- Words Ryan Cahill
We sit down with The OA's Ian Alexander to discuss his cross-dimension role, and the top 10Trax he listens to between takes.
I actually just finished watching Part II of The OA this week. I’d happily proclaim myself as a super-fan, having watched the first season three times, dissected a fair few YouTube explanation videos and made a half-arse attempt at learning the movements myself. For those that don’t know, The OA is undeniably Netflix’s crowning jewel. Mysterious, intense and full of twists and turns, it’s the brainchild of collaborative duo Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, who previously worked together on Sound Of My Voice and The East.
When it comes to describing what The OA is actually about, there’s no knowing where to start. A few buzzwords include the following: angels: cosmos, cross-dimension, fantasy, sci-fi. There is of course a cast of complex characters, and a stand out of those is the transgender youngster Buck Vu. Played by Ian Alexander who is himself transgender, the character has a key role across both Part I and Part II of the series. Alongside his new-found friends Steve, BBA, French and Jesse, he must help Prairie (Brit Marling) find her way back to her captive friends, with whom she was held with for 7 years. That’s as far as it goes without at least providing a few spoilers for those that haven’t jumped yet…
As the second season of the series continues to bring in critical acclaim, we sit down with Ian Alexander to discuss his impressive role as Buck Vu and to hear the 10Trax he loves to listen to between takes.
The Chapter II of The OA is now streaming on Netflix, how was it filming this season?
I had an incredible time filming this season – I got to travel to Oregon for the first time, which was really cool. I made so many happy memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life!
Buck (and Michelle) had a pretty significant role this season. How was it getting your head around such a complex script?
Zal contacted me months before I ever received the scripts to run the idea of Michelle’s character by me to make sure I was okay with it, so I had some idea of what to expect. But there were certainly moments that surprised me enough to set my phone down and take some time to process it all – like the Syzygy scene with Old Night and the final scenes of chapter 8. Working on The OA sort of desensitises me to surreal and otherworldly things, so after a few moments I was able to move along with my day. I definitely took a lot more time to prepare for my scenes this season, partly because of my development as an actor but also because of the complexity of my role. I have scripts filled with notes in the margins!
Tell us a bit about what it is like to work with Brit + Zal. How supportive are they throughout the process?
Brit and Zal are both exceptionally talented, ethereal beings. They’ve always been so supportive and kindhearted towards me, and I look up to them as mentors and as friends. They are extremely passionate about authentic representation and are always open to my suggestions in regards to Buck’s storyline.
We’ve heard there are five seasons mapped out, despite a third yet to be confirmed by Netflix. Have you heard anything about what future seasons hold?
Brit and Zal are very mysterious and elusive when we ask about future seasons, so I don’t know very much. Any information I’ve managed to glean from them is extremely top secret. Sorry!
Speaking of which, is Season 3 confirmed and does it have the go-ahead?
I haven’t heard anything yet, I’m sure you guys will find out the same time I do! When we were renewed for Part II, I found out through my notifications on Twitter: “Congrats on season two!” I was like, “Wait, seriously?” I was in high school at the time so I asked my teacher if I could be excused and went to the bathroom to cry for a bit. I’ll likely shed some happy tears if we get confirmed for Part III.
There’s some similarities between your own life and of that and Buck. On a personal level, how much do you relate to the character?
Buck is very much an extension of myself, since there are so many similarities between us. The open casting call that I found for The OA online called for a 14 to 15 year old Asian American trans male, and at the time I auditioned I was 14 years old, I’m half Vietnamese, and a trans male: it was so specific to me that I felt like it was fate. Buck is also an artist and a choir student, and I happened to be taking art and choir classes when I auditioned. I would consider Buck to be an empath, which I identify with as well. We’re both sensitive souls that would do anything for our friends. Another parallel between his life and mine lies in our relationships with our parents and their struggles to accept our gender identities. The argument between Buck’s parents in the first season was heavily inspired by my own experiences at home – the writers asked me to send them some examples of my gender-related familial conflict.
There seems to be a really family vibe on set, particularly between the boys and BBA. Does that translate in real life?
Absolutely! I would consider the cast and crew of The OA to be my chosen family of sorts. We often hung out together on days we weren’t filming and would always joke around with each other during breaks on set. This is especially highlighted in Brandon Perea’s behind-the-scenes video for Part II that he uploaded to Youtube. I’m incredibly lucky to have them in my life.
Of both parts, which has been your favourite scene and why?
It’s impossible for me to pick only one favourite, but if I had to choose from the scenes I was in, I would say my favourite moment is when Rachel travels into the television in Aunt Lily’s house. The shot of Buck slowly walking towards the TV as it flickers to life always gives me chills – I remember when we were shooting that scene, everyone was so excited about how cool it looked.
Are you a spiritual person?
I would consider myself to be agnostic. I was raised in a very strict religion that burdened me with a lot of self-doubt and guilt, and since breaking away from it I’ve found myself disagreeing with organised religion as a concept. I don’t think that anyone should tell other people what to believe, since spirituality is so individual and personal. I guess I’m spiritual in the sense that I believe in the power of positive thinking – you receive the same energy you put out into the universe.
Finally, do you believe in angels?
I may not believe in angels in the Christianity sense, but I definitely think that people can positively impact others with their wisdom and kindness. Who knows? Perhaps guardian angels are just regular people who provide guidance in a time of need.
"PYRAMID$" by Frank Ocean
"In my opinion, every Frank Ocean song is a masterpiece, but “Pyramids” has always been one of my favorites for many reasons. At 9 minutes and 53 seconds, it could technically be classified as two songs. The transition from the first heart-wrenching ballad about lost love to the second upbeat ode to an unattainable lover always floors me. The song dissolves into a soulful guitar solo that I can only describe as hauntingly beautiful. This is a song that definitely needs to be experienced with headphones or in a car with the stereo turned all the way up; the layered choir-like vocals, bass, and synth runs always invoke a spiritual experience for me."
"Blink" by Kevin Abstract
"While this song may not be my ultimate favorite by Kevin Abstract, it certainly holds the most meaning for me. Listening to it immediately takes me back to my days of high school angst, blasting this song through my earbuds while staring out the school bus window - the lines "I don't wanna take the bus ... / So I never wake up, that's why I snooze when my [...] phone go off" resonated with me particularly. The outro samples dialogue from Brokeback Mountain, when Jack Twist monologues about the life he could've had with Ennis Del Mar if he hadn't been so afraid of being in a publicly gay relationship. While I am not gay like Kevin and Jack, I can still strongly identify with the struggle to find acceptance and happiness in a world that often discriminates against people for who they love."
"Easy" by Claud
"I love bright, cheery bops with sad undertones - the kind of songs that you initially jam along to but on a second or third listen, the lyrics send you into an existential spiral of despair. I’ve sung along to this song many times and it always gets stuck in my head after; it has an infectiously catchy melody."
"Come Back To Earth" by Mac Miller
"To describe this song as being bittersweet would be a massive understatement - after Mac Miller’s passing in September, I found myself listening to his last album “Swimming” on repeat for weeks. I connect deeply with the lyrics, having struggled with depression for many years: “...sunshine don’t feel right when you’re inside all day / … Grey skies and I’m drifting, not living forever / They told me it only gets better.” One lyric that haunts me in particular is “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head.” I believe that he was a profoundly talented and widely loved individual whose legacy will carry on for years to come. I think that through listening to his music, he continues to live on."
"Wait A Minute!" by Willow
"This song is hands down my favorite Willow song - the funky beat pairs so well with her fierce vocals and I oftentimes belt along to it in the shower. I also listened to this song a lot while filming Part II of The OA: the lyric “I left my consciousness in the 6th dimension” heavily paralleled the themes of inter-dimensional travel in the show."
"RYD / DARK RED" by Steve Lacy
"This track was the first of Steve Lacy’s solo work that I ever heard, and I immediately fell in love. The EP that this song appears on was entirely recorded on his iPhone using GarageBand, which is incredibly inspiring to me; you don’t need an expensive studio to record music! Lacy’s heavenly vocals evoke feelings of tranquility, while the lyrics paint a different picture of self doubt and anxiety. I experience generalized anxiety and often wrestle with negative thoughts regarding my relationships, which is why these lyrics resonate with me: “Something bad’s about to happen to me / I don’t know what, but I feel it coming … What if she’s fine, it’s my mind that’s wrong / And I just let bad thoughts linger for far too long.”
"Jewlery" by Blood Orange
"An intro by Janet Mock (writer, director, producer, and trans rights activist) sets the empowering tone for this song. This is the type of song I’d play in my car on a sunny day with my windows down, waving my hand out the window like I’m in a coming-of-age indie movie."
"Rose Golden" by Kid Cudi x Willow
"As an avid Kid Cudi fan, it was difficult to pick my favorite song of his to include on this playlist. I decided to choose “Rose Golden” because of its themes of success, unity, and overcoming adversity. The lyrics “felt like a failure… / Soon I’d understand the power I possess, the story of The Chosen” remind me of how far I’ve come, from struggling to find a purpose in life to being one of the very few transgender actors in popular media."
"Tweakin’" by Vince Staples
"I’ve seen Vince Staples live in concert several times and every time is just as special as the first. I believe he is one of the most talented artists currently in the rap game - his flow and cadence is so unique and entrancing. I also adore Kehlani, who is featured on this song and delivers the chorus with a sensitivity that perfectly compliments Vince’s verses."
"I Like That" by Janelle Monáe
"The album that this song is from, Dirty Computer, is all about resistance of societal constraints and focuses on the empowerment of women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other minorities. This song in particular is all about self love and breaking free of general expectations. As a biracial, transgender, queer individual I hold this song very close to my heart: it’s a massive “screw you” to anyone who tries to control or judge me. Janelle Monáe is a huge inspiration to me as an artist and as an actor. This song was also featured in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” which further deepened my appreciation of it."