IN CONVERSATION WITH SAM SONG LI
interview by MAREK BARTEK
Portraying the role of Bruce Sun in the latest Netflix hit show ‘The Brothers Sun’, Sam Song Li is not only a talented actor. Born in China and growing up in Southern California, Sam delved into the world of social media after graduating from University of California, Berkeley and is now also a successful content creator. We talked about his recent projects as well as the importance of representation in the media.
Let’s start with your most popular project right now, which is the Netflix’s show ‘The Brothers Sun’ where you portray the role of Bruce Sun. Can you tell us a bit more about your character and the show itself?
The Brothers Sun is a genre-bending action comedy gangster family drama. It’s a total melting pot of different genres yet we strike a balance and make it work. This show is uniquely itself in so many ways! The character I play is Bruce Sun, a naive college student in Southern California who has dreams of becoming a famous improv artist. However, his mom wants him to study to become a doctor so he’s been hiding his secret passion from her. Bruce deals with a lot of privileged first world problems that suddenly pale in comparison to the problems thrown at him once Charles Sun (his long lost older brother) comes to town!
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jewelry Sam’s own
The show’s first season is out and the reviews so far have been really positive! How do you feel about it and what has been your experience so far with such a response?
I couldn’t be more excited! We all knew it was a really interesting premise, and tonally, it’s one of a kind in a lot of ways. I’m just so glad it’s resonating with people, and I love seeing all the comments and conversations about family and sibling dynamics that people are experiencing themselves. I think there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the nuances of our families.
Is there anything you can share with us regarding a potential season 2 of ‘The Brother’s Sun’?
I wish I had more to say but the truth is, it’s up to the big bosses at Netflix! We have something special here, and it’s a unique kind of series that we don’t see often. The fans who have seen this show really love it and it’s highly rated online and with critics, I just hope more people see it and we get the streaming views up!
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley you’ve gained quite some following on social media creating comedy content. Do you feel that content creation in a way shaped your skills or approach to acting in television?
Yes and No. Content Creation, specifically on social media, versus acting for film and television are two different mediums. When I’m making content, I have to put on many different hats. I often feel more like a producer and director, even an editor than when I’m acting. I think with content, you have a lot more responsibilities so it often hinders your focus on performing. As an actor, I get to just use 100% of my efforts on my performance and that’s liberating for me. I definitely prefer acting over content creation, but content creation and social media is just too powerful of a tool to not be used as an artist in 2024! We are quite literally in the digital age and social media is changing consumer habits and tastes as we know it! But to answer your question, I do feel like content creation has helped with my approach to acting. I think being on the other side of the camera for content, and being a hands-on editor for my content, I have a better relationship with other creatives, like directors or producers or writers. I can understand their vision better and see how their notes will affect a moment I’m portraying. I think it makes me a more well rounded individual in the field.
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In recent years, we can see an increase in popularity of movies with predominantly Asian cast. What do you think might’ve changed or what do you think is the reason for this?
Yes, there really has been an increase! It feels like we are in the golden age of representation in cinema and television in Hollywood. I think it has something to do with the globalization of the world, and how global platforms like Netflix have helped create content that no longer needs to be localized but is made for global viewing. I think there is a real hunger for authentic, fresh stories. From shows like Squid Game and Beef, to movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once, these unique projects have shown us stories we haven’t seen before, and audiences love that!
Why do you believe it’s important to not only share stories that resonate with the Asian or Asian-American communities but also cast actors of Asian descent into diverse roles that might’ve not been considered for in the past?
Take a look at the world around you! It’s filled with diversity and interesting faces. I find it incredibly dissociating when you have modern stories that don’t reflect what society looks like. I remember the old Star Wars movies. I love them; don’t get me wrong. But growing up, I was always confused about why in that world there were aliens from other galaxies, yet Asian people didn’t exist. It made no sense. I’m glad this is catching up and we’re seeing the changes! It all makes so much more sense this way!
Born in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China and growing up in Southern California, while spending periods of your life in China and Hong Kong; you were raised by an independent single mother. How has this upbringing, which bridges west and east, influenced you and your approach to acting?
I think it made me incredibly resilient and thick-skinned. In this industry, you hear a lot of “no’s”. Like… so many “no’s”. I think growing up with a single mom, I had to figure things out on my own and adapt quickly. I also experienced the biggest “No” when I told my mom I wanted to pursue acting. She was really worried! But I know it’s because she just wants the best for me and my future and thought that my life would be really hard as an Asian actor. I persisted and did it anyway. But to hear that “no” from her while continuing to chase my dreams, it sort of made me immune to all the “no’s” I kept hearing.
I’ve lately read quite a few very interesting pieces about those who, as children, or who’s parents immigrated into the US, mainly in the 80s, exploring the ideas of belonging and finding their space within the Asian diaspora. I’m curious to know what your experience has been like.
Well, I grew up in San Gabriel, which contains a huge Asian community in Los Angeles! When my mom immigrated to the United States, I think she chose San Gabriel because it felt a bit like home. If you look at the stores and businesses in San Gabriel, most of them are in Chinese or other Asian languages. When my mom came here, she was still working on her English skills, so I think it allowed her to fit in and find her community. ‘The Brothers Sun’ portrays this so well and it reminds me of my own experiences with my mom.
Coming back to some lighter topics, one of your upcoming releases is ‘Marvin Is Sorry’, which is set to debut at SXSW 2024. Can you share at least a bit about this project and the character you portray in it?
‘Marvin Is Sorry’ is a TV pilot that follows famed mega influencer/youtuber Marvin Weaver after he gets canceled from having an onset accident. This is an incredibly nuanced project about modern day influence, and what social media and traditional media is doing to the people consuming it. It also touches on the political climate of America, and the naivety of “influencers” who are baited by the views and followers. It’s also hilarious. I’m really proud of our team and can’t wait for the world to see it.
Besides ‘Marvin Is Sorry’ are there any other exciting projects we can be expecting from you?
You can always follow me and my content! I make a ton of relatable skits and shorts online, and write and direct all of them myself! These days I’ve found modern dating very interesting to explore. There’s a lot of comedy in the dynamics of dating in 2024, it’s so cursed haha. You can find me online @thesamlitv on Instagram and @samlitv on tiktok and youtube!
talent SAM SONG LI
photography DANIEL SARS
styling and interview MAREK BARTEK
hair and make up JIALI BAO
location PARQ STUDIOS
editorial direction JANA LETONJA
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA
special thanks to NETFLIX NETHERLAND & BELGIË