“I remember being a young person, watching TV, and never really seeing anyone who fully looked like me,” says Troy Iwata. “If we were playing Power Rangers at recess, everyone would be like, you’re the Yellow Ranger just because that’s the Asian one.”
The 29-year-old actor’s father is Japanese, but he was raised primarily in a “white household,” by his mother, who is Caucasian. “Everyone was just telling me: you’re Asian, you’re Asian, you’re Asian! But then Asians would be like, ‘You’re only half-Asian, you don’t look like us.’ I felt like I wasn’t enough for either side.”
Iwata pursued a career as an actor — after catching the bug in a grade school production of The Wizard of Oz (he played the Scarecrow) — and made his Broadway debut in 2019 in the musical Be More Chill. Still, the road has not always been a smooth one, and the talented actor with a broad, bright smile has confronted more than his share of casting challenges.
“In the entertainment industry people are obsessed with how you look, how you present,” he says. “You go into auditions and casting directors are immediately like, ‘What box do you fit in?’ Being a queer biracial person, I don’t fit into an exact box. So I’m constantly having to question and ground myself so I don’t lose sight of who I am. It’s a constant journey.”
Midori Francis and Troy Iwata — Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/Netflix
That journey most recently led to a major supporting role in Netflix’s frisky and charming young adult romance Dash & Lily. Iwata plays Langston, Lily’s gay brother who is the mastermind behind her ploy to find a boyfriend using a notebook filled with dares. Being cast in a positive queer role was important to the openly gay Iwata.
“The ratio of queer roles versus queer actors is not equal to that of straight people,” he says. “There are less opportunities for queer performers. Whenever I see straight people playing queer roles, it becomes problematic that those job opportunities that already are less, are going to straight people. It has nothing to do with the actor’s talent. It’s just a matter of being fair when it comes to job opportunity.”
He believes shows like Dash & Lily make a huge difference in the way they approach queer life with everyday casualness. Gay acceptance is simply part of the equation. But it goes beyond that.
“It’s incredibly important for young people to see themselves represented, and our show is diverse and colorful, with many different people from different backgrounds and cultures and beliefs,” he says. “Something as small as seeing someone who looks like you…makes you feel less alone. I think that’s really, really important.”
Dash & Lily is now streaming exclusively on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
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