Brenda Song Relates to the Relationship Mistakes on Her New Show, Dollface
The actress sits down with InStyle to talk female friendships, her new Hulu comedy, and life after child stardom.
This week, Disney Channel veteran Brenda Song is back on our screens in a big way. The 31-year-old stars in Hulu’s new series Dollface, a comedy executive produced by Margot Robbie which follows twenty-something Jules (played by Kat Dennings) who, after being dumped by her long-term boyfriend, realizes that she’s completely abandoned all of her female friendships over the past five years. Realizing that she doesn’t have any girlfriends to help her get through the breakup, Jules attempts to reconnect with three of her former BFFs: Stella (played by Shay Mitchell), Izzy (Esther Povitsky), and Madison (Song).
Sure, the plot of four single girls navigating their friendships while hitting the town may seem familiar. But some surreal elements make this series unique (there's a bus driven by a “cat lady,” for one thing). Song tells InStyle that when she read the script, she was immediately intrigued. “In the first scene, you’re like, ‘Oh this is kind of a New Girl or maybe Sex and the City.’ Then all of a sudden there’s this hyper-real aspect, and you’re like, ‘Wait, what show am I watching?’" she laughs. “At first I was very confused, but it’s such a fun twist. Plus the story was so relatable — I felt like I was reading about the misadventures of me and my girlfriends.”
It's hard to believe she's had any misadventures, starting her acting career at just six years old with roles on some of The Disney Channel's biggest hits of the early aughts (from movies like Get a Clue and Stuck in the Suburbs to shows like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody). Of course, Song had bigger plans, and soon proved her dramatic chops playing Mark Zuckerberg’s college girlfriend in 2010’s The Social Network. She's been steadily booking roles ever since, most recently playing the lead in Netflix’s summer thriller, Secret Obsession. Dollface feels like it hit at just the right time, and it's something Song says she can relate to on multiple levels.
“I am very guilty of having been in Jules’s place, and I’ve also been on the other side of it,” says Song. “I have a really small group of girlfriends, and we’ve known each other since we were 15. I have definitely been caught up in relationships and ghosted not just my friends, but my life in general. You lose a bit of yourself, and then you finally wake up. I’m fortunate that my girlfriends were very open and forgiving when I made that mistake, but that’s how great friendships really are — you can not talk to someone for six months and then when you see them, it feels like no time has passed.”
For Song, the dynamic between the women was the biggest draw. “It’s crazy, but to me, it feels like this is a point of view that hasn’t been explored yet,” she says. “This show is not about girls and their dating lives; it’s about their relationships with each other and how they continue to love and accept each other for exactly who they are, regardless of their mistakes.”
Keep reading for our full chat with Song about everything from working with Margot Robbie and maintaining a sense of privacy to the one past role she’d be thrilled to revisit today.
Your character, Madison, is very serious about her job as a Hollywood power publicist, but she also knows how to go out and have a good time. In what ways do you you relate to her?
We’re straight-shooters. We’re very facetious and we never shut up [laughs]. In one stage of my life, I was very much Madison in the way that she was hurt and closed off. You see her slowly letting down her walls, because she doesn’t want to get hurt again. As the season goes on you actually realize that Madison is harboring a few more secrets that people wouldn’t suspect, and there’s a bit of hypocrisy in the way that she handles Jules because she has secrets that she doesn’t quite feel comfortable telling her group of girlfriends. To me, even that felt so relatable, because no matter how close you are with your girlfriends, sometimes there are things that you’re afraid to tell them.
From social media, it looks like you bonded with your co-stars pretty quickly. What was that like?
I’ve been doing this a really long time, and I’ve never had such instantaneous and effortless friendships. This was the first job that felt like I was going to work and hanging out with my girlfriends all day. Kat lives really close to me, so we’d even drive each other to work. The funniest thing is that in our friendship group, we actually are like our characters. Kat’s the biggest homebody. I make the plans and start the group chats. Shay is down for whatever you’re down for. And Esther’s the one who’s like, “Guys, we need to get radiation blankets because there’s so much radiation in the air.” [laughs]
Margot Robbie executive produced the show. What was it like to work with her and how involved was she?
She’s very involved. A lot of people think she sort of slapped her name on this, but no. She has such strong opinions, but at the same time is so open. And her taste is impeccable, especially when it came down to casting and script things. She’s so talented and wonderful, and she’s a huge part of the reason why the show is what it is. She put all these pieces together. And I have to say, being part of a really female-driven show both on camera and off is such a dream job.
With your latest projects being on Netflix and Hulu, does it feel like you’re kicking off a new phase of your career in a sense?
I’m in a place where I feel like the opportunities are so vast, and at 31, I finally know what kind of actor I am. I finally feel confident in where I am and who I am personally, which makes a big difference. It’s hard, being a child actor and growing up on TV, because you have to grow with your characters. But I’m grateful to keep moving forward. I’m a big believer in the idea that opportunities won’t come to you until you’re ready, and I finally feel ready.
Of all your roles to date, is there one that you wish you could go back and revisit?
Every project was such a learning experience in its own way, but I would love to go back 10 years and relive The Social Network as an adult. I was still shooting Suite Life [on Disney] at the time, and getting to work on a film with Aaron Sorkin was so life-changing. It reinvigorated my passion for what I do, and I just remember thinking, “Brenda just be a sponge because this is an incredible experience.” No matter how much I soaked in, I feel like I still could have soaked in more. Also, that character was so much fun. She was insane, and I feel like I’d be better at her now because a lot more crazy has happened since then [laughs].
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
To not stress or worry about the little things, like messing up an audition or texting a boy. When I was younger, my mom told me, “You always grow old, you never grow young.” I didn’t really take it in then, but now it’s what I tell everyone. So I would tell myself to enjoy every moment, spend a lot of time with your family, and be a kid while you can. Don’t grow up too fast or try to be an adult — you’re going to be an adult for the rest of your life.
You grew up on TV with the whole world watching — and that was before social media. What would you tell the next wave of child or teenage stars about sharing every aspect of their lives with the public?
You don’t have to share everything in your life; some things are better left unsaid or discussed behind closed doors. We’re in a world where oversharing is not even enough anymore, and everyone feels entitled to knowing what’s going on in your life. It’s easy to get caught up in telling everyone what you’re doing, but it takes up so much energy and time. You don’t need to put that kind of stress in your life — it’s not worth it. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the day and age before social media, so it’s not my first instinct. But privacy is so coveted and precious. Cherish it.