Just like Alina, Jessie is also biracial. Her personal experience help shaped up how she portrayed her 'Shadow and Bone' character.
There's a new girl that everyone's been talking about, and that's Jessie Mei Li. Jessie is the lead star of Netflix's latest book-to-TV adaptation, 'Shadow and Bone', which is currently dominating Neflix's top TV shows worldwide. She plays the role of Alina Starkov, an orphan former assistant cartographer of the Royal Corps of Surveyors in the First Army, who turns out to be the Sun Summoner, the most powerful being that ever lived.
Jessie delivered an impressive performance on the Netflix series, which could be attributed to her personal approach in portraying the character. In realof her -life, the actress is a pure warrior. She courageously admits some her personal battles and even advocates for more awareness and acceptance of Neurodiversity from the community.
Let us get to know Jessie even more. Here are 10 interesting facts you probably did not know about Jessie Mei Li.
Jessie Mei does not discuss her gender identity publicly, but she prefers the pronouns she/they. You can find this information in her Instagram bio, alongside a rainbow flag emoji.
Jessie is an English actress. She was born in Brighton in 1995 and grew up in Redhill in Surrey. She went to Reigate College before attending university but eventually dropped out to pursue an acting career. This led Jessie to land the role of Alina Starkov in 'Shadow and Bone'.
In celebration of Neurodiversity week, Jessie shared a post on Instagram reflecting her own journey with ADHD. She revealed that she was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 24, and the diagnosis "answered many life-long questions, and I feel like I'm finally understanding myself".
She spoke about her battles again in an interview with The Guardian, saying, "(the diagnosis) completely changed how I viewed loads of things in my life, and made me really reconsider the way I think about things. In the past I was constantly late for things and forgetting things and losing things, and I remember as a teenager, my mum being like, 'Oh, you just need to be more careful.' And I'm like, 'I am really careful'. I felt like no one believed me ever. People, especially people who've just been diagnosed, go through a grieving period for who they were before. I'd love to be someone they can look at and say, 'OK, that person has been through that as well."
Jessie is still considered as a newcomer in the acting scene. She made her stage debut in the West End production of 'All About Eve', where she starred as Claudia Casswell, alongside Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Her role was popularized by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950 film.
She told Hollywood Reporter, "It was a nice dipping-my-toe-in experience because I had a smaller role, which meant less responsibility, less pressure." Jessie auditioned for Shadow and Bone in between performances of 'All About Eve'.
After Jessie left the university, she started to spend her days teaching special needs children. She told POPSUGAR that she first heard of the Shadow and Bone franchise through her students.
"Before becoming an actor, I dropped out of university, and I was working as a teaching assistant in a secondary school. This was the age group that Shadow and Bone is very popular with, and I remember lots of my students reading the books."
While juggling her acting and teaching career in 2015, Jessie joined the National Youth Theatre. Notable actors like Helen Mirren, Rosamund Pike, and Daniel Craig also attended NYT in the past. In 2016, Jessie began training part-time with Identity School of Acting.
In an interview with ELLE, Jessie revealed that she studied Hungarian on her own in order to bond with the crew while in production in Budapest.
"They called me sult krumpli, which in Hungarian means French fries, because I ate them every day," she said.
Jessie has the word 'vgang' in her Instagram bio, although she doesn't talk that much about her veganism publicly. She told ELLE that she tried to convince her fellow cast members to go Vegan but failed.
Alina Starkov is a white woman in the Shadow and Bone book trilogy but the Netflix adaptation sees her as biracial (half-Ravkan and half-Shu). Shu Han is like China and Mongolia in the Grishaverse's setting. In the Netflix series, Alina faces prejudice from fellow Ravkans for looking similar to the Shu.
Jessie said that this aspect of her character is very relatable. She told Vanity Fair:
"I grew up with that, which is why I felt so connected to Alina. I grew up in a predominantly white area in the South of England. Racism towards Asian people in the U.K. generally, I think more so than the States, is so weird and not taken seriously."
In a separate interview, Jessie said that she was initially cautious about the shift in Alina's identity. She told Vogue, “Obviously I was still excited, but I was like, what’s the point? What’s the reasoning?” Jessie was eventually convinced after she was asked to perform an audition scene where Alina discussed race and her experience as a biracial woman.
"I was like, OK, cool. You’re actually making the race important. You can’t cast someone who looks like me and not have my experiences embedded into the story as well. Otherwise, just have Alina be white, you know?"
Jessie Mei Li is born on 27 August 1995. She is born to an English mother and Chinese-born, Hong Kong-raised father.