Jessie Mei Li is a name that’s back on everyone’s lips again, and it’s for good reason. She’s the star of Netflix’s book-to-TV adaptation,” Shadow and Bone,” which premieres its highly anticipated second season on March 16. The fantasy show is based on a series of Grishaverse novels written by author Leigh Bardugo, which covers themes like friendship, sexuality, and race. Li plays the role of Alina Starkov, a “sun summoner” who is one of the most powerful beings that ever lived.
In a 2021 roundtable interview with POPSUGAR, the actor shared that her lived experience helped to inform the way she portrays her character. “[Alina] wants to save the world to validate herself as a member of this nation. It really felt true to my life. As a mixed-race person, it’s part of who I am,” she said. “It shaped who I am. It shapes my personality, but it’s not everything that I am. I think that’s what they’ve done in this show, and I really, really like that.”
In a new interview with Evening Standard, Li admitted that she was originally concerned that her casting, which differs from the fact that her character is white in Bardugo’s book series, was just a diversity quota. However, now she respects the show’s decision to challenge stereotypes of Asian characters through Alina, as well as others like Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy) and Tolya (Lewis Tan). “Anna is playing this super-cool, badass character and then you’ve got Lewis who is macho. It’s nice to have Asian stereotypes challenged,” she told the outlet.
Since “Shadow and Bone”‘s first season, Li has transformed into a breakout star. And thanks to her newfound success, we’ve learned even more about her. Read on to discover all there is to know about the rising actor.