Transgender Actor on How Netflix's 'The OA' Helped His Family Accept His Identity

The Ellen DeGeneres Show - Ian Alexander and Brit Marling - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.

"Being on set was the first time I heard my mom use my correct name and pronouns, so that made my heart soar and made me realize they can accept this," Ian Alexander told Ellen DeGeneres.

Ian Alexander made his talk show debut during Wednesday's episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The star of Netflix's The OA, who is the first transgender Asian-American person to act on television, joined his co-star and co-creator Brit Marling to discuss how the Netflix series helped his parents accept his gender identity.

Alexander said he was 11 or 12 years old when he first started questioning his gender. "I was really just watching these videos on YouTube, like starting testosterone and top surgery videos and all this stuff. I didn't really make the connection as to why I was so intrigued by these videos and so invested," he said. "It wasn't until I was 13 when I met other trans people for the first time and I was like, 'Wait, you're allowed to do that? You're allowed to change your pronouns and your name?'"

He added, "That really gave me the courage to come out and accept who I was."

His parents, however, had a longer road to acceptance. "I come from a religious family, so it was a little hard for them to accept at first. They were kind of just like, 'You're too young. You don't really understand what this means,'" he recalled.

"I think being on The OA actually really helped them realize that I can be happy and I can be successful as a trans person and as a queer person," he said. "Being on set for The OA was the first time I heard my mom use my correct name and pronouns, so that made my heart soar and made me realize they can accept this and other people can accept this and I can be just fully accepted for who I am in this environment."

After launching on Netlfix in December 2016, the second season of Marling's mysterious sci-fi drama released March 22 and is now streaming. Marling said that when she wrote and set out to cast Alexander's role of Buck, she described the character as a 14-year-old transgender Asian American. "They were telling us at the time, 'You're not gonna find all three of these things in the casting world,'" Marling recalled.

The show ultimately put an opening casting call on online forums, which Alexander found on Tumblr. Despite the fact that he had no acting experience, he chose to audition. "I just decided to go for it," Alexander said after he realized that he met all of the criteria for the character. "I felt like it was fate calling out to me."

DeGeneres then shared that Alexander wanted to go see the Jordan Peele horror Us in theaters for his upcoming 18th birthday. "Living in L.A. is expensive, as you guys probably know. I also have a dog and a car, which have a lot of unexpected expenses," he said. "I'm starting testosterones next week, which is something that I feel like I need in order to survive as a trans person, so I will be spending a lot of money on health care."

In order to help Alexander budget and save up money, the host gave him a lifetime supply of Fandango tickets.

Watch the full appearance, below.