If you think that you don’t know who Ian Alexander (They/He) is, there’s a good chance that you might be surprised. The actor has appeared in relatively few roles but a startlingly high proportion of those have been successful. Not only is Alexander a skilled actor, they bring their own life and experiences into play in many of their roles in a way that helps provide an important part of queer representation on screen.
Born in 2001, Alexander came out as trans in 2014 and identifies as pansexual. While there are plenty of challenges for any LGBTQ+ person growing up, these problems were likely compounded by being born in Utah to a Mormon family. Throughout their work, it is clear that Ian Alexander is keen to represent both their experience of gender and of restrictive religious groups to wider audiences.
Ian Alexander’s first screen role was in Netflix’s The OA. While the surreal show was sadly canceled after 2 seasons, it amassed its own cult following and Alexander’s performance was a shining point in the series. Playing Buck Vu, a trans teen whose family doesn’t accept him, he has to turn to a high school drug dealer for hormones in an unexpectedly prescient turn of events.
But even before that, they drew attention for one perfect response to transphobia on social media.
While a new wave of fans has discovered The Last of Us franchise through the HBO TV adaptation, Ian Alexander plays an important role in the video game The Last of Us: Part II. The character of Lev, modeled after Alexander’s own appearance, is attempting to escape the cult group, the Seraphites (also known as the Scars) because he has dared to cut his hair and is trans, eschewing the strict gender roles in the group. While the story of a trans figure attempting to escape a dangerous religious cult has some extreme moments, it’s clear that Alexander is drawing on their own experience with some of these aspects.
When speaking about being a nonbinary ex-mormon to Into and how that informs their work, they noted that:
Specifically, Alexander was discussing their latest project Daughter, another project that involves the difficulty of being other within a cult setting. When talking about having discussed the show with writer/director Cory Deshon and co-star Vivian Ngô, Alexander talked about how their existing relationship with Cory and knowledge of their own history had helped to inform the character:
Of course, Ian Alexander isn’t the first actor to draw on their own experiences to help inform their craft. However, what makes Alexander’s work and their inclination to embrace their identity through this storytelling is that it helps to provide a touch point for people to see trans characters in a special way. While there has been a rise in trans characters being portrayed as more 3-dimensional people, it is still regrettably common for many trans figures to be portrayed as wholly defined by their identity. While their gender identity is important to The OA’s Buck Vu and The Last Of Us’ Lev, it isn’t the sole thing that drives them but rather part of a wider set of characteristics and emotions, as any good character should be.
Ian Alexander’s talent as an actor is spectacular, but it is their willingness to bring so much of themselves to their stories that makes them truly astounding. By refusing to be a token trans character, they provide LGBTQ+ audiences a chance to see their stories more fully and those less familiar with the community an image of what we’re really like.
When they’re not acting, Ian Alexander has also built up a strong following on Twitch. There, you can see them stream a range of games on a regular basis as they hold a place in a space that has not always been as kind to trans people as it might be.
Ian Alexander will be returning in their recurring role as Gray Tal in Star Trek: Discovery’s fifth and final season and can be heard as the voice of Tai in Marvel’s animated series Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. With The Last of Us season 2 confirmed for HBO, it seems likely that Lev could appear in the show’s near future. While there’s no guarantee that Ian Alexander would be the one to reprise the role of Lev, there is precedent for it with Merle Dandridge returning as Marlene for the series after voicing the character in the game, and ultimately, there is no better person to embody Lev on screen than Ian Alexander themselves.