How Terry Hu and Their Unwavering Authenticity are Changing Hollywood
Updated: May 14
Article & Interview by Zara Rawoof
Aliens and undead teenagers in a Disney musical come as no shock to fans. However, queer representation has been harder to find within the company’s productions. But in “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3,” Terry Hu’s character A-Spen brings science fiction and gender fluidity to the table. Hu’s role is one of the first representations of nonbinary gender identity in film on such a large scale. As Addison in Netflix’s season 3 of “Never Have I Ever,” Terry Hu’s character appealed to a teenage audience as main character Fabiola’s love interest. A short film released in 2021 called “Americanized” portrays Hu as a young woman named Eng grappling with her identity as a Chinese American in Oakland. While all characters differ significantly, Hu convincingly depicts any role they’re in. Now, Hu is opening up on their journey to get here.
Even though they’re making waves of change in the industry, Terry Hu doesn’t put too much pressure on themself to try and represent such a large community. “It was so wonderful that [Disney] wrote the character as nonbinary, but I don't think there's one way to be nonbinary. w,” the actor says. Hu’s journey with gender and sexual identity started young, claiming they’ve been “queer since the womb.” But it wasn’t until 2020 that Hu came out as nonbinary. “I just posted on my [Instagram] story, ‘Hey, everyone, I'm just trying out these pronouns. I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm just trying it out.’” They reflect, “I remember from there, I was like, ‘Yeah, this feels better.’
Exploring one’s identity has been known to be very personal. Terry Hu has been very open about their journey, helping to normalize the stigma that comes with changing pronouns and coming out. In an essay posted to Instagram this past Non-Binary Awareness Week , Terry shared their current uncertainty in their identity, admitting that it may change in the future. “I've always been pretty open as a human. I'm very transparent, like compulsively honest,” they admit. “I posted [the essay] when we were still filming “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3.” I was getting a lot of messages from fans who knew that there was going to be an enby [shorthand for nonbinary] character, and they said how much this meant to them. I remember feeling nervous because I'm a very anxious person. But I want to be a good person on [Instagram]. Whenever I get anxious like that, it's always helpful to be honest. It usually helps me to share my thoughts. We all should be looking for our authenticity. We're all just trying to figure it out. And things can change. I think the new generation especially is very understanding about fluidity.”
There may still be some moving parts in Terry’s self-identity, but their professional path was never unclear. As a kid, Hu’s work in commercials was overshadowed by school, but their passion was never lost. Terry graduated from UCLA with a degree in neuroscience and received offers from several physical therapy schools. Between their unrelenting interest in pursuing acting and the daunting price tag that further education comes with, Hu allowed themself one year to get the ball rolling as an actor. When they won ABC’s Digital Talent Competition in 2018, Hu’s destiny was undeniable. However, it wasn’t until this year that Terry fully dedicated their life to acting. Transitioning out of a safe, traditional job and into a career like acting is never easy. While Terry jokes that physical therapy is still their “backup plan” if things go awry, it doesn’t look like they’ll need plan B anytime soon.
Terry Hu is adjusting to life after millions watched them bring the roles of A-Spen and Addison to life, admitting that having fans is uncharted behavior. Within the 28 days between the release dates of “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3” and “Never Have I Ever,” Hu curated a fanbase so strong they found themselves amidst the presence of devoted supporters decked out in zombie attire. At the “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3” premier, Hu will never forget how surreal it was to see two little girls dressed up as cheerleaders from the movie, screaming at Terry that they were their favorite actor. That same night, Hu was asked to draw a tattoo for a fan. “I drew a heart with a smiley face. And I was like, ‘Does it have to be zombies related? Like you want to have aliens and UFO tattoos on you?’” Terry recalled. Despite the growing number of fans, the actor makes sure that they aren’t overexposed to comments online to avoid the negative but acknowledges that the overall response to their career has been very positive. Many young nonbinary fans express their appreciation for Hu’s work, and Hu acknowledges the special bond online communication can create. “I'm excited to be a part of their journey in any way to finding their fulfillment and authenticity,” Terry says. Between their likable roles and couples with a willingness to share their truth on social media, it’s no surprise Terry Hu is already on the path to stardom.
While basking in fans’ adoration seems to be part of the job description, Terry is honest about the realities of being a working actor. “To be an actor, your job is to audition,” Hu says. “When you book, that’s a vacation.” Terry reflects on the adjustment period they faced when having to accept the true lifestyle of an actor. Accepting the anxieties that come with acting is essential to enduring a long career of awaiting callbacks or dreading the likelihood of rejection.
It’s easy to wonder why someone would subject themselves to a life revolving around uncertainty. But Terry knew acting was for them early on. “‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ was really the last nail in the coffin. I was heartbroken and sobbing, and I remember just thinking, ‘This is catharsis.’ I remember wanting to affect people like that. I want to help provide catharsis.” Their last two roles weren’t exactly as dramatic as Brad Pitt aging backward and losing his love, but Terry wouldn’t have it any other way. “I want to do drama, but honestly, I'm so glad I booked these two projects because I love them. And I think that catharsis can appear in so many different ways.” While a gritty role is definitely a dream of Hu’s for the future, the actor says they’re just happy to take anything coming their way.
In addition to their love for acting, Terry Hu accredits their friends to help them keep a positive mindset in the entertainment industry. “One of my good friends, Natasha Behnam, has been a positive influence on me. She taught me that what’s right for me is right for me, and what’s not, [to] just let it go.” For now, Terry is focused on putting good vibes out into the universe and hoping for the same energy in return. Not only does this mindset ease the anxious feeling when gunning for a role, but it has also helped Terry keep a calm headspace during the audition process.
While they are making a difference themself, Terry is still ready to see more representation in the queer and Asian community. “I hope to keep seeing two types of storytelling. One type is a story that revolves around the specific struggles of a minority or minority group. But then the other type of storytelling is having the character have a full arc, but they just happen to be gay or queer or Asian. It's not really emphasized,” they explain. “Media has such an incredible influence, and you don't even realize when it's normalized. You attach to the character as a human. Sometimes there may be people who are homophobic, but then they see a character on screen that they relate to, and that character happens to be gay. They still relate to that character. It's really important to have characters that are normalized in that way.”
Terry Hu is flipping the industry on its head just by being who they are. Playing a nonbinary character in a Disney movie at the beginning of their career means there is no telling what Hu can do next. With kindness and authenticity often lost in the haze of Hollywood, Terry Hu is set apart from many actors their age. Their willingness to share all parts of themselves helps fans get to know Hu in a special light. Whether it’s designing tattoos for fans or presenting the world with an unwavering sense of self, Terry Hu has a permanent impact on anything they touch.