Ross Butler

There are thousands of reasons to love Ross Butler, but lately his fans have been obsessed with thirteen of them. When his smash hit series 13 Reasons Why debuted in late March of this year, it instantly became a global phenomenon. Now that the 27-year-old actor has officially gone supernova, BELLOwanted to catch up with him to see how his life has changed since the series debuted, how he stays in such impressive shape, and how he enjoys his time off.

It’s no genetic accident that Ross Butler is fit as a fiddle. He works his tail off to keep in tip-top shape. “I work out between four to five times a week, and I alternate between a conditioning day and a strength day. They all have a cardio element to them, because right now on 13 Reasons I play a teen in junior high so I need to be trim. I can’t be huge and bulky. It’s all about maintaining my body weight and building some muscle, while cutting fat at the same time — which is annoying and hard.” Changing up his workout routine as often as possible is also important. “I have to alternate between strength and cardio every single day. Then every week the amount of reps changes to keep the body confused. But the roots of it all comes down to cardio.” 

As challenging as maintaining his intense workout schedule can be at times, Ross admits his dietary regimen has become an even bigger challenge than his workouts since shooting on season two began a week ago on location in Napa Valley. “I used to get meal delivery where you would get all your meals prepared for the week. But they don’t do that here.” Ross has been forced to take things into his own hands with regards to his meals. “I’ve started cooking for myself — which is miserable because there’s a lot of things I don’t know how to cook. There are very few things I know how to cook really well, and there are many things I have no idea how to cook at all. I didn’t even know how to hard boil an egg [laughing]. In the mornings I’ll have some starches which allow me to workout later, with a big protein, and I’m trying to cut out as many wheat carbs as possible.”

But like all the best health pros, Ross understands the importance of balance and rewards. “My favorite thing right now is Halo Top ice cream. It’s a full pint of ice cream and it’s only 280 calories. I just discovered it a week ago, and right now I’m trying all the different flavors to find out which one is my favorite. I’m trying to be a lot more conscious about what I’m putting into my body. I allow myself one cheat day, or two cheat meals a week.”

Ross says staying in impeccable shape has now become a cornerstone of his career, telling BELLO he often finds himself in last-minute auditions for superhero films and series. “I began getting more serious about my body when the prospect of playing a superhero on screen became more real for me. Now that I’m starting to meet with people who are creating superhero movies, and meeting with casting directors who are seeing me for certain things, I realize that I need to be prepared all the time — just in case I need to go in and they say, ‘Hey, so let’s see your 24-pack.’ I’ll be ready for that.”

When we asked about his audition process for 13 Reasons Why, Ross said it happened lightning fast. “It started in May 2016 when I was back home in D.C., and I got an email saying I needed to submit a video. I think everybody read for Justin or Clay, and I originally read for Justin, too. But for my audition I had to submit a tape, so I had my friend’s mom help me — there was nobody else around who could act, or who I felt comfortable enough reading lines with. Then I sent in the tape and they brought me back to read for Zach when I got back to L.A.” From that moment on, everything immediately began to accelerate. “I went in on a Wednesday for Zach, I learned I got the part on a Friday, and I had to be in San Francisco to start work on the Monday. It was really exciting because it was my first regular role on a series, which is every actor’s dream. Plus, it was Netflix, and I’d always wanted to be part of a Netflix show like House of Cards. The thing is, I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of it until after it came out nine months later.”

The heavy subject matter of the show, which centers around a teenage girl’s suicide, has led to deeper and more meaningful connections with his fans. But it was one viewer in particular whose experience truly hit close to home. “I had one of my old high school friends reach out to me on Facebook — someone I hadn’t talked to in at least ten years. We weren’t super close in high school, but we were in a lot of the same clubs and classes together. He opened up and told me how he was dealing a lot with depression in school and had a lot of suicidal thoughts. And nobody had any idea — not even me, and I knew him pretty well. That made me understand that it could be happening to anybody — whether you’re a 16-year-old girl or a 30-year-old man.

That really hit home for me, when the show inspired an old friend to open up about his experience and share it with me. It really opened my eyes.”
Dealing with such heavy material has given an added importance to the cast’s downtime off-camera. Ross says his video games are enormously helpful for disconnecting from the emotional intensity of the series. “I also got a Nintendo Switch which has been really fun to bring on set or play at home — something I can play with all my buddies. I’m a big board gamer, too.” But Ross’s favorite hobby of late came from a chance discovery at a Japanese store near his home in Venice Beach. “I started to pick up Japanese wood carving. I went into this random shop in Venice Beach and they brought in a master Japanese carver to teach a class. Now I’m really into it. It’s an amazing and very zen project to do on the side.”

“It’s something that requires my hands. The big thing for me is I have a lot of hobbies like playing instruments and drawing, but I wanted something I could make with my hands — a physical object. It’s great for disconnecting from my phone and from social media for an hour or two,” he says. “The way I was taught is a very calming technique where you don’t really think about carving any specific shapes — you let the grain guide you. It doesn’t require a ton of focus, so your mind is free to think about whatever it wants to while your hands are busy.”

“Also, there’s is a similarity between wood carving and acting — both occur in a sort of zen dream state. Carving is very improvisational, and acting can be as well.” And as with wood, a scene can also have its own sort of grain. “In every scene there are emotional milestones you have to hit, depending on the genre, and various technical elements you need to get right. But with regards to drama in particular, there’s a kind of flow you need to adhere to a little bit, but if it’s a heavy dramatic scene you just have to go with what you feel. They are also very different as well, because there are so many machinations going on on set — time sort of stops for you, and everybody has a job to do. But as far as the emotion and the mindset I’d say they are very similar.”

With five months of shooting left on 13 Reasons Why until November, Ross will have plenty of time to perfect his Japanese wood carving skills. “It’s calming — it’s basically meditation but you’re doing something at the same time. With all the stress and heavy material I deal with during the show, I think it’s the perfect hobby for me.”

Photography Ted Sun | Creative Direction Aleksandar Tomovic

Styling Neil Cohen

HAIR David Stanwell

Grooming Patrick Chai

Production Bello Media Group | Interview Brent Lambert


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