Disney alum Brenda Song recently recalled choosing “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” over attending Harvard University.
In an interview with Glamour, Song, 34, described some of the struggles she faced as the eldest child of a first-generation Thai and Hmong family pursuing her childhood dream to become an actor.
While Song’s parents and grandparents had been supportive of her career, she recalled her family’s financial struggles.
My mom had me at 17, and my dad was a teacher and still in school. My grandma was a maid working at the Marriott hotels. We had no money. My grandma took everything out of her savings—$527—and took me to this acting school that was not legit at all. But through them, I met a real agent and started doing print modeling work that led to commercials.
At the age of 16, Song booked Disney’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and got accepted to Harvard University.
However, it was also the same year her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
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While navigating through her career choices, Song was encouraged by her parents to pursue acting as it was her passion.
Song’s mother had grown up seeing her own parents having to work different blue-collar jobs such as working in factories or being housekeepers. Song believes that her mother wanted “more and better” for her, she told Glamour.
There was no hesitation to choose acting, but it was hard because Harvard was a dream of mine. Working for Disney Channel, I was still able to get my education in a different medium and do what I love to do. But in this industry the highs are so high and the lows are so low. It’s so inconsistent. There’s so many times where I’ve questioned myself: Should I have taken my degree and done something a little bit more steady?
Song also recalled the pressure and judgment she felt from her relatives.
She told Glamour that her relatives looked down upon her family because of their support of her decision to pursue acting.
Our relatives thought what we were doing was insane. It’s funny because it’s insane until you garner success and all of a sudden you’re the prized child. But we felt shunned because we were taking a risk no one else was.
Despite the inconsistencies that many actors face in their careers, Song is happy with her life choices.
Song also noted having accomplished her goals, such as buying her parents a house. She said her family is “super close” and that being a mother to Dakota is her top priority now.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she told Glamour.
I don’t think you have to compromise yourself to be successful. I felt so much pressure. I thought, Do I need to change myself to take myself to the next level? Honestly, I know some very successful people who are the most unhappy people because they’ve spent so much time being what everyone wants them to be. My mom would tell me, “Don’t do it.”
Besides Song’s notable role as London Tipton on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” she also starred in Disney original movies, including “Stuck in the Suburbs” and “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.” Song has also appeared in various TV series, such as “Scandal,” “New Girl” and “Dollface,” and even ventured into video games as Kaitlyn Ka in the 2022 interactive drama horror game “The Quarry.”