Disney’s first non-binary lead in a movie has a new Netflix project
Born on December 25th, 1995, and raised in Cresskill, New Jersey, Terry Hu was destined for success. A Capricorn with Aries rising, it’s no wonder Terry Hu makes history as Disney’s first non-binary lead in a major film, Disney+’s Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3. I caught up with the New Jersey native to discuss growing up in the Garden State, LGBTQ culture, breaking barriers on Disney, and an upcoming Netflix project.
Congratulations on breaking ground as Disney’s first leading non-binary character in the channel’s history for your role as A-Spen in Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3!
Terry Hu: Thank you! When I booked the movie, I did not realize the monumental factor. Hasbro has even created a doll of my character. This is Disney’s first non-binary doll. The youth started DMing me on Instagram thrilled about what this means. That is when I realized how meaningful this is, and in turn, that I have a responsibility in this position. Might I add I am very excited about a 201-area code (laughs).
You grew up in Cresskill, correct?
TH: Yes! I am so glad you even know where that is.
I grew up in Maywood.
TH: Bergen County people! No one knows where Cresskill is so it’s very refreshing when I meet someone who does.
How was life growing up in Cresskill and New Jersey as a whole?
TH: When I was younger, I felt more angst over the fact Cresskill was a small town which was predominantly white, straight, and conservative, and I just wanted to get out. Granted, I did experience microaggressions being Asian in a white town. However as an adult I now recognize it could have been so much worse and I really am grateful to have grown up there. In hindsight, I don’t think Cresskill was that conservative, I think it was okay. I must admit I had a supportive group of friends, and I am grateful for the upbringing I had.
Bergen County has progressed more than some of the other counties. For example, Tenafly which neighbors Cresskill, has been hosting an annual Pride day for several years now.
TH: Oh my God! That just gave me actual goosebumps. That’s great. Although I did not experience the stereotypical bullying, I recall one male student who was openly gay that was treated so differently by the other young men. This really bothered me. I do not think the people of Cresskill were actively bad, but I do not think they were actively good either. At the time the town was very rooted in heteronormative culture. I do not think I knew one gay couple during my time there.
When did you move out of New Jersey?
TH: Almost ten years ago, after I graduated high school and began attending UCLA. I was always obsessed with the notion of California and had the idea my life would instantly change once I got there. Obviously, it did not, and I had anxiety every day my freshman year. Growing up I never went to camp or went away so it was my first time truly being away from home. In the end, I built my life out here although I still come home from time to time.
Do you feel LGBTQ has only just become mainstream? For example, if you look back ten years, do you find the climate to be significantly different?
TH: The times have been changing as I have been changing and growing up essentially. Do you know those horizonal escalators at airports where you are still walking at a normal pace however the ground is moving too so you are being moved even faster? I liken this to the recent acceptance of LGBTQ. We are still just living our lives, it’s society which has changed.
Historically, major entertainment networks and platforms did not even allow certain terms to be mentioned, which has since changed. The good thing is there is a surge of more queer content being released. The work still needs to be done in not tokenizing queer characters. You can tell there has been a change especially with the new generation. For example, I volunteer for Young Storytellers where I act in scripts written by middle schoolers. This one fifth grader asked me what my pronouns were, and I was so taken aback. This was not even a concept ten years ago — like I found out about the term bisexual accidentally in seventh grade and never heard of it previously.
The new generation has such awareness and depth to these topics in addition to being so exploratory. I feel this is the reason for so much recent LGBTQ backlash; there was not so much backlash years ago because there were not so many out people years ago. We are so much more present now, and because of it, comes those hoping to silence us.
How did you work your way up to Disney?
TH: I majored in neuroscience at UCLA. I was planning to attend physical therapy school, which I got into, but then decided to defer a year to give acting a full chance. During that year I signed with a commercial agent. In November 2018 I won the ABC Discovers Digital Talent Competition. This instilled more faith in me which led me to sign theatrically with my agency. In January 2019 I had my first audition with Netflix. During this time, I was working at a tech startup to pay the bills while I continued to audition. By April 2020 I left the startup. I experienced a bit of a dry spell until early 2021, which is when I began auditioning for a plethora of pilots back-to-back, and ultimately the one which pulled me in was Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3. This is my first feature which is also a musical. I could have never imagined being in a musical and I am so glad that this is my first feature film.
You play a newcomer to the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S trilogy. Can you tell us more about your character?
TH: A-Spen is one of the main aliens who come in. A-Spen is very curious, excitable, and childlike albeit not childish, which I think is an important distinction. My character is very much a leader when they need to be. The two other aliens, A-Li and A-Lan, we all have distinct personalities and A-Spen is the one to ground them to stay on top of their mission. The aliens on their planet are telepaths yet emotions are essentially suppressed to not get in the way of their thoughts and to avoid creating disharmony. Once they get to earth the journey becomes about exploring emotions. A-Spen goes through a journey of experiencing love which is very exciting.
In what ways do you relate or not relate to your character?
TH: I honestly think that I lucked out because I really do think I relate to A-Spen a lot. The director and writers were really open too. Obviously, I am non-binary and A-Spen is non-binary. Personality wise I am very childlike. My friends often question how I have such high levels of energy. In terms of how we are not alike, there is nothing that stands out other than withholding emotions, outside of the obvious lack of telepathy.
What is next for you?
TH: I am going to be in the third season of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever which premieres August 12th. I am extremely happy to be a part of it. It’s funny how life comes full circle because a few years ago I auditioned for one of the leads and I was pinned; it was between me and one of the women who were cast. I was really upset about not getting the role, then my best friend was staffed during Season 2, and within the past year they collectively decided to bring me in. It is truly a serendipitous story.