It’s been barely six months since actor Alexander Hodge’s character, Andrew, showed up and shook things up mid-season on HBO’s Insecure. Hodge’s (very secure) Andrew was absolutely a breakout star of season three, and the proof is in the Tweets: Many fans continue to enthusiastically agree that he’s the perfect love interest for Molly, who’s played immaculately by Yvonne Orji, but mega Insecure fans also know Hodge as ‘Asian Bae,’ a hashtag that caught on quickly (and to Hodge’s bewilderment) on social media. When Googling ‘Asian Bae,’ the first result is a Huffington Post feature that emphasizes Hodge’s importance, including how the character “definitely helps chip away at some long-held stereotypes attached to Asian men.”
Hodge elaborated on the aforementioned, and so much more, when we met up to chat at a sunny Lower East Side cafe just a few hours pre-Polar Vortex deciding to be an asshole. Although those seriously sublime locks that get Insecure fans in a downright tizzy were tucked underneath his beanie (reminder: Polar Vortex), I can confirm that Hodge has totally got the psychotically-charismatic-leading-man thing going on. Forgive me: I know including “refreshingly real” in a profile is an agonizing eyeball-roller, but I currently cannot see another apt way to describe the Australian-born actor’s filter-free vibe that I experienced during our two-hour-long conversation. Some highlights: He opened up about his wild acting journey, living with bipolar disorder, and his feelings on being a part of positive, authentic Asian male representation in Hollywood on a lauded and, yes, groundbreaking TV series. No, he cannot tell us if he’ll be back for season four; yes, I might’ve considered A Star Is Born as this article’s headline. Read the interview and you’ll understand why.
Can you tell me about your acting journey? Before leaving Australia for America, I understand that you were majorly focused on becoming a professional rugby player, but a career-ending knee injury changed everything.
“That was my goal. I had a European passport, and I wanted to play in Ireland. But then I had a knee injury and I couldn’t walk for three months. I couldn’t use the stairs, so I was on the couch downstairs for about two weeks, on painkillers, and watching movies, day and night. It was a time where, at 21, I was going through a large identity crisis physically and psychologically. I went from training 12 times a week to losing 45 pounds. I couldn’t speak to people because I was kind of traumatized. I didn’t feel like myself. But after watching hundreds of movies, I was like ‘Shit, I can do that—I went to an art high school. I used to do that. I think I wanna do that again.’ It was just something that was in the back of my mind.
“After the injury, I ended up taking a job at a marketing agency, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sit at a desk all day. I went to America for my best friend’s wedding, ended up in New York, and then auditioned and got into The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Five years later, here I am.”
You only just graduated in 2016, and you scored a breakout role on Insecure just two years later. That’s pretty wild…
“I’m very new to everything. It took two years, which is very, very sudden. I have a lot of friends who have been doing this for 13, 14 years before their first big role. I think the energy was right.”
Would you say that the good energy had to do with determination to stay in America and “make it?”
“I didn’t have a Plan B. I don’t come from a family that has a large financial endowment or anything like that. We’re comfortably working class, but also, my family doesn’t owe me anything. So, I couldn’t look to them for a fall back on money. I just had to do it. When I got out of school, and also being an immigrant, I had to fight. I had to get enough work done so I could get a visa. I was lucky enough to do that—I had a little spot on Law & Order and Bull. That sort of was enough to bolster my case for a visa. But now I want a green card, so I need to keep on working. I kind of make sure every day I can get closer to where I need to be. Instead of Oh, I wanna be on TV, I wanna do this, it’s I wanna secure a strong body of work that represents me as a serious artist. Then I can step back and look at what I really wanna do, where I really wanna go, and what roles I wanna take. I’m not in a position right now to do that. I wish I was; I would love to be in that position.”
So, how did you score the role of Andrew on Insecure? Can you tell me about the casting process?
“I went to LA for the audition and didn’t hear anything for a few weeks. Then I got called for a same day callback for another scene, so I went in later that day. A week later, I got called for a chemistry read with Yvonne [Orji], with Issa [Rae] and the casting team watching.”
Were you nervous? Were you already watching the show?
“At first, I was just so gassed that I could get to even meet Issa. I was a fan of the show, for sure. I wasn’t so nervous about my work, because it had been a month of auditions and callbacks. I knew what I was doing with the character at that point, and I knew who this character was to me. But I was a little shy with Yvonne and Issa, just because they’re such masters of their work. Any time you meet somebody like that, it’s easy to be in awe, you know? But once the scene started, it was just straight into it; it was a lot of fun and everyone was laughing. They were shooting and they were on a lunch break. At one point, Issa nearly spit her food out. So when I left, it felt good. If I get it, I get it, if I don’t, I don’t, I thought, but either way, I was happy with the work I did. As an actor, that’s the goal. Because you’re not the one in charge of whether you book things or not. And then, three days later, we were in Palm Springs shooting the Coachella scene.”
You just know it’s a breakout role when your character has their own hashtag. How did the ‘Asian Bae’ hashtag even happen?
“I never thought that this was gonna happen. Yvonne sort of started using that hashtag and then a couple other people did. But Nathan, Lawrence, every character has a hashtag, so I guess that’s Andrew’s hashtag.”
Are you into it?
“Some people bring up ‘Don’t you find the hashtag a little insensitive?’ and so on. I mean, if it was for an Asian woman, I could see that, for sure. But the stereotype for Asian men is so different. I feel like the hashtag actually opens the horizon. [Laughs.] That’s how far behind we are in social and mass media representation! That ‘Asian Bae’ is progress for us.
“For me, it kind of just blows my mind because…it’s me. I’m just some punk kid from South West Sydney that, with that hashtag, people think of me. Instead of John Cho or Steven Yeun—the people who literally fought their way through the industry so that I could have a place. I struggle with the concept of that. If you look at a film called Better Luck Tomorrow, you see John Cho in that. He is way sexier, way more bad ass, way more everything than Andrew, but he was ahead of the curve. People weren’t ready for it. And it was an Asian film, so people weren’t really checking for it. So, it’s been around, it just hasn’t been received until 2018. I also think it’s partly because of the reverence that mainstream consumerism has for Issa and her work.”
All of the characters on Insecure are just so, so real. And there’s so many uncomfortably real (in a good, “Wow, I really felt that”) scenes.
“Sometimes it feels too real. They just don’t hold back! There’s some painful, painful scenes. There’s an essence to Insecure that not many shows have been able to capture. It’s like a real spark of humanity in every scene. It doesn’t feel too kitschy or slapstick-y, even though, at its essence, it is a sitcom. But the situations are just so real that we can buy into it every time. It’s interesting watching the progression of the show over the past three seasons. They’ve really taken characters in new directions. You can see so much growth in all of these characters. No one’s really stagnant, which I find to be one of the greatest parts of the show. Each of these characters is treated like humans. All that to say, I am very lucky.”
Speaking of realness, you are super vocal on social media. You call out social injustice and talk about racism, toxic masculinity, equality, and so much more. First of all, thank you for that! Recently, I came across an interview where you said that you have bipolar disorder, but not in a “I’m revealing a deep, dark secret” messy manner, which I really appreciate and respect as someone with the same diagnosis. What made you speak on that? And how do you deal with this complex disorder in an industry which often involves A LOT of rejection?
“Bipolar disorder is just another thing that I’ve just started talking about because I’m tired of treating it like a bad word. There is a philosophy on rejection that says it’s like a muscle. The fear of rejection just comes from an absence of rejection for a time, so the more often you’re rejected, the better you get at handling it. I get rejected several times a week—auditions, projects that get put on ice… The first maybe 50 hurt, but the second 50, it’s like, ‘okay!'”
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BTS had too much fun with @africamiranda for her show #TheAfricaMirandaShow! It’s the most vulnerable conversation I’ve had so far about my past, present and future – from my beginnings to @insecurehbo to what I’ve had to address within myself this year. Check it out December 18th on @facebookwatch! Of course rocking my @blackdeville bling 💎 📸: @mr_ddavis
I guess rejection can keep you grounded. But what about those sometimes unpredictable, intense as hell highs and those lows that almost make you feel like you’re actually underground…
“I have to protect myself a lot. I try to maintain a brutal honesty with myself. I also have an incredible partner that helps me. We sit down and we go through what my ticks are, what my actions are when I’m high or low, what it looks like, so that she can help me see the signs. Sometimes it takes a week before you realize, ‘Oh, I’m having a really low depressed state right now.’ When you’re high, you make poor professional and personal decisions. You never wanna stop, you wanna keep going. When you’re low, you never wanna start, you never want to move, you don’t wanna do anything. You just wanna curl up.”
You wanna vanish until it’s over. Or you want the high to never end. Don’t bring me down.
“Yeah, exactly. You wanna experience these intense highs and you don’t want to come down, because you know you’ll have the world’s worst come down and, to just be real, you might not survive. I’ve had those moments where I was coming down for a few days and my dad would just look at me like I was a fucking wreck. He’d be like, ‘Do you wanna get a coffee?’ I probably wouldn’t have made it through those come downs if it weren’t for my family. They just nurture you back. They’re like ‘You’re a fucking idiot, but you’re my idiot.’
I still feel like there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made in terms of mental health awareness…and just some more empathy and understanding would be nice. But people need to want to understand it.
“We are only now beginning to give mental illness the respect it deserves. We’ve lost countless people to mental illness. For me, I arrived at a place where I said, Alright, I need to take care of myself before anybody else. I need to protect myself no matter what people think of me. And as an artist and as an actor who just wants to please people, as a person that just wants to please people as well as being bipolar and needing acceptance, it is really difficult to place my self protection over someone else’s approval… But, over the past I would say 18 months, I’ve just practiced and practiced saying no and being honest.”
But what about those around you who don’t “get it” when you say no? Those who become angry and disappointed and decide, without really asking, that you’re a flake, that you’re “crazy,” and so on… How do you handle that?
“You know, if someone had a birthday party and I didn’t go, and the next time I see them and they’re like, ‘You weren’t at my birthday party,’ I’ll just tell them, ‘Yeah, sorry, I was feeling like shit. I stayed home.’ Most of my good friends, they’ll understand. Some people will be like ‘What?’ But if they don’t take it well, that’s okay. That’s their decision. I have a lot of people who get upset with me because I don’t follow them on social media, but yet I call and text them. And I’ll say, ‘Honestly, it’s because your lifestyle gives me anxiety.’ I remove that energy because I know what’s important to me. Contact is what is important to me. Being with people, speaking to people. If I think of somebody, I text them. Maybe we’ll get a coffee if they’re in town. It just makes me feel more connected. That’s what inspires me.”
For me, I feel at my happiest and most inspired when I’m around creatives. But the thing with creatives is that there’s a lot of times when they aren’t in town because of their creative projects. Always on the move.
“But that’s exciting; it’s inspiring to me when my friends are working. What I like about that is it forces you to be alone with your own creative projects and your ideas. Because your friends are working on theirs, you can’t distract yourself with socializing. You have to be alone, you have to work on things. I also now fiercely protect myself, my space, and my energy. I find when I sleep well, when I don’t drink, when I exercise, when I connect with people, that helps a lot.”
What does a perfect day-to-night in New York City look like for you?
“It’s definitely in September, when it’s warm during the day and mild at night. Work out in the morning while my gym is empty, followed by coffee and reading at my desk. Hopefully I’ll get a couple of hours of writing done, then it’s out to Chinatown for noodles and dumplings or Mamoun’s in the Village for lunch—they have the best falafel in New York City! Have to drop by one of my favorite cafes around the city, be it The Elk, Caffe Reggio, or Norma’s in Ridgewood, and kick it with some friends over coffee. The evening will include dinner at Aria on Perry Street or Double Zero, followed by a film at Angelika or a play—a recent favorite is Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy. Otherwise, I’ll be roaming around the MoMA or Museum of Natural History. And if a night out is on the cards, it’ll probably involve Angel of Harlem or Kinfolk.”
So, what’s next for you in the acting world? Do you have a dream role?
“I’m already doing my dream role. My dream role is to tell stories that matter and have some form of impact on the world. My dream role, hopefully, will occur again and again and again. One way to look at the role that I play on Insecure is I want to be more than somebody’s love interest. But another way to look at is that I’m helping to broaden people’s horizons on what Asian men are. I wasn’t just conceived yesterday or last year when Andrew became a character. I’ve been me this whole time, but now there is more space for me to exist because this character is on television. There are more Asian men like me that are able to be seen for who they are because of this character on television.”