"The Brothers Sun" Star Sam Song Li Shares Why His Breakout Role Is Deeply Personal
When Sam Song Li came across the role of Bruce on "The Brothers Sun," he felt like the character was written uniquely for him. In Netflix's new action-packed drama series, Bruce's life is upended when his older brother, Charles (Justin Chien), who turns out to be a Taiwanese gangster, comes to LA to protect their mom, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh). When Li first read the script, he quickly learned he shared a number of "shockingly close" similarities with his onscreen counterpart. Like Bruce, the 27-year-old actor and content creator was raised by a single mom in the San Gabriel Valley, CA, a predominantly Asian American community where the series partially takes place. Similarly, he also dreamed of being an actor and improv comedian, despite his mom's hopes that he'd become a doctor. "I feel like that especially is just really relatable for a lot of Asian Americans," he tells POPSUGAR.
That's why Bruce's story was personal to Li, who was born in Guangzhou, China. He drew from his own experiences to authentically portray Bruce — and the character's relationship with Mama Sun in particular. "I was raised by a single mom, and my mom in real life is my hero," he says. "She raised me and my sister all by herself. To see a single parent have all the weight of the responsibilities of raising a kid, you take it for granted when it's happening. I brought that energy and perspective into Bruce in his love for his mom."
Against his mom's best wishes, Li ultimately decided to pursue acting. Amid creating comedic content and racking up a following on TikTok and Instagram, he booked smaller roles on shows like "Never Have I Ever" and "Better Call Saul." When he landed "The Brothers Sun," it was a welcome surprise; he didn't imagine a role like this one to come about so early on in his career.
As if securing his first major role – and one he related to so deeply — wasn't exciting enough, "The Brothers Sun" was also the first time Li worked alongside an all Asian writers' room and a majority Asian American cast. "Our production was uniquely Asian American in so many facets, but I think one thing that really stood out to me was that we really practice what we preach on the show," he says. "In the show, the family, and how you treat people as a family, is the focal point of the story. We as a team really had that connection. We felt really passionate about what we were doing, what was happening in front of us, regardless of if the show was a success or not. I think the one thing we were all holding onto was that this was a very special moment."
The cast's strong connection was also sustained by food — a hallmark of many Asian cultures. There were Asian snacks and food available on set all the time, including boba at least once a week. According to Li, Yeoh would order food from a different local Chinese spot every week. "She would always surprise us with something," he says.
"I've always felt I was not Westernized enough for Hollywood, and not Asian enough to work in Asia."
Growing up, it would've been difficult for Li to imagine an experience like the "Brothers Sun" set. Asian and Asian American representation on screen was few and far between. "I've always felt I was not Westernized enough for Hollywood, and not Asian enough to work in Asia," Li says, describing a struggle all too common for Asian Americans, both in and out of the entertainment industry.
But with the influx of APIA projects in theaters and on streaming platforms in the past three years, Li's perspective on his future in acting has changed drastically. "I've realized the direction that Hollywood and the world is moving is connecting the globe in so many ways," he explains. "Content is no longer just for a Western or American audience right now. Content is for a global audience."
As a result, he's been able to seek out roles that are tied to his upbringing and identity. "The one common thread between all of the roles I gravitate towards is that they are part of my identity, not just based on race, but literally who I am as a person or the experiences that I've had," he says. Aside from playing Bruce on "The Brothers Sun," he shot a pilot in 2023, "Marvin Is Sorry," in which he plays a mega influencer and content creator who gets canceled. "A lot of the elements and nuances of that story I felt like I gravitated towards because it was just something I knew very intimately," he says.
Looking forward to the future, Li feels optimistic about more cultural projects like "The Brothers Sun."
"That freshness, the authenticity of storytelling, is more important than ever," he says. "Any time we can show new perspectives, have a fresh take on something, or show the world something they've never seen before, that is what I think Hollywood and global audiences are craving."