What happens when you invite an actor to a speaking event during a strike forbidding discussion of past and current projects? This year’s Yellowjacket Weekend speaker was Brenda Song, best known for her role as London Tipton in the show The Suite Life of Zach & Cody. While she couldn’t discuss details about the show, Song explained the strike didn’t prevent her from talking about her animated shows and video game projects. While attendance was low, only filling up the seats in Lower Strong up to where the ECM set up is (roughly 150 people), those who did show up seemed pretty engaged, with many lining up to ask questions during the half-hour Q&A portion of the event.
The event was moderated by Students’ Association Vice President and sophomore Elijah Bader-Gregory and the Student Activities Board Performance Outreach Chair and senior Liz Randolph. They started off simple, asking how her day had been here in Rochester where Song revealed she had just arrived a few hours earlier and was headed back to Los Angeles the following morning. Flying across the country and back within 48 hours for an hour-and-a-half speaking event without seeing the area seems a little crazy to me, but hey — I’m not a mom of two who was offered tens of thousands of dollars for this. It’s just the Rochestarian in me being a little disappointed she didn’t stay for a real day.
The conversation started off with her childhood and early career, which she said “really started when I booked Suite Life [of Zach & Cody] at 16.” There was a big emphasis on the importance of family throughout her life, with Song crediting her family as her biggest supporters, even though her brothers used to pretend they were only cousins instead after she got famous. Currently, she has two young children and is married to fellow actor Macaulay Culkin. Her mom still plays a large role in her life, living in a room in their house and helping to take care of Song’s children; “She’s my best friend.”
Speaking of Song’s mom, she is a four-time breast cancer survivor (who just went into remission for the first time in 17 years last summer!). Song became connected with the nonprofit Stand Up To Cancer after they connected her and her mother to a specialist due to the very specific nature of her mom’s cancer. Song has volunteered with them to host activity days at childrens’ hospitals for patients and their families to “brighten up their day.” She connected this back to her TV work saying, “We got to take people out of their lives for 23 minutes… You could be having the shittiest day ever but you turn on your favorite show… and [you] forget about your problems for just a little bit.”
When asked about the most challenging thing about being an actor, Song bluntly replied: “The rejection.” For every “yes” she’s received, behind that have been hundreds of tapes and auditions, sometimes leading her to question why she even does this. In the end, it’s worth it to her because “there’s nothing more joyous” than being on set (“besides being with my kids!” she clarified). However, last year Song took the entire year off from acting projects due to her second pregnancy, after the exhausting experience of filming season two of Dollface only eight and a half weeks after giving birth to her first child. “I don’t know how to stop,” Song stated, “I’ve always chosen work over life.” As an Asian American actress in Hollywood, she’s always felt like she can’t say no to a project, “otherwise it’s over.”
The year-long break forced her to slow down and realize the importance of health for her and her family and brought her a different perspective when she returned to work early in 2023 and made some huge work changes. “I left my managers of 26 years and I booked a movie literally two days after I did that.”
The Q&A portion allowed attendees to line up behind two microphones to take turns asking questions to Song, with many sharing how they grew up watching her on The Suite Life of Zach & Cody. One attendee even said she and her mom would watch it together as new immigrants to the United States to learn English. Song also touched on topics such as imposter syndrome, Thai representation, her knitting projects (very blanket heavy), and her favorite ice cream brand, Jeni’s.