If you were about to star as the lead in a new show dubbed the next Game of Thrones, you’d probably freak out, right? But then again, if you’re Jessie Mei Li, you’ll probably just carry on as normal. The up-and-coming 25-year-old British actress stars in Netflix’s latest mega-production, the adaptation of author Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone young-adult (YA) series. The show follows Li’s character, the protagonist, Alina Starkov, as she navigates discovering and ultimately revealing her hidden powers. It’s a classic underdog-to-superhero tale.
I’m talking to Li over Zoom only a week after the release of the show—the peak of Shadow and Bone’s hype. Since landing on our screens, it’s stayed at number one on Netflix UK’s most-watched shows and is currently number two in the U.S. I can’t help but immediately ask the obvious: Has life changed overnight? “I’ve never been drawn to the idea of celebrity and that kind of thing. I’m not cool enough to be in the public eye,” she laughs. When we chatted, Li, clad in an oversized T-shirt, shorts, and her signature nose ring, told me that she was actually at her mom’s house in Surrey, where she grew up—surely the ultimate signifier that she’s not been drawn into the celebrity world just yet. “It is weird because I’m the same, but people’s perception of [me] is different. And that’s what I think is important to remember because I am just exactly the same person and will, hopefully, continue to be the same person,” she says. “It is bizarre [that] as soon as your face is on TV, everyone thinks, ‘Oh, I want to talk to you now.’”