What You Didn't Know About Brenda Song

Asian American actor Brenda Song has been acting for most of her life, and grew up in front of the camera. At the age of 16, she found her regular home on the Disney Channel. Song played the ditzy — but beloved — hotel heiress London Tipton in "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." The Character is "a huge part of me now because I played her for almost eight years," she said in a Disney Channel interview, almost a decade after playing London for the last time.

Song began branching away from the Disney Channel in the early 2010s and moved on to more mature roles. She's since played Jennifer Allen Williams in "Secret Obsession," and JJ in "Station 19." Now, the actor has found her home in the Hulu comedy "Dollface," alongside Kat Dennings, Shay Mitchell, and Esther Povitsky. Off-screen, Song is happily loved up with former child star Macaulay Culkin, though the pair like to keep their relationship pretty low-key.

The actor admitted that she quite literally grew up in front of the camera on the Disney Channel. And although she's continued to stay in the spotlight, there's still quite a few things even Brenda Song's biggest fans might not know about her. Like how she lost out on a part in an Oscar-winning movie because of Disney Channel, or how she celebrated her half-Thai, half-Hmong heritage growing up as the daughter of first-generation immigrants in America.

Keep reading to discover everything you never knew about Brenda Song.

Brenda Song's grandmother helped her start acting

Brenda Song was bitten by the acting bug when she was just three years old. From that moment on, she begged her parents to enroll her in classes, but it wasn't something they could afford at the time. "We were very, very poor. We had no money. My mom was still in school, my dad was in college to be a schoolteacher," she explained to W magazine.

Three years later, Song was just as committed to her love of acting, but she still hadn't been able to do anything about it. At the same time, she "got really, really sick" but wouldn't take her medicine, so her mom bargained with her: acting classes if she took her Robitussin. Song revealed that her mom planned to renege on that promise, so her grandmother stepped in. "My grandma took everything out of her savings, which was $523, and took me to this acting school that was not legit at all, but through them I met a real agent and started auditioning."

Song's first "big" role was in "The Ultimate Christmas Present," she recalled. Every time she booked an acting job, her mom would take her down to L.A. for it, but they would always go back to their home in Sacramento afterwards. During those early years, it was more of an "after-school activity" than a career. "If I was bad, I didn't get to go to auditions. It wasn't the opposite, getting gifts to go to auditions," she told Refinery29.

Booking The Suite Life of Zack and Cody was a turning point

Brenda Song's childhood acting career had been treated more like a hobby by her parents, who she said didn't understand the industry back then, per Refinery29. Because of this, Song also put a lot of emphasis on her school work so that she had the option of going to college.

When she turned 16, Song found herself at a crossroads. She'd just booked the role of heiress London Tipton on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," but she'd also been accepted into college. "So my dad was like, 'What do you want to do because here's the thing: You go to college to figure out what you want to do, but if this is what you want to do, you have this amazing opportunity to do it,'" she revealed to Teen Vogue. Her dad told her it was her decision, but also made it clear that if she wanted to take the plunge into acting, she had to be responsible for herself because her mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Taking the role on "The Suite Life" definitely marked a turning point in Song's career.

Brenda Song auditioned for the part of Maddie

Brenda Song ended up playing London Tipton, the often self-centered hotel heiress, in "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," which ran from 2005 to 2008. She then went on to play the character in the show's spin-off series, "The Suite Life on Deck," along with "The Suite Life Movie."

However, some "Suite Life" fans don't know that Song actually auditioned for a different part back in the day. The actor was originally interested in playing the Tipton hotel employee Maddie, portrayed by Ashley Tisdale. The character London was originally meant to be was modeled after socialite Paris Hilton, so Tisdale tried out for that part first. "When we read for the roles they were like, 'No, actually, you guys switch parts,'" Song revealed to W magazine.

However, this ability to switch roles like that was quite unusual for Hollywood casting in the mid-noughties. "I don't think people realize how ahead of the curve Disney Channel was. They were colorblind casting way before anybody else," Song told Teen Vogue. The actor explained that growing up, she didn't really see other girls who looked like her on the screen, so she's grateful to have had the opportunity to change that for other viewers. "They were just telling stories and wanting kids to be able to see themselves on TV at a young age."

Brenda Song is a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do

One of Brenda Song's favorite Disney Channel roles was in the film "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior," where she plays a high school student and aspiring homecoming queen who is destined to save the world from evil. "I loved Wendy Wu," Song admitted, per Disney Channel. "It was the first time I had the opportunity to play the lead telling a story about the struggles of being a 16-year-old Asian American."

One other thing Song loved about the role was getting the opportunity to put her real-life martial arts skills to good use. "I had done martial arts my whole life," she told Deadline's "New Hollywood Podcast." The actor hasn't just "done martial arts" though, she's actually a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

While Song revealed that some people reacted negatively toward her role and criticized her for being "a stereotype," at the time, she was thrilled to take on something "new and different" from her previous work. "Everything that I'd done before that was all the ditzy, fun, crazy characters and no one knew that I knew how to do martial arts," she shared on the podcast. Thankfully, Song won't be swayed by people's opinions, and she still has fond memories of her time playing the homecoming warrior.

Disney Channel kept Brenda Song from this Oscar-winning movie

Brenda Song is incredibly grateful to have grown up on the Disney Channel, scoring a diverse range of roles. However, her relationship with Disney came at a cost. Song was up for a part in Clint Eastwood's 2008 Oscar-winning movie, "Gran Torino," which featured a large Hmong American cast. According to Teen Vogue, Disney stopped Song from moving forward with the role because of "an implied r*pe" scene. She was reportedly devastated at having lost out on a Hmong-speaking role.

The actor almost missed out on playing Christy Ling in the 2010 film "The Social Network." Song played Eduardo Saverin's (Andrew Garfield) girlfriend, and during the early stages of their relationship, the couple hook up in the men's bathroom. Song was in her last season of "The Suite Life on Deck," and although the scene was PG-13, Disney had reservations about her signing on to the Aaron Sorkin feature.

However, Song had already missed out on "Gran Torino," and she wasn't willing to miss out on another once-in-a-lifetime role. "It was one of those things where I just said, 'This is an opportunity that I don't think will ever come around again,'" she told W magazine. Thankfully, she was able to take the role, which was definitely worth it. "The Social Network was not only career-changing, but life changing," Song noted. "I learned so much on that project. I could talk about David Fincher all day because he changed my life."

Comedy is her first love

Brenda Song has had a lot of diverse roles in her career. She's done everything from sketch comedy on "Key & Peele" to the political drama "Scandal," to the psychological thriller, "Secret Obsession." This wide array of roles was, in part, on purpose. Believing she was only seen as the stereotypical ditzy rich girl in comedies, Song wanted to prove what she could do as an actor. She did just that, but over the past decade, she's realized comedy will always be her first love. "It's taken me almost 10 years from Disney to really feel like I found a niche for myself. At 31 I finally feel like I know what my strengths are, and I'm trying to steer into that," the actor admitted to Teen Vogue.

After rediscovering her love of comedy, Song returned to her Disney Channel roots for a voice acting comedy role in "Amphibia." It felt like "coming home," she said, per Disney Channel. Song's character — a Thai American teenager — Anne, was created partly based on her heritage. "It's always been a huge goal of mine to create a Thai character," explained the show's creator, Matt Braly, to NBC News. After Song's audition, "I knew that Anne had to be Thai," he added.

She wasn't allowed to audition for Crazy Rich Asians

Having finally found her sweet-spot with comedy, Brenda Song understandably thought she would be perfect for a role in the rom-com "Crazy Rich Asians." The Asian American actor was a huge fan of the book and was desperate to have "any possible part" in the film, she told Teen Vogue. However, she was told not to bother auditioning because the casting directors and execs had made a specific judgment: "Their reasoning behind that, what they said, was that my image was basically not Asian enough, in not so many words," the actor revealed. "It broke my heart."

Song has always been open about her life as a first-generation Asian American, and how her family had plenty of "crazy Asian traditions," but the rejection from "Crazy Rich Asians" left her wondering where she fit. "I said, 'This character is in her late to mid-20s, an Asian American, and I can't even audition for it? I've auditioned for Caucasian roles my entire career, but this specific role, you're not going to let me do it?'"

The actor was disheartened and baffled by their decision but decided not to let rejection define her. After taking some time off to travel, Song returned to L.A. with a fresh perspective and new mindset. She allowed herself to be grateful for everything she has had in her career so far and decided to continue putting her best foot forward. "All I can do is continue to put good auditions out there, do the best that I can — that's all I can ask for," she said.

Brenda Song relishes being in this female-led comedy

It's a well-known fact that Hollywood has long been dominated by men, with female writers and directors struggling to get a look in. For Brenda Song, this was very much her experience. "I've always been a part of male-driven projects," she told Teen Vogue. However, the actor has experienced a new working environment in Hulu's female-led comedy "Dollface." "It's this dry, single-camera, offbeat comedy that I've always wanted to do," she gushed to W. She added, "'Dollface' is my dream job. ... I've never had a character that felt more me."

Song shares the screen with "WandaVision" star Kat Dennings, "Pretty Little Liars" lead Shay Mitchell, and "Alone Together" creator Esther Povitsky. Behind the scenes is writer and producer Jordan Weiss. The "Dollface" creator took a lot of inspiration from her own life and her relationship with her girlfriends for the series. "Writing a show about a girl reconnecting with her friends has had real-life benefits," she told Glamour, explaining that it made her put more effort into her relationships. Weiss' script really drew Song to the project. 

"I just related so much to the show. I am of these girls' age, I live in Los Angeles — this was like me reading the adventures of me and my girlfriends. Of course, very dramatized, fantastical. And I felt like it had been awhile since this kind of female friendship had been represented on TV and in media. Not just properly, but at all," Song told E! News.

She's real-life BFFs with the Dollface cast

On-screen BFFs Brenda Song, Kat Dennings, Shay Mitchell, and Esther Povitsky saw their friendship also develop off screen while filming "Dollface," culminating in one of the best working experiences Song has ever had. "It was amazing [to be] literally going to work every day and hanging out with my girlfriends," she told Teen Vogue. "We became so close because we all got along and we were so surprised that none of us had ever met each other before. It was meant to be," she added.

According to the actor, her co-stars also share some similarities with their on-screen counterparts. "We are those characters in our friend group," Song revealed to W magazine. "Shay is the free spirit, the wild one. Esther is the paranoid 'Are you sure we should be doing that?' and 'It's okay, I've got a schedule' one. Kat's the 'Guys, can we just stay home?' one." She described her character, Madison Maxwell, as the "strait-laced" one of the group.

Song loves the unique dynamic that these women have created while working. It's really rare to find that on set, she explained to PopSugar. They're really just playing "heightened" versions of themselves. She noted that if they were having a conversation, and the director called action, they'd all be able to continue it on-set as their characters. "I feel so bad because we would just never shut up," she joked.

She's a passionate advocate for cancer awareness

When Brenda Song was 16 years old (before she started filming "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody"), her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Song explained to Teen Vogue that she was terrified by the news, which changed her whole family forever. "Cancer is the scariest six-letter word in the dictionary," she said. "It's so synonymous with death and the unknown. You hear the word cancer, and you just don't even know what that means."

While her mom did recover, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again, three more times. Song said she coped by staying up to date on her mom's case and staying informed on new research and medications. Watching her mom survive breast cancer four times has given the actor a new perspective on life, though. "Now I treat every single day as a gift," she told The Cut.

Song also uses her public platform to go good whenever she can. Song is a passionate advocate for cancer awareness and does her best to raise money for the cause. "In honor of my mom, I am determined to take action to help end cancer as we know it," Song wrote on Instagram while sharing her fundraiser for Stand Up To Cancer.

Brenda Song had a baby with Macaulay Culkin

If you haven't been keeping tabs on Brenda Song's love life, you might not know that the actor has been in a long-term relationship with former child star Macaulay Culkin. "The Suite Life" star announced her engagement to the "Home Alone" actor in 2022, after the couple welcomed their son Dakota a year earlier. Yay, them!

The couple, who like to keep their relationship on the down-low, first met on the set of "Changeland" and have been romantically linked since 2017. They didn't have any scenes together in the film, but Culkin guest-starred in the sixth episode of the first season of "Dollface," Song hinted to W in 2019.

When they're not working, most of the actor's time is dedicated to looking after her son. "My boyfriend [now fiance] and I are very hands-on," she explained to The Cut. The pair don't have a nanny, but welcomed help from Song's mom during their first few months of parenthood. Even with their busy schedules, the couple make sure to get in some quality time together. "Very few things can get us out of the house and away from our son," she quipped on Instagram after sharing a picture of her and Culkin at a Rams game.

Trace Cyrus wrote a song about Brenda Song

Before she was blissfully happy with Macaulay Culkin, Brenda Song was in a relationship with musician Trace Cyrus. The pair started dating in 2011 and were reportedly engaged. However, they called off their relationship in 2017.

On Valentine's Day in 2018, Cyrus shared a song he wrote about his ex in a now-deleted Instagram post. "I wrote this song last year in Nashville after Brenda & I broke up," he announced on Instagram alongside the video (via Teen Vogue). "When I wrote this song it was my final goodbye as we ended our relationship. I told myself after I wrote this song it would be my last song about Brenda and I've kept my word. Music like this is my therapy," he added.

Despite their rocky relationship, it appears Song and Cyrus parted on good terms, with Cyrus insisting he's very happy for her now, and wishes her all the best.

She's still close with her Disney Channel family

It's been more than a decade since Brenda Song was last seen on screen with her "Suite Life" co-stars. However, they've all stayed close off screen and still think of each other as family. Song told W magazine that she sees Cole and Dylan Sprouse "more than anyone" because they all split their time between New York and L.A. and "go out of [their] way to see each other." Song is still friends with "High School Musical" star Ashley Tisdale, too.

Song has also remained really close with her "Stuck in the Suburbs" co-star, Danielle Panabaker. The actor predicted they would be "life-long friends" back in a 2005 interview with The Star Scoop. "As we all grow older and spin into adult careers, seeing each other is amazing because we've all been through this crazy thing together that not very many people understand," she told Teen Vogue.

While it may seem like Song is just a very friendly person, she won't automatically stay friends with a co-star. "I wouldn't stay friends with them just because we worked together," she clarified. "These people are great, and it makes me really happy to see them all so successful. It's not easy to make that transition."

Brenda Song likes that she doesn't always know what's next

Brenda Song has had an incredible career in Hollywood thus far and, as of this writing, she's got ongoing lead roles in two comedy shows: "Dollface" and "Amphibia." But after that? Song has no plans, and that's exactly how she likes it. "I have no idea what the future holds, and I used to be scared of that, but now I get excited," she told Teen Vogue. Song has this newfound sense of peace and isn't stressing over what she can't control. "I really feel like what's meant to happen will. I guess this is adulting," she quipped.

However, while she might not know what's next for her in terms of her career, she is planning her future with her fiance, Macaulay Culkin. They're "excited" about that next step in their relationship, according to People. Given how much the couple values privacy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they opt to have a small, intimate wedding and then announce the news at a later date.

Song's family is an important consideration in the mom's career plans. "I think being a parent changes a lot of your career choices. Because now I really think about where things are being shot, how long they're being shot for because everything revolves around my son," she told E! News.