as to the response of your support network to you skyrocketing this way, and also the reaction of the cast. Jay Ellis definitely went through this.
Oh definitely, Jay is the vet. He directed an episode this season, and it was amazing to be directed by someone who has been through it. To have that kind of trenches-camaraderie. It is such a specific experience and not many people can share that with you or understand it.
Every time we started shooting Yvonne would say, “Are you ready? I hope you’re ready. Because when this drops it’s a wrap for you.” The producers would do the same, especially after shooting sex scenes, because they’ve just seen this happen so many times. Even now Yvonne just texted me, “How does it feel Mr. GQ? But when I’m out in public I’m in a mask anyway, so it feels like I’m borrowing time.
How does your girlfriend react to the thirst?
She’s like, I’ve been on this. The level of self-worth and security she has, she’s not threatened by it. To her credit she’s never going through my DMs or looking over my shoulder. The only thing, she’s going to hate me for saying this, wait–[to his girlfriend] I’m going to talk about that two second thing. What she hates is that when I’m on my phone in this Insecure world with the fans and reading and responding and she asks me a question, there’s a two-second delay before I can answer anything. I think if we didn’t have that we’d be good.
It’s a side effect of increased screen time anyway.
It is, yes, we’re in quarantine! It’s not my fault! We’re going to have to talk it out but we’ll be okay. But I don’t know how well we’d go with romance and sex scenes if she wasn’t an actor, and probably the same with her family — they don’t disown me if they’re watching and they see my cheeks.
You speak so eloquently about how Asian men are so rarely the traditional heart-throb, and it’s interesting that when they are — it’s only those who are biracial, or Euroasian. The Henry Goldings. Have you felt that’s put you at an advantage?
It’s interesting, when I read the character breakdown of Andrew I thought I wasn’t going to get it because I wasn’t Asian enough. I’ll think, Oh, I’m too ambiguous, they’re going to want a full Asian and not want to see me. But that’s when people are trying to make a statement out of the Asian casting — tech workers, or something. But with this, this guy just happened to be Asian, it didn’t matter how Asian.
Exactly. And for mixed-race people, they’re mixed-race or nothing at all. That’s your nationality and identity, your moniker becomes “mixed race.” My experience growing up in Australia was being a white person among Asian relatives, or Asian friend to white people. You’re not really Irish, or really Singaporean. I’ve lost a lot of bros because I wasn’t Asian enough. I had an Asian person who I like tell me that I wasn’t a “real Asian.” They said it so matter-of-fact.
And then your moniker becomes “Asian Bae.”
I know and I think it makes a lot of Asian people uncomfortable. A lot of people are not really happy that it was me. Though the fact that it was me as a half-Asian, half-white guy is easily politicized. But I don’t think it needs to be. It can be what it is: creating room for mixed people to have an identity. To be considered Asian, even though I’m half.
But I would go in for auditions and laugh because I thought there was no way I was ever going to get these jobs. I’m not the ‘cookie cutter’ Asian, and that’s okay. I’m grateful the room has been made in terms of representation, because I’m not the only one.
Could you have predicted this when you started? How did you envision your career?
No. I thought I’d study for a couple of years, go home to Australia and in the worst case scenario end up working in marketing or something. I never thought there’d be a chance for someone like me to break out because I’d never seen it before. I’ve been thinking lately about the way we don’t realize how much we’ve been missing something until we’ve got it — and that’s how I feel about representation. My acting teacher would ask “what’s your type, what’s your type?” And there’s no one I could look to, because there was no one on screen that looked like me.
I don’t want to represent a whole people, I don’t think I can represent a whole people. But I can represent the Asians with long hair who failed a lot of their education, and took the long way around to do things. I can represent a very specific type of people who definitely exist.
That ‘aha’ moment, realizing how much you missed something you never had, was that your reaction to Crazy Rich Asians?
I cried my whole way through that film. I cried not only because it was an all-Asian cast, but it was also Singapore — where I spent so much of time as a child and growing up. I had never even conceived of the idea that a part of my identity could be shown like that. It was a complete revelation. Like, Wait, we can see ourselves like that.
To play devil’s advocate, is there ever a voice in the back of your head when you see those movies become so industry-supported or critically acclaimed do you think, that recognizes tokenism?
It’s funny because Tarell Alvin Mcraney who wrote Moonlight is a friend of mine and you wouldn’t believe how long it takes him or how hard it is for something to get made. And he’s an Academy Award-winning actor. It’s unbelievable, the budgets he has to work with when something does get greenlit. It’s sobering. Publicly, you see this great change and shift and then institutionally, we still have a long way to go.
Is television the answer?
Television is definitely having a renaissance moment right now, but it’s an industry just like everything else. I’m having a hard time separating this conversation from everything that’s happening right now. And when it comes to it and we face an economic pit, I’m not optimistic about the hue of which projects or shows are going to be canned first. If it’s already so hard for an Academy-Award winning writer has to fight so hard because he happens to be Black, and queer, who knows what’s going to happen after this pandemic, if people are going to become more conservative.
I’m also interested to see how our relationship with content emerges after this. Because we’re consuming so much right now. It’s all we have.
It’s very hard for us to conceive of what’s going to happen because it’s such an unprecedented time. It’s difficult to even ruminate on it.
It’s huge! When we do go back into production what’s that going to look like? We’re supposed to be shooting another season later this year and we just haven’t received any word. I just don’t know the answer to these questions.
But still, how amazing that you get to be a television actor right now in the new golden age.
People followed the money. There’s a lot more money in television than in film these days, and television expanded brilliantly. The stories became amazing, and then the consumption of television changed with streaming and it proved that people wanted to watch on their own time. And then you look at the cast of Big Little Lies, it’s insane. At the end of the day it’s exciting. It’s an industry that is always going to exist because people need entertainment, which has been proved now more than ever.
(Artwork and design by Alicia O’Brien)