INTERVIEW: Eileen Li on 21 Thunder, Challenges as an Actor and Her Favorite Sailor Scout

Eileen Li is currently kicking butt in the industry and has appeared in television shows like Orphan Black and Degrassi: The Next Generation. She will be joining the cast of CBC’s 21 Thunder as Lara Yun and will guest star in the second season of Freeform’s Shadowhunters. We spoke to her about pursuing what you are passionate about and the challenges of being an Asian actress.

When did you know you wanted to become an actress and what was your biggest inspiration? What has been your biggest challenge as an actress?

The first time I seriously considered becoming an actor was when I was in the ninth grade and took my first drama class. I had been in school plays prior to that, but that was the first time I had really studied acting, and I was hooked.

The biggest challenge for me as an actress has been dealing with the kinds of roles I was going out for as an Asian woman. For a long time I would go out for very minor or stereotypical roles. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to play, not only a three-dimensional character, but also someone who is strong and powerful.

What can you tell us about your character Lara Yun in 21 Thunder? Were you a fan of soccer prior to becoming a part of the series?

Lara is the medical intern for the Montreal Thunders. She’s pursing her medical degree at McGill University. She’s smart, very sexy, and a total badass. She get’s into some trouble at the beginning of the season and gets thrown into a situation that becomes way more complicated as the series progresses.

I’ve never been big on watching professional sports. But growing up, soccer and basketball were what everyone was playing in our backyards. I played a lot of soccer in the backfield of my old apartment complex. I was always the goalie. My net was the space between two small trees.

As an actress, what kind of roles intrigue you the most? What kind of character would you like to play one day?

Right now I’m really drawn to complicated anti-hero-type characters. The best example I can think of now is someone like Walter White from Breaking Bad or Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder. I think it’s far more interesting when the moral lines are unclear to both the character and the audience. Not everything is black and white and life is far more complex and complicated. That’s real life. I would love to play something like that in the future.

We hear you are a big fan of Sailor Moon and anime! So are we! Which Sailor Scout is your favorite?

Sailor Moon is my favourite scout. She was always the scout I wanted to be. She’s totally not fit to be your typical superhero. She’s the least remarkable out of all the scouts, but it’s the pureness of her heart that ultimately saves them every time. I think that’s a pretty great message. Also, I had a huge crush on Tuxedo Mask so…

If you could be the voice of any anime character, who would it be and why?

Right now I would have to say Mikasa from Attack on Titan because that series is freaking AMAZING!

As an Asian actress, you are not only representing yourself but a generation of young, Asian people in North America are going to look to you for inspiration as well. What kind of advice would you give them if they want to pursue a creative career?

Don’t ever give up. Even if you feel resistance from your parents, society, or even from the lack of representation in mainstream media, keep pushing forward. That’s the only way change can happen. All of our stories are important and need to be told, find the courage to tell yours.

If you could be a superhero, what kind of powers would you have? Would you recruit a sidekick?

I’d want to be able to fly and pass through walls. I wouldn’t have a sidekick. I’d end up being like, “Stand back! I can handle this!” So there’d be no point!

Photos by John Bregar Photography.

Follow Eileen on Twitter at @theEileenLi. 

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