One of the Disney Channel's biggest stars, Brenda Song has spent most of her life in front of a camera. She made her acting debut at the age of six, which was soon followed by appearances in Santa with Muscles (1996) and Leave It to Beaver (1997).
In 1999, she turned to television, the site of her rise to fame. Landing guest starring roles on one hit TV series after another, Song built up a resumé that includes "7th Heaven", "ER", "Judging Amy", "Once and Again", "Popular", "Bette", and "The Bernie Mac Show", among many others.
Perhaps most significant, though, was her starring role in the 2000 Disney Channel Original Movie, The Ultimate Christmas Present. The project would be the first of four movies (so far) for the network to come her way. Get a Clue with Lindsay Lohan arrived in 2002, as did another theatrical credit in 20th Century Fox's Like Mike. In 2004, Song starred in Stuck in the Suburbs and began a recurring role on "Phil of the Future." It was in the following year, though, that Song was chosen for the role that is her biggest claim to fame, that of London Tipton in "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody." The Disney Channel original series, which follows the adventures of Zack and Cody Martin, young brothers living inside a hotel owned by the Tipton family, quickly became one of the network's most popular.
With a long line of Disney projects behind her and a hit show on her hands, the studio is now capitalizing on eighteen-year-old Song's popularity, no doubt hoping for the kind of lucrative franchise that they have successfully established with several of her fellow Disney Channel brethren. Just last summer, the network called upon Song for another starring role in Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, the highly publicized and successful TV movie that made use of her skills as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
"The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" wrapped up its second season in 2006 and will return this year for its third, something rarely seen by any Disney Channel program. This week, it makes its fourth appearance on DVD as part of That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana, a high-profile event that found the characters of three of Disney's biggest TV series -- "That's So Raven", "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody", and "Hannah Montana" -- interacting with one another last summer in one of the biggest and most-hyped crossovers in television history. Brenda Song recently took the time to talk with UltimateDisney.com about that episode, "The Suite Life" in general, and her prolific career with Disney.
UltimateDisney.com: How did you get the part of London Tipton on "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody"?
Brenda Song: Actually, this is the very first job that I never had to audition for. I guess it was because I'd worked so much for Disney before this already, so I guess every job before was kind of like my audition. I actually got called to go to the table reading and when I went there, I saw Ashley Tisdale, and we had known each other previously from another job we did, and we freaked out... so it was really cool, it was just like, "Oh my God, I get to work on a series with my best friend for the next four or however many years!" And it was really awesome, but... it was the first time I didn't have to go through the whole process.
And that's interesting because I wanted to ask you -- you had appeared in an episode of "Bette" with Ashley Tisdale...
....Yes, that's where we met!
...Right -- and so you had no idea until you got there that she was also being considered?
I had no idea and the thing was we were friends, we were hanging out, but I was shooting Stuck in the Suburbs and so we totally weren't in contact at all, and then I walked into the table read and there she was and we were like "Oh my goodness, I can't believe it!" It was really, really cool.
You've been acting since childhood and like you said, you were in a number of Disney Channel projects prior to "Suite Life" -- was there a particular project or point in time during which you really started to feel a sense of superstardom?
I still don't feel that now (laughs).
I think that, honestly, every part that I've done for Disney has brought me something new, whether it was a personal challenge or a challenge as an actress, or just going in there and kind of being these characters. Like for me, London was probably like the biggest step and the biggest change for me. The first time that I really felt truly part of the Disney family was when we stepped in these shoes and I had no idea what it was like to be an heiress, like no idea whatsoever, and so it was just so much fun. It was the first time that I felt a part of a family, because I had never really been on a series for a long period of time and so this is probably my most memorable and sometimes, really, I have felt that did the most difference in myself and also in my career.
Like you said, you play a somewhat spoiled hotel heiress who is named London Tipton on the show. That's sort of an obvious play on Paris Hilton.
Have you ever met Paris or heard anything from her regarding your character?
I've never heard anything [from] her. I met her once but very briefly, but I've never actually spoken to her about my character. I wonder how she'd feel about it? (Laughs).
Yeah, I would be interested in hearing that (laughs).
Recently, "Suite Life" was part of a night-long crossover with "That's So Raven" and "Hannah Montana", which is coming to DVD soon.
...Yes, on Tuesday.
How did the idea for that event come about?
It was actually a process that they had thought about for a long, long time. They just didn't have enough shows in production to actually do it, and so with all of our shows in production, like, you know what? We should just try this. And so, on the DVD there are actually three episodes, one for each show, and we just all kind of cross over and bump each other on each other's show. It's really cool.
How did the filming of that episode differ from a typical day on the set?
Well it was really different for me because I had to pre-shoot my scenes because I had to shuffle off and do Wendy Wu in New Zealand, so I pre-shot a lot of my scenes. It was really different because you had different producers on set as well as your own, and having like Miley [Cyrus, "Hannah Montana"] and Raven on set was just insane because you know, they're so strong, they're so powerful as actresses and as people, that it was just so much fun. We know them personally, so [it was] like a big slumber party, and we had the boys outnumbered, so it was awesome.
(Laughs). Now, outside of that crossover, you said that you are friends with them. How much interaction do you have with Raven, Miley Cyrus, and other Disney Channel stars?
Well, like for instance, Raven, she's right next door to us and so whether it's going out to lunch or seeing each other and sitting down to have a quick conversation, it's really cool.
Suite Life Poster & Photos:
Like, Miley was around a rough area and she called us and we went and got our nails done and we ate. It's fun things like that because once you're in the Disney Channel family, you truly are in a family. And you have a whole other family and a whole group of friends that whenever you see each other, it's like a big reunion, like anytime we do something like the "DC Games" or we do a promo, it's like a big reunion for everybody.
Right, and that really comes across in the programming on the network, also.
We're lucky because, you know, we all have just great, great, great kids on this network and we have so much fun together.
The "Suite Life" cast features three age groups -- of course, the younger Sprouse twins, yourself and Ashley Tisdale are in the middle, and then there's the adult cast. How close is the cast behind the scenes?
There is no age boundary, like we are all so close, so equally, when we do things together it's like literally one for all, all for one. And we've been so lucky because I've never been part of something like this before and not just even between the cast, but the crew as well. We all really look out for each other and no matter if it's Kim [Rhodes], Phill [Lewis], the twins, or Ashley, we just all love going to dinner together. I actually just spent Christmas with the twins and Phill at Phill's house. And so you know we're so lucky to have this kind of group of people that we really trust, and it's kind of like a circle of friends.
The show has become one of the most popular in Disney Channel history -- did you ever expect that level of success?
Not at all, I mean we talk about this all the time and we're like can you believe that people actually watch our show? Still to this day, when kids come up and they're like, "Oh my God, we love this episode!", it's still kind of shocking for us to know that kids and families really sit down to watch it. Because when we're shooting this, we're so proud of the work we do, we put so much heart into it that we don't really care if people are watching because we love what we do. But then to know that people respond so well, it takes it to another level and it's so surprising and shocking, but very flattering at the same time.
Well, I'm not a kid and I actually find the show to be pretty enjoyable too.
(Laughs). Thank you!
Once upon a time, Disney Channel shows never exceeded 65 episodes. "Suite Life", however, is one of a lucky few to get extended beyond that number. Have you started filming the next season? Will it bring any changes to the show?
Actually, we just finished episode 65 and are going back for our third season on Monday. It's the first day of our new season so I'm really excited because also,
we have the "Suite Life" Volume 2 DVD coming out later this year as well, so you know, a lot going on. This next season, a lot of our characters are being put into new situations and new environments with new cast members so it's going to be different. You're going to see these characters kind of go through something that you might not expect them to go through.
Have you heard from any of the higher-ups at Disney as to just how long they're looking for shows like "That's So Raven" and "Suite Life" to be allowed to continue with new episodes?
Well, I know that Raven is done with her series but "Cory in the House" is premiering soon, which is a spin-off of "That's So Raven", so that will be exciting. [For] our show, we have no idea. We know as much as you guys do.
Your show has welcomed a lot of special guest stars. Have any stood out as particularly exciting to work with?
Oh my goodness, we've had really, really amazing guest stars. I mean, we had Jesse McCartney, which was really awesome. We had Zac Efron, we had Vanessa Anne Hudgens, we had like half of the High School Musical cast on our show. As far as standing out, there's not one that I really -- I mean, they're all so great that it would be unfair to choose one.
You frequently appear in those "Express Yourself" interstitials that air on the Disney Channel during commercial breaks. How often does Disney pull you aside to film those? How much of the full interview do we end up seeing?
Oh, well we do "Express Yourself" probably like once every couple of years or once every year or so and you see quite a lot of it. I mean, we sit down and we literally have like a two hour interview... [they ask us] all these questions about how we feel about certain subjects and things like that. And I love how they do cut it and how they show them to the kids in these categories. You do see quite a lot of it, like when you see it, that's exactly what's going on right there and then, and what's coming out of our mouth is exactly what's coming out of our mouth, which is nice. Nice to let kids know that we're people as well.
So they do, then, let you have some liberty about your own thoughts?
Oh, most definitely, everything that you hear on the air is exactly how we feel about it, I mean there's nothing that's pre-written or anything at all -- none of it is. That's exactly how we feel.
London (Brenda Song) tries to spread Christmas cheer by hand-knitting a sweater for Maddie (Ashley Tisdale) in the episode found on the "Disney Channel Holiday" DVD. Ashley Tisdale and Brenda Song dabble in drag to get close to Jesse McCartney in an episode of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."
A lot of Disney Channel's stars have also launched music careers, recently including your co-star, Ashley Tisdale. Is that something you foresee for your future?
You know, right now my priority is acting. Look, I never say never (laughs). But right now, acting is my priority and, you know, I don't want to look that far into the future, but acting is my thing right now. I'll leave the singing to Ashley (laughs).
You've been hired by Disney for a lot of projects and there are so many singers who do come out of Disney Channel. Do you know if they specifically look for actors who can also sing when they're casting?
You know, they really don't. Disney didn't even know that Ashley sang when she first got to "Suite Life." And then the producers found out first and then she sang on the show and it just evolved. And honestly, the only times I think they were actually looking for singers were for like Cheetah Girls and High School Musical. A lot of these singers -- like even Alyson Michalka of Aly & AJ, when she was casted in the part [of Keely in "Phil of the Future"] they had no idea that she could sing and all of sudden, she brought her guitar on set and we were like, "Oh my goodness!" like, "she is so talented!" And so it's just basically, you know, like fate and destiny.
Because you've done so much for Disney, whenever you go away to another studio and do something, do you feel like you're sort of away from home?
I really do. I mean, you really feel like, "Oh my goodness," like you're kind of on a field trip. Because you've gotten so used to the people around you and the environment and the setting that when you do go out, it is a little weird, a little different, but it's always nice to get a change once in a while.
Is there any chance that complete season sets of "The Suite Life and Zack & Cody" might ever be released to DVD?
I have no idea. I hope so, because I haven't even seen all the episodes yet (laughs). So, personally I hope that we have a whole, full season DVD because I haven't seen all the episodes.
Whenever a new episode premieres, does the whole cast get together to watch them?
Well, we try, but it's hard because when we're taping, we tape at such odd hours, that we usually always miss it. It's always like on Friday nights and that's our tape night so we usually miss our episodes. But every time that we get the chance, we try to watch it. Like if the producers just bring it down on a tape or on a DVD, we usually sit down and try to watch it. Even though it's hard for me to watch myself, it's nice to sit down and support each other.
Everybody wants to be London! As Wendy Wu, Brenda Song (and her posse) is fully prepared to kick butt.
What would you like to do when "The Suite Life" eventually comes to an end?
You know, I have no idea. I mean, I like to keep my options open. I really, honestly have no idea. Whatever comes, comes.
I've been so thankful and so grateful so far for everything that has happened that, you know, whatever life brings me, I'll just do what's best.
And would you like to keep working for Disney or do you want to move on to another studio?
I love Disney. Disney's been so good to me, I can't say anything bad about what they've done and so you know what, I'm just so glad that they keep hiring me. And if they keep doing [that], great (laughs).
Aside from the show, do you have any other projects in the works right now?
Not at the moment. I mean "The Suite Life" takes up so much of your time that it's definitely my priority right now and what I'm putting [most of my] energy into.
Do you think there's any chance of a Wendy Wu sequel?
There are talks of it. I mean, right now I don't really know what's going on with that so I can't really say much, but you know, when I do, you guys will hear.
Okay, great. I will be listening for it and I look forward to seeing more from you. Thanks again for taking some time to talk to me today.
Not at all. Thank you so much!