Shadow And Bone Star Jessie Mei Li Calls The World Of Fame 'Downright Bizarre'

"Shadow and Bone's" Jessie Mei Li is a relative newcomer to show business, but her incredible story is one of perseverance and fortuity. And had it not been for that little bit of luck, which catapulted the thespian's career, fans of author Leigh Bardugo's young adult Grishaverse may never have seen Li bring the lead role of Alina Starkov to life on Netflix.

Back in 2018, Li was another struggling actor until chance stepped in. "I have no agent, one short film credit, two jobs, so many rejections, and I wanted to give up," Li said in an interview with the Official London Theatre. What happened afterward was serendipity, and Li's very next audition allowed her the opportunity to network. She made some substantial professional connections at that meeting. And, as a result, Li ended up portraying Claudia Casswell in the Noël Coward Theatre's 2019 stage production of "All About Eve." "I went along to the audition to 'All About Eve' genuinely thinking, 'There's no way they'll cast me in this. I have barely any experience on stage, so I won't take this too seriously and just enjoy it,'" Li said in an interview with Rose & Ivy

Li's role in the London theatre opened up new doors for the aspiring actor, and she eventually won the lead role of Alina in the Netflix series. Today, Li is recognized everywhere she goes thanks to "Shadow and Bone," and that is something the thespian wasn't at all prepared for.

Li didn't realize what stardom entailed

Jessie Mei Li finally returns as Alina Starkov in Season 2 of "Shadow and Bone," but it has been nearly two years since the Season 1 finale dropped online. Despite the lull between seasons, Li has discovered newfound fame thanks to her portrayal of Alina. And the actor wasn't prepared for the notoriety she'd receive.

"Downright bizarre!" Jessie Mei Li said in an interview with Rose & Ivy. "People talk about actors and people in the public eye like they're somehow different from themselves, like every little thing they do is interesting and exciting, even if it's something fairly commonplace or mundane. I'm just a fairly average human being, and while it's lovely receiving kind messages from the fans of the show, I also don't feel deserving of such hyperbolic praise." 

While Li may not have been prepared for the praise she would get from fans, she also revealed to Rose & Ivy that the fans actually played a part in her character research before her initial "Shadow and Bone" audition. While Li was aware of the Grishaverse, the thespian turned to exploring fan art to nail her audition, rather than author Leigh Bardugo's stories. She initially thought that familiarizing herself with the artwork and her audition pages would be enough. However, she eventually sought out Bardugo's books. "I basically binged it — read the trilogy after my first round of auditions — I don't think I ever read anything so fast!" Li said.