Ross Butler on To All the Boys 3 and Shazam 2

Based on the novels by Jenny Han, the Netflix original romantic dramedy franchise about Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and her beloved Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) concludes its trilogy with To All the Boys: Always and Forever, with the two preparing for the end of high school as they figure out what comes next. With graduation nearing and Lara Jean faced with figuring out whether she’s truly following her dreams or trying to make others happy, she’ll have to make important decisions that will ultimately change her life.

During a virtual junket to promote the final film in this popular series, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with actor Ross Butler, who plays Peter’s best friend Trevor in the second and third To All the Boys films, the blessing and curse of continuing to play a high school teenager, having his own romantic arc in the story, working his own breakdancing moves into the prom scene, and what his character might be doing in the future. He also talked about breaking stereotypes in representation, his excitement to return for the Shazam sequel, and the crossover he’d like to see happen.

COLLIDER: How did playing your character on your first day of this franchise compare to playing your character on your last day of this last movie?

ROSS BUTLER: To be completely honest, it wasn’t that different. When I started, I knew Noah [Centineo] already, but I didn’t know anybody else. It was an instant connection, where we all got each other’s sense of humor. And then, the last day didn’t even feel like the last day. It was me, Madeleine [Arthur], Noah and Lana [Condor], and it was the scene right before we go to prom. If you put us all in a room, we’re gonna have fun. So, honestly, the last day felt like the first day, and vice versa. It was such a fun shoot. And I’m gonna see them anyway, so it wasn’t like goodbye forever.

With shows like Teen Wolf , K.C. Undercover, Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why, and now this movie franchise, you’ve perfected the art of playing high school teenagers. What’s it like to continue to relive those years, in so many different ways?

BUTLER: It’s a blessing and a curse. Constantly seeing the world through the lens of a teenager is a little bit magical, but there’s also a little bit of naivete. Some lines, I’ll be like, “Trevor, you don’t know what’s ahead of you. You just don’t know what’s in store. Life is a lot more depressing than this.” But one thing that I enjoy about playing teenagers is that they have that naivete where life is high school. For 13 Reasons Why, it was a little bit different. I have fun with it.

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Image via Netflix

What did you learn from your time on shows like K.C. Undercover and Riverdale? When you started spending a longer amount of time on projects, did those experiences teach you anything about acting that you’ve taken with you since then?

BUTLER: Yeah. In every actor’s life, or at least every actor that works their way up from co-star with three lines to guest star to recurring guest star to series regular, you just learn to let the character marinate within you. It’s a subtle thing where, if you’re trying too hard to make a character, a character, it shows and it comes off like you’re playing a character. What I’ve learned about, a little bit more long-terms, is that it’s okay to just let the work sit with you and trust that the homework you put in, comes out of it. Other than that, every single cast has taught me something different. My role in K.C. Undercover with Zendaya, she was already so seasoned as an actress and she understood this industry a lot better than I did, so she actually taught me a lot about comedy and playing the character up, especially in a Disney sitcom.

In signing on to play a character like this, where you were already friends with the actor that you were playing the best friend of, were there things from your own real life friendship that you guys wanted to bring to the friendship that your characters have?

BUTLER: I think that’s why they brought me on, to be completely honest with you. They knew that me and Noah were friends, and I just got lucky. I imagine them in the office, rolling a dice with a bunch of Noah’s friends on it and going, “All right, we’ll go with Ross.” It didn’t feel like acting. I’ve played a lot of jock roles and I have a lot of variations in my head, but Trevor is probably the most like me in real life. The relationship that Peter and Trevor have is literally just my friendship with Noah in real life. We would go from joking around on set and they’d say, “All right, action,” and there wouldn’t be that much difference in the dialogue that we were doing, messing around before the take started and when the take started. It was seamless.

You fit into this story as the best friend of Peter while Madeleine is playing the best friend of Lara Jean, and your characters get their own romantic arc. What did you enjoy about getting to explore that aspect of the story and getting to have your own romantic arc in a romantic comedy?

BUTLER: It was cool. I hadn’t been a part of a romantic comedy before, as far as movies. What I found really interesting about that combination of Trevor and Chrissy is that they’re so seemingly different. In the second movie, Trevor is pursuing her pretty persistently and Chrissy is judging him. I won’t hold it against her, but she’s judging him and doesn’t think that it’s gonna work out. But by the third movie, they’ve expressed that they’re into each other and they’ve become an item. You get to see this weird chemistry of two people that you don’t think would actually like each other, but they do, and then realize that it’s not that much different than any other relationship.

Image via Netflix

You got to have a prom in this film, get dressed up and have a big dance party. Was that fun to shoot, or is it just really weird to shoot those kinds of scenes because you don’t really get to have the music and you’re pretending the music is playing?

BUTLER: I’m glad that you recognize that that’s the trick. A lot of people don’t understand that you have to dance without any music in the background because they have the dialogue. To be honest with you, it was my six or seven dance that I’ve done, on screen. I’m used to it now and I was just trying to do anything to change it up from every other dance segment or prom that I’ve done. It was fun because we had that dance montage, where they actually played music and we just danced, so that was great. It wasn’t my first rodeo.

Did you prepare your breakdancing moves?

BUTLER: I didn’t. I used to break dance when I was younger. And then, once I got bigger, breakdancing physics just doesn’t work as well, so I only carried two of my breakdance moves into modern day. You can see those two moves in pretty much anything I do, that has to do with dancing. You can go to other dance scenes that I’ve been a part of and see me do the same exact moves that I do on my Instagram. It’s a dance throughline for my life.

How do you feel about leaving this story in a place where it feels like life continues on for these characters? Have you thought about where Trevor could be, in five or 10 years from now? What do you think he would be doing in his life?

BUTLER: I think he’s probably still chasing Chrissy because Chrissy isn’t settling down. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s gonna happen. What he’s doing, as far as a job, I see him owning one of those shops where they make trophies for little league. He’s gonna be doing that, and he’s gonna be doing a good job of it, because I feel like he’s an eternal child.

You’ve previously shared your own views on stereotypical Asian roles and the need for better representation. Now that these films have finished, how much has it meant to you to be a part of telling this story? How do you feel this franchise, in particular, helps break some of those stereotypes?

BUTLER: I think this franchise was one of the leading things to break the stereotypes. Lana playing this Asian American girl, without it being so heavily Asian, blew a lot of people away. We haven’t seen any of that, to be completely honest. We’re pushing the needle a little bit, with every single project. All it’s gonna take is time. We need to normalize that Asian Americans are just Americans that come from somewhere else, or have black hair. The physical description doesn’t really change who we are at the core. It just takes time. The next generation coming up, seeing faces like Lana and myself, and all of the other Asian American actors out there, the more normal it is, the more we’ll see it.

Image via Netflix

Considering that representation, especially of Asian Americans in film and TV, has been severely lacking, what was it that made you want to get into acting and made you feel like you could change that and establish a career for yourself?

BUTLER: There wasn’t anything really telling me that I could. I didn’t go into it being like, “Yes, this is gonna happen!” I was like, “Let’s try and see where this goes.” When I made the decision not to go out for stereotypical characters anymore, it was a decision to just be myself and to fight for who I am, as a person. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling like all of the representation I saw on screen was not representative of me and the people that I grew up with. The drive just came from not wanting the next generations to feel the same thing I did. I grew up feeling very lonely and like I was falling through the cracks and like I didn’t belong anywhere, just because I looked different. The main driving force for me to do that was to make them not feel lonely, but also to encourage Asian kids to get into the creative arts because I know that’s not something that Asian parents like, but creative arts are some of the most fulfilling work.

Your friend, Noah Centineo, is joining the superhero universe of Black Adam, but you’ve kind of beat him to that by doing Shazam, which was a film that really surprised audiences. What are you looking forward to, with going back to that for the sequel, now that there is fan expectation that wasn’t there with the first film?

BUTLER: Yeah, there is a little bit of pressure, but to be honest, people loved it because of how fun and lighthearted it was. It dealt with some serious issues, but we all genuinely had fun on set and I think that reads in the final product. In this next movie, you’re gonna see more of the adults, now that we’ve been established, and we’re just gonna to have more fun. I believe in the writing and I believe in the director (David F. Sandberg). I did not think he was gonna be able to create such a hilarious movie because in real life, he’s a very quiet Swedish man. He’s super talented, but we were like, “Let’s see how this turns out,” and he killed it. I don’t know if this is the plan, but Black Adam is the villain of Shazam, and I’m hoping that there’s gonna be a cross-over, so that Noah and I can butt heads as superheroes. If they don’t make a nudge to that in, in whatever movie they do, I think that will be a disservice. They’ve gotta have us do something silly.

Have you gotten to actually read the script yet, or are you anxiously waiting like everyone else?

BUTLER: I’m anxiously waiting. Everything’s been pushed back because of COVID, but I’m excited. I’m hearing rumblings that I might get one soon. I have my fingers crossed and I’m very excited.

Image via Netflix

Is there a genre that you haven’t gotten to work in yet, that you have a secret dream or wish to do?

BUTLER: Yeah, there are two big ones. One of them is action comedy. K.C. Undercover is kind of action comedy, and Shazam is kind of action comedy, but I haven’t been a main character in one. Something like Bad Boys, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, in a buddy cop thing, would be great. Also, I love sci-fi. Unfortunately, a lot of sci-fi things aren’t done correctly, just because of budget. It’s a hard genre to catch, on screen. I’m really interested to see how Dune turns out because Dune one of my favorite sci-fi books. I’m also interested in The Three-Body Problem. I know there’s some crazy stuff with that. I’m really interested to see how those will be developed. I’d love to do something like The Expanse on Amazon or Interstellar. I’m just obsessed with space and the future and theoretical physics, and stuff that we don’t quite understand.

To All the Boys: Always and Forever is available to stream at Netflix.

KEEP READING: Lana Condor and Noah Centineo on ‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever,’ Their Characters’ Journey, and That Ending

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