Photograph courtesy of Victoria Stevens, with styling by Carolyn Son and grooming by Nate Rosenkranz.
Longtime fans of HBO’s Insecure know that Issa has her messy love quadrant between Daniel, Lawrence, and Nathan; Tiffany and Derek are together forever (with a baby on the way), and Kelli will never settle down. But it’s Molly whose romantic antics have always felt the most relatable—she’s a woman with high standards who knows what she wants career-wise, but when it comes to love, she is completely undecided, and no one is good enough.
Somewhat magically, in season three, she finally meets her match in Andrew, the down-to-earth “Asian Bae” music executive who exudes California cool. Andrew returns in season four, which grants him a bigger presence on the show and in Molly’s life.
But it turns out that West Coast swag really is all an act—Alexander Hodge, who plays Andrew, is actually as Aussie as they come, having grown up in an area he calls “the Brooklyn of Sydney.”
Hodge’s road to acting began with a woodworking class, which he was kicked out of at the age of 13. “Every other unit was full except for drama and history, and I was like, ‘I'm not doing history because I hate writing.’ I decided to take drama because I thought it would be less writing. I thought it was just make-believe and anyone can bullshit that,” he explained. “Found out that it's not just make-believe and it actually has the same amount of writing as history did. I lost on that front, but it was the first class I actually ever got an A grade, so I thought, I may as well keep it up.”
Hodge was also a rugby player, and right after he started acting he stopped for a little bit to play the sport. It wasn’t until he sustained an injury that landed him in a wheelchair at about 21 years old that he realized he missed performing. “During that period, I was like, I missed this. I missed storytelling and I missed getting to make-believe,” he said. “I think what I love about translating an athlete background into acting is the practice and performance mentality of ‘you practice how you play.’ With TV—because it's just a bunch of different takes each time and you have to show up ready—I feel like coming from playing rugby has really helped me get that mentality to show up ready to play.”
When he auditioned for Insecure, he had been living in New York for a number of years and had come out to Los Angeles for a couple of months for his very first pilot season. “I was such a fan of the show,” he said. “I was like, 'This is the one.’ As it goes, all actors know the one you really want, you never get because you tend to suffocate it because you want it so bad.”
But he did get the job after a couple of call backs and table reads with creator and star Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly, his love interest, and Prentice Penny, one of the show’s executive producers alongside Rae. “I'll never forget. They were on lunch because they were actually shooting at the studio and I remember my first time that I'd ever seen people eating in the audition room. Prentice had a rack of ribs while he was rehearsing a scene. I was like, ‘This is the kind of crew I need to be working with if this is the way they're rolling.’ That was pretty much how it went down. I was lucky enough to get the call, found out that I was supposed to be in Palm Springs three days later to start shooting.”
“What I love, and we're seeing more and more of it now, is I love seeing the character breakdown for an Asian guy who is confident, who is grounded, who goes after what he wants. I loved that the character breakdown didn't mention his job, it didn't mention what he did for a living. Automatically, it wasn't about filling a stereotype, it wasn't about playing a tech worker, it wasn't about playing an accountant, or anything like that,” Hodge said. “It was actually about the essence of this guy. The fact that he was a confident person and they made sure that this was somebody who was able to match the energy that Yvonne brings with Molly.”
In season four, Andrew gets a lot more air time, and without spoiling what goes down, his relationship with Molly and the other characters evolves to become more complex. “I think Yvonne is such a confident person and Molly reflects that, you've got this kick ass single black woman who is killing it in her industry, in a predominantly white male industry as well. She operates on 100 percent in every aspect. They needed somebody who was able to match that, but also influence it in a way,” Hodge explained. “You know when you get carried away with something, you need somebody who can match where you're at, but then also bring you down and calm you down. They were looking for a personality that could do that. I feel like it just happened that when we did the chemistry read, our personalities and our energy really matched.”
And though Hodge feels he was a good personality match to go head-to-head with Orji, he finds playing a character like Andrew to be a bit aspirational. The casual swag does not come easily for the actor. “The way I suffer from anxiety is crazy,” he said. “I actually am bipolar, so I can't really say that I'm always that chill and that relaxed, but I feel like Andrew is definitely somebody who I aspire to be. He has this really calm benevolence about him that really, if I was in crisis, I'd probably call him and be like I need you to talk me through this.”
In just about every season of Insecure, there’s a male lead who sparks countless thirst tweets while the show airs on Sunday nights. In season one it was Daniel (Y’lan Noel), Issa’s friend with benefits. In season two, Lawrence (Jay Ellis) got swole, fixed his lineup, and made Issa reconsider her choices to dump him. Season three introduced the shy, sweet Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) aka “Lyft Bae,” until his hazel eyes ghosted Issa after leading her on. But in season four, it’s Andrew who may occupy Insecure heartthrob role—but Hodge doesn’t like to think about that too much. “I try to take it all as it's best intended. I think I'm naturally not very comfortable with the spotlight and I'm learning to become more comfortable with it,” he explained. “It's really cool that we get to see a moment in television where people can look at an Asian guy and find romantic appeal. As a part of the Asian American actors community in Hollywood, I could name just off the top of my head a bunch of male Asian actors who are worthy of the same attention. We don't necessarily get the spotlight as often as we could.”
While the coronavirus pandemic loomed over our conversation (Hodge has been quarantined in his home in Los Angeles), the actor took on quite a serious tone. He’s happy people are likely going to spend their time indoors, especially now that Insecure is coming back and people will have something to look forward to each week, but the realities of Hodge’s experience as an Asian man living in America can’t be ignored. “I’m witnessing sentiments toward the Asian community change, growing toward fear and blame. My mother tells me stories of the dirty looks she gets from strangers now and her fears of what may happen if she were to let a cough out in public,” he said. “Friends here in America have shared awful stories of their encounters with the public. Everyone has watched the president use inflammatory language which seems to all but encourage this kind of antisocial behavior. Every other day, a report and a video emerges of assault on someone simply because they have the ‘misfortune‘ of being Asian at this moment in time. While it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless while staying at home, it’s important we remember that a cure will not be found through finger-pointing or hateful rhetoric. It’s important we remember that throughout history, maligning and discriminating against any ethnicity has never helped us move forward.”
“I'm at a point where I feel really heart warmed that people are so passionate about the show and are so passionate about the actors who are on the show as well,” he went on about the impact he hopes Insecure has on its audience. “It's really dope that my work can reach people like that. That makes me feel really good about the work. In terms of being objectified and stuff, I'm not used to that. I guess that's something that I'm going to have to figure out. I don't think that's there's anything really bad about it. I'm just excited about anything that challenges the norms.”