At a young age, Canadian actor Eileen Li showed interest in visual arts and music but after attending university for a degree in kinesiology, she followed her heart and decided to switch gears. Her passion for acting lead her to finish with a degree in dramatic arts. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Toronto, Li continued to work on her craft at various theatre festivals before moving on to appear in several film and television productions. You would have seen her in Orphan Black, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Nikita, Shoot the Messenger, Kim’s Convenience and Alphas. She can also be seen in the second part of season two of the hit sci-fi show Shadowhunters and Jack Ryan. Now you can catch her on CBC’s highly anticipated series 21 Thunder in her role as Lara Yun.
We had a chance to have a fun catch up with Li recently as she was getting ready for the launch of 21 Thunder!
Who inspired you to get into acting? Any particular actor?
EL: Johnny Depp was definitely a source of inspiration for me. I was fascinated with his ability to completely transform himself in his roles. Edward Scissor Hands was a movie I was obsessed with growing up. I also loved him in Donnie Brasco and as Captain James Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He’s so different in each of these roles and I still dream of becoming as versatile of an actor as he is.
Who inspires you now?
EL: I’m really inspired by all the women and women of colour making waves in our industry. Viola Davis is a Queen in my opinion. She is so inspiring and her work is so good. I also love Mindy Kailing because she’s so funny and unapologetically herself.
But honestly, it’s really all the Asian actresses out there that truly inspire me right now. My idols right now are, Constance Wu from “Fresh off the Boat”, Ellen Wong from “Glow”, Michelle Yeoh from the new Star Trek Series, and Grace Lynn Kung from “Mary Kills People”. They are the ones who I really look up to now, because I see them doing it and think to myself, “I want to get there too”. And that’s why representation is so important. You see someone else like you and think, “Hey, she looks like me, maybe I could do it as well.”
What has been the most challenging or rewarding role you’ve played so far in your career?
EL: Playing Lara on 21 Thunder was a blast. She’s smart, cunning, and a total badass. It was fun getting to play a strong character like that. It’s difficult to find really juicy roles for Asian women and I really got to sink my teeth into this one.
So we all want to know, how did your parents react to your decision to redirect your career path from kinesiology to acting?
EL: It took me a while to tell them at first and the initial reaction was pretty funny. My dad genuinely thought I was going through a personal crisis. My mom was worried that I’d never make any money and struggle for the rest of my life. It just came from a lack of understanding and general parental worrying. They come from a totally different generation and cultural background, so in hindsight I can see where they were coming from. They’ve definitely come around a lot since then.
What were your favourite TV shows growing up?
EL: I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire series. I also loved watching the Simpsons. I used to quote that show all the time.
You’ve been on a few great TV series’ and now you’re in CBC’s new 21 Thunder!
EL: Lara’s the medical intern for the team. Her story takes you outside of the soccer drama. She finds herself in some trouble at the beginning of the season and from there you see her become a total badass.
We hear you’re also a big anime fan and in particular Sailor Moon. Why so we love this series so much?
EL: Yes, I was OBSESSED with Sailor Moon as a kid. The series is so great. It features these ordinary girls who find out they have extraordinary powers. Then they go off to fight evil in the name of Love and Justice. It was the first time I saw a group of young schoolgirls who were ordinary girls and super heros at the same time. So naturally I wanted to be just like that. Then I got older and watched the original Japanese version and liked it even more. It’s way more interesting in Japanese.
Got a favourite episode?
EL: It’s definitely the episode when Sailor Moon discovers that she’s the Moon Princess.
Ah…and we see you’re a yoga instructor too! There are so many yoga events and places to practice in the city. Any recommendations?
EL: Yes, I used to teach Moksha Yoga for a couple of years before I moved downtown to pursue acting full-time. I’m a fan of the hot room and I still love Moksha. It’s great if you want to get your sweat on!
Favourite dim sum dish?
EL: That’s so hard! Har gow. Final answer.
Favourite comfort food?
EL: Comfort food for me is my mom’s hot a sour soup. I could eat that all day every day.
What about your favourite bubble tea? (yeah, we want to know!)
EL: Lychee Black tea with Tapioca! And you can’t go wrong with the original milk tea.
What’s your mantra?
EL: Be kind and gentle with yourself and with others.
21 Thunder premieres on Monday, July 31st at 9/9:30 NT. (You can also stream episodes as they release at cbc.ca ) The series tells the story of the Montreal Thunder 21 soccer team following the star players on and off the field. It’s a story about love, crime, race, sex and athletic glory. It’s about how a group of players and coaches unite as a family in the whirlwind of life, one step away from the pros.
Big thanks to Eileen for taking the time to chat with us!