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Let’s Get to Know Insecure’s Asian Bae, Alexander Hodge

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO

Alexander Hodge has been quarantining in Los Angeles, where he’s nesting with his girlfriend. “We’re not not side by side for any portion of the day, really,” he says over the phone as he takes a walk alongside her. On the fourth season of Insecure, his character Andrew — a.k.a. Asian bae — gets promoted to Molly’s boyfriend. “There was a rumor while we were shooting season three that I was coming back,” he says. Eventually, both HBO and another show asked him to go steady; he chose to go with Insecure. “It was the right decision to stay with them because I didn’t want to leave this character unfinished, and I just have a level of faith in the work that they produce,” he explained. “It’s something that pushes the needle forward culturally, socially, politically.”

Plus, a bump up on Insecure means all the trappings that come with it: a next-season glow up, a tricked-out wardrobe, and an extremely active fan base that wants to know, first of all, where’d all of his hair go? We talked about the haircut, swirls, and the level of intentionality that comes from a show led by black women.

I wanted to start with the initial casting call: What was the description of Andrew?
One thing that really stuck out to me was there was no mention of his job title. So it wasn’t about fulfilling some kind of stereotype or trope; it wasn’t about being a tech worker, accountant, or IT guy. It was just about the personality of this guy. They were looking for somebody who was strong, confident, and charming, who happened to be Asian. The most important thing for them was finding a person who could match the energy Yvonne [Orji] brings with Molly and being able to hold their ground in a scene with her.

Did you have a chemistry read with Yvonne?
Yes, we had three rounds of auditions. In the final round, they had a chemistry read, and that was the first time I met Yvonne. I was nervous as shit. We get going and as soon as I open my mouth — Yvonne had no idea I was Australian — she basically just canceled the whole audition and says, We’ve got to talk about Andrew! He’s got to be Australian. Straight away, Issa and Yvonne are just being Issa and Yvonne and arguing about the fact that Andrew needs to be Australian now instead of American. And then there’s [showrunner] Prentice [Penny] eating his lunch in the corner, waiting for them to settle down so we can carry on. It was honestly like a skit. They make comedy wherever they go. It felt like a flow, like a good vibe. And then, I got the call later that night.

Did you do the audition with an American accent?
Yeah. Andrew has to be American, because Insecure is a love letter to L.A. That’s why everything is shot on location. That’s why the references are so specific. The integrity this show has in terms of representing L.A. [is such that] where Andrew’s from is culturally specific. Andrew is from Gardena, which is a very specific reference to Asian-Americans in Los Angeles, because it’s one of the first places Asians were allowed to buy property in Los Angeles. So it wasn’t just like he was from Silver Lake or West Hollywood. No, he’s from south L.A., because this show represents south L.A. in a way that no other show does.

In this sense the casting sounds race conscious as opposed to race blind.
Definitely. They did it in a way that was intentional without being exploitative. They were intentional about choosing Asian versus Latinx or white, because they wanted to have the opportunity to explore a certain side of race relations in America. They landed on Asian specifically because of the reality of the relationship between the Asian and black community. And we get into it later in the second half of the season.

How else do you feel this intentionality manifests?
When a show is being led by a minority community — in this case, this show is created and produced by a team of black women — it inspires a level of thoughtfulness. I understand that somebody who has had similar experiences to me would not take my experiences for granted, and would also not diminish my experiences.

I’m half-Asian, half-white. I had long hair. I wear Vans. I’m dating a black woman. They hired a half-white, half-Asian guy with long hair who wears Dickies and Vans in the writers’ room who’s engaged to a black woman. That’s how specific they were. They got him to write for me.

So are you engaged?
I’m not engaged. Are you trying to start a fight right next to my girlfriend?

Do you feel the character of Andrew is pretty aligned with who you are?
I think so. I love music the way Andrew loves music. I’ve always played with the idea that if I wasn’t an actor I would be working in A&R. I’m definitely not the cool, calm, and collected one at all times like Andrew is. I’m a bit more Molly in my relationship than I’m Andrew. I would love to dress the way he does.

You have some fits this season!
Listen, I’m wearing these Union Jordans that are like $3,000. They have Valentino, they have Off-White. I’m not upset. I was in love with everything. Maybe once or twice a week I was hitting up our costume designer and just saying, Look, this might not make it back to the trailer. 

Do you have a favorite look?
Ooh, ooh, ooh. The Valentino denim jacket [in episode two] is a serious moment to me. Later on in the season — episode seven — there’s a Valentino’s sweatsuit situation.

Since we’re talking about aesthetics: When did you decide to get a haircut and why?
Well for the record, I didn’t decide.

Who decided?
That would be a network by the name of CBS. It was for another job. [Editor’s note: Tommy starring Edie Falco.] I was playing a police officer. They were adamant there were no long-haired police officers, that they weren’t allowed to have hair that touched the collar, and they weren’t allowed to have facial hair. So I ended up agreeing to cut my hair. And I will tell you the week I cut my hair, I saw a fucking NYPD officer with a fucking man bun, and I was livid. I was furious, but I laughed. It was too late. I did it and we’ve got to move on. I’m growing it back out right now. I’m kind of thankful to be in quarantine because I’m in the middle of that awkward regrowth phase. Every time I put on a hat or a beanie, I look like I’ve got a mullet. Every time I take it off, it looks like a mess. For everybody who keeps asking about my hair, let them know I’m trying to grow it back out.

How did you feel about getting the haircut?
How do you think I felt, man? I don’t know if I’m legally allowed to say how I felt. All I’m gonna say is it wasn’t my choice. That’s it. I don’t want to burn any bridges or get anybody in their feelings. But if I had my way, I would have been the first long-haired cop on television.

Did Issa or HBO want you not to cut your hair? It was such a large part of the character’s debut on the show.
Well, we were calling up HBO and being like, please, please tell us we can’t do it. But unfortunately they weren’t allowed to weigh in on the subject. Maybe two months after I cut my hair, I ended up getting on contract with HBO and, credit to them, it wasn’t an issue. One of the big worries for me was how much of a problem would it be once I cut my hair. They wrote one line in the first episode to address the fact that the hair was gone and then never thought about it again.

When you knew you were doing the next season, did you feel any pressure for a glow up? Because that tends to happen on this show.
[Laughs.] Did you see me in the second episode? Come on, do you think I naturally look like that? Look, I got a gym membership real quick. I got a personal trainer, and I put in the work because I knew that scene was going to be coming eventually.

What was it like shooting the first sex scene?
The first one is always really tough. The first time you have sex with somebody is always going to be an interesting experience. But when you’ve got four cameras, 200 people around, and you’re doing it in the middle of a soundstage, it can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. But I was in good hands. It was all taken with such a wonderful level of care that it was so supportive. The director was a black woman, the DP was a woman, the camera operator was a woman. My scene partner, obviously a woman, the on-set costumers were women. In my experience, it’s always been better when women are in charge, especially when it comes to intimate scenes and sensitivity. But I was nervous as hell in the lead up. Then once we got into it, I felt a level of care and just fell into the rhythm.

What was your experience growing up mixed in Australia like?
My mother was born and raised in Singapore and my father is Irish, and I was born in Australia. I’m a third-culture kid. Growing up mixed now is different to growing up mixed in the ’80s and ’90s. Now we’re making more room for more ethnic identities, but in the ’90s, you really had to pick. I [went] to Singapore a lot when I was a kid, but I was always the white cousin they had, because culturally, that’s just the way I was. I was the white one. But then to my white family, I’d be the Asian one. Growing up mixed was like you’re never enough of one thing and you’re always too much of the other. I’ve sort of been able to unify my cultures and embrace both sides of me. I view it as a strength now because I get to identify with so many beautiful experiences from two totally different sides of the world.

You’re both a product of an interracial relationship and also in one. Do you ever encounter animosity around that? 
Yeah, massively online. But it’s just a bunch of fucking losers who don’t have any real things going on so they’re much more fascinated with what’s happening in my life.

Do you notice patterns with the type of people who do that?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve had the unique opportunity of experiencing attention from the black community, and I can see there are some things that we in the Asian community also experience where a lot of people who I might consider ethnic purists would like to see black women dating black men — the same as in the Asian community, Asians dating Asians. Whereas real life doesn’t necessarily need to be so binary. But I understand that comes from a place of hurt, a place of trying to preserve something. I can understand where it comes from, and I cannot be offended by it because they have something happening in their lives that they might not feel they are in complete control of.

But it’s funny that these communities are brushing up against each other through my work. There are so many similarities and yet they still feel so threatened by each other. I really believe in not only seeing what unites us, but also embracing our differences that set us apart. Just because we have differences doesn’t mean that needs to separate us. But I will say, the attention this season is very different because of what some people in this country call the “Chinese virus.” So it’s interesting to be trending on Twitter for being Asian in a time when Asians are coming under a very specific spotlight. It feels good to be able to push it in the opposite direction, but it is quite polarizing. It does feel volatile, but that’s largely because of the pandemic that we’re facing right now.

The pandemic is just revealing animus that has long existed. The threat of the “yellow peril” has historically been a part of the Asian-American experience.
Definitely. It has always existed, but it feels like we escaped the center of attention for a little while. We stuck to the shadows and skated by while the black community was systemically oppressed and targeted by police. Whereas now we feel like we are being attacked. Maybe for those of us who have never really experienced it personally, now that we’ve experienced it, we can understand how Latinx people who are being oppressed by ICE and immigration and how the black community has been oppressed by police and government. We can begin to be more empathetic towards other communities while asking for more empathy from them.

Have you seen the footage of black people being arrested, being dragged in China, being kicked out of their homes and things like that?

I have.
It’s difficult to articulate the feeling of, We need help, but also we need to help. We need to do better. I don’t know.

I think it’s both being victims of xenophobia, while also perpetuating xenophobia and anti-blackness.
It is such a nuanced conversation, but I think it comes down to the whole concept of community. Were we a united community, then we could bring ourselves into accountability. But unfortunately we’re not as united as we could be, and therefore, we do have factions of the community who have racist and oppressive sentiments towards other communities. So we need to work on ourselves as a community, as well as ask for help.

As the rest of the season unfolds, I’m wondering if you think Andrew is a good match for Molly?
I think so. If Molly is willing to take Andrew in, it’s a good match. Andrew is doing what he can and making it clear that every time something comes up that he’s not doing well enough, he’s willing to improve, he’s willing to do the work. It all comes down to whether or not Molly is willing to develop this relationship with Andrew.

Then maybe the question is, do you think Molly is good for Andrew?
Whew. I can see why Molly fascinates Andrew. Andrew is not used to strong-minded women. This is the first time he’s getting to know what it’s like to be in relationship with a strong-minded woman. More than anything, he’s ready for a challenge, and that’s why he’s willing to do work in a relationship, because he wants to see if he’s capable. That was funny to my girlfriend.

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Let’s Get to Know Insecure’s Asian Bae, Alexander Hodge