Steph Song isn't quite sure where she fits in.
"I'm this Chinese girl who doesn't speak Mandarin, who doesn't speak Cantonese, but follows some of the traditions but not many," the laidback Canadian-raised actor says over coffee on Main Street during a brief visit. "On the inside, I'm really quite white, I'm really quite immigrant. I don't associate myself with China. I associate myself with Canada."
The actor, formerly based in Vancouver, may not feel she fits in a lot of places but she's clicked on screen several times.
She starred as the main character's girlfriend in Douglas Coupland's Vancouver-based comedy feature film Everything's Gone Green. She went on to star as a worker at a video game studio in CBC's home-screen adaptation of Coupland's novel jPod.
Of those roles, she says they reflect a lot of who she is.
"She is that Westernized Chinese girl who owns this culture with her face but not at her core."
One exception is when she starred in the Vancouver-set 2007 CBC TV miniseries about Asian Canadian gangs, Dragon Boys. In the ensemble drama, Song carried one of three storylines as she portrayed an illegal Cambodian immigrant forced into prostitution.
"I'm really, really lucky that I actually have never had to play the token [Asian]," she says. "It's with great humility actually that I admit that I have had such great fortune not ever having to play the minority. I've auditioned for it. I dunno—maybe I'm not good enough?"
While that's probably not the case, her latest role is one that perhaps is the most personal for Song. In fact, it was written with her in mind.
When she received a script for an OMNI TV series, she had relocated to Noosa, Australia, where she was taking a sabbatical to raise her daughter.
She says it took a "really good project" to pull her out of her hiatus. And Blood and Water was it.
Even though she had only two days to make a decision, she found the project to be "very appealing on so many levels".
"I couldn't find any reasons to say no…but I found countless reasons to say yes," she says.
For starters, it features a female protagonist as the lead character.
"As a woman in this industry, you're constantly looking for strong female characters," she says, "and I know that it's even more important for me as an Asian girl because you know that whole idea of Asian submissiveness and how Asian women are perceived, it was nice to use a battering ram and kill that one."
Jo Bradley, who Song plays, is a gutsy rookie detective thrust into her first assignment as lead.
When the son of a billionaire real-estate developer is found murdered, Bradley winds up facing off with the powerful patriarch, Li-Rong "Ron" Xie (Oscar Hsu) and his family.
"The lieutenant has assigned her to this case because she is Chinese," Song explains, "and they want a Chinese face to represent that case but she recognizes [that] very early on and she's antagonized by the Xie family on a consistent basis because they recognize that she's not one of them."
By "not one of them", Song means that Bradley was raised in Canada, not China. Although the show is multilingual with dialogue in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, as a Canadian of Chinese descent, Bradley struggles to fit into the milieu of her case.
It's something that Song identifies with, describing the role as encapsulating her own identity questions.
"It [this role] feels a lot more personal I think because there is the whole addressing of who she is and where does she belong," she says. "I think that's probably something that I share with a lot of Asian Americans, Asian Canadians. We're not fully accepted in the East and we're not fully accepted in the West so where are we supposed to be?"
However, she hopes that the show helps to reflect what may be a reality for some viewers.
"Hopefully if there are any other Asian Canadians, Asian Americans, struggling with personal identity issues, I'd hope that they would watch it and not feel like what they're going through is so singular."
But as if Bradley doesn't have enough to deal with on a professional level, she has more than enough also going on in her personal life.
On one hand, she's dealing privately with a cancer diagnosis and trying to face decisions about treatment.
In the second block of eight episodes, which starts airing on November 13, Bradley also begins to delve into her biological family history. Her own personal investigation unearths some unsettling truths that will challenge her. (The first eight episodes started airing in November 2015 and can be watched online for those who need to get up to speed.)
She's also joined by detective Evan Ong (Byron Mann) as Ron Xie's company is held under siege by his former partner and his partner's son (Telly Liu).
Song describes the series as a "quiet, very intimate drama that follows a specific number of characters and they each have their own little story arc" that allows emotional investment in the characters.
However, it's important not to overlook the subdued nature of the drama as, like Song's own relationship to her character, there's a lot more going on underneath the surface than simply what is seen.
"What this quietness affords is really intimate moments…of great depth," she says.