By IZUAN SHAH
Brenda Song, the star of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, is having her first big headlining role in Disney Channel Original Movie Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. IZUAN SHAH met up with the teenage TV sensation at the film set in Auckland, New Zealand.
Turning into the next Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff may be a flattering prospect, but it isn’t the number one on the agenda.
“Wow! To even be mentioned in the same breath as them is something, but I’m just happy doing what I do every day,” says Brenda Song, after a long day of filming in central Auckland, New Zealand.
When we met on the set at the Auckland Memorial War Museum back in February, she was shooting scenes for her first film, an original Disney movie due for release on the popular children’s channel on Nov 12.
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is expected to make Song into a very big star indeed – a launching pad for her to possibly follow in the footsteps of child stars-turned-premature divas as Lohan and Duff – but the teenager is having too much fun doing what she’s always dreamed of doing to fall into that trap.
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘I don’t want to wear make-up’ – it’s all so pretentious. The Suite Life has made me more comfortable with myself, knowing that I’m still who I am even if I come in without make-up and wearing sweats. People who don’t accept the fact that I’m not doing my hair and going to the mall in five-inch heels every day, I don’t need them in my life.”
After all, for now there are far more immediate things at hand to worry about – season two of her hit Disney sitcom, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. The show has remained a keeper with its young viewers, and after nearly 50 episodes, it has even etched itself a firm place in Song’s heart.
A sweet, suite life
“I think with London (Tipton), she sort of lives in a bubble, and everything outside of that bubble ceases to exist for her. She doesn’t have parents (watching over her) or anyone to really guide her, and Mr Moseby (the hotel manager) is like her only father figure. And everyone is so afraid to say no to her,” reflects Song on the differences between her and her Suite Life character – the snooty, headstrong blonde heiress.
“It’s fun to play her, but the only thing that we really have in common is that she has my dream closet (laughs). And when it comes to our outlook on life we really are not the same at all.”
In person, the bubbly 18-year-old is part Ming Na Wen – Asian American and Westernised, universally pretty yet grounded – and part “Valley girl” (as Wendy Wu producer Ralph Farquhar puts it).
Perhaps playing a hotelier’s daughter has also taught her how to handle the lavish amounts of money she’s earning with more and more TV and movie offers that have and will come her way after Suite Life and Wendy Wu.
“With London, money means nothing and she doesn’t know what it’s like to not have it. It’s true that some kids don’t know what it’s like to struggle. My parents are middle-class and there are times we struggle and there are times that we don’t. I don’t really think about the money because I love doing this but at the same time I’m grateful,” says Song.
The reception of children towards Suite Life has exceeded producer expectations by becoming Disney Channel’s second-highest-rated live action sitcom behind the rabidly watched That’s So Raven. Besides turning preteen twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse into household faces, the show has also been Song’s biggest claim to fame thus far.
“I’m definitely most recognised as London Tipton. It’s funny to have kids come up to me back home and say, (mimics shy, star struck fan) ‘Hi ... London’.
“It’s just so sweet, you know? To see that, at that age, they still haven’t really worked out what’s reality and what’s not,” she shares.
Born to a Thai-American mother and a Laotian father of Hmong descent, Song’s natural good looks have definitely helped eke out a special uninhabited space for her in the competitive world of Disney Channel stars.
“When we first met, she told me she was black belt – I didn’t believe her (laughs). But we did training three weeks before filming, and she was all right. She proved she could do this, and that’s a big plus for the kind of action-comedy family movie we’re doing,” says Farquhar about his teenaged star.
The predictability and ordinary-ness of the Wendy Wu character appealed to her.
“Just how typical she is, I really like that about her,” says the young actress. “It’s fun, because you normally get to play these really crazy, out-there characters, but now with Wendy, it’s about transforming someone who is a real person.”
When the Disney Channel premieres Wendy Wu, Song believes that many viewers will connect with the character.
“When you’re 16, all you look at is next week, or next month, and her biggest goal in life is to be homecoming queen. Everything she does is working towards that goal. She doesn’t see anything past that.
“When she gets to homecoming queen – what happens then? She doesn’t realise that aspect. And that’s my favourite part of Wendy, her transition is one that we all have to make.”
“I think Brenda has a big future, both she and Shin (co-star Komayada). There are not too many young action stars in the horizon right now and I think when people see her in this, it’s going to open some doors for her, big time,” opines Farquhar.
“I know she’s excited about that, because she’s really doing a great job so far,” he adds.
Song’s pretty optimistic about her whole staying-grounded mission as well.
“You know, it’s funny because it’s so easy to forget (yourself) and you do get really swept up in everything. You do forget that every day you come to work, you’re doing exactly what you’ve always wanted to do and you’re living out your dreams every single day. Some people don’t realise that, being three years old and going, ‘I want to be on TV’. But then there they are, and they want more. I’m just like, ‘Think back, this is what you’ve always wanted to do.’ I love being right where I am now.”