The Scarborough-raised actor is showing his range in the time loop rom-com Hello (Again) and playing the heavy opposite Ryan Reynolds in The Adam Project
When Alex Mallari Jr. was a second-grader in Scarborough, he drew a picture of himself on a movie set, playing a bad guy. Last year, after he finished shooting The Adam Project – where he plays a rogue chasing Ryan Reynolds through time for… reasons – his mother brought him the drawing again.
“She opens up the page to me being a villain, and she’s like, ‘You always wanted to do this, huh?’” he recalls. “I was just floored by that – thinking about how my mom held onto that.”
It’s a sweet memory, but there’s a sadness underneath the story, which is that Mallari – who knew he wanted to be an actor even then – could only imagine himself playing the heavy rather than the hero.
“I think that’s all I ever saw [people of colour] be,” he says. “I didn’t have blond hair or blue eyes, so I never saw heroes that looked like me – aside from Bruce Lee.”
Things are better now, and Mallari is playing a wide range of characters. Yes, he’s a henchman in The Adam Project – it’s a good showcase for his action chops – but within days of that film’s arrival on Netflix he also turned up on CTV’s medical drama Transplant as a free climber coping with the loss of a leg – and as the star of CBC Gem’s supernaturally flavoured digital series Hello (Again), where he plays Jayden, a cook enduring a time loop in order to save a doomed romance with his ex (Rong Fu).
“I can’t remember where I read it or who said it – I’m horrible with names – but someone said ‘Pursuing to become a better performer is pursuing to become a better person,’” he says. “I found early in my career that I was able to play one extreme or the other, and now I’m learning how to play every key in the middle. And within that, I’m able to become a better person.”
He’s not exactly coming out of nowhere, mind you. Mallari was a regular on the Toronto-shot sci-fi series Dark Matter, playing one of a quintet of amnesiac space voyagers who bond as a crew while trying to figure out who they used to be, and he popped up on everything from The Strain and Designated Survivor, most recently landing recurring roles as a private detective on Ginny & Georgia and a new love interest for Jessalyn Wanlim’s Jenny Matthews on Workin’ Moms.
“I’m still chasing that spot where I can choose what I want to do and what I want to explore – and there’s so many things I want to explore,” he says. “But for right now it’s still trying to figure out the road ahead and just being grateful for all that.”
Listen to Hello (Again) stars Alex Mallari Jr. and Rong Fu and co-creator Nathalie Younglai explain what their hopes to do for Asian-Canadian representation, and the challenges of creating a consistent performance when shooting a time-loop story out of sequence.