Nerds and Beyond got the chance to sit down with Kung Fu‘s leading lady Olivia Liang and chat about what’s to come in season 2 of Kung Fu! Check out our interview with her below!
*This interview has been edited for clarity*
Nerds and Beyond: Last season, we saw just about every member of the Shens reveal things that they had previously hidden from the rest of the family, like the secret of Auntie Mei-Xue, the family history, and Nicky’s stint at the monastery. How do you feel this newfound openness will affect the Shen family going forward?
Olivia Liang: Oh, this season, with all of the secrets being out, the Shens are so much closer. You know, they’re all supportive of each other, no more secrets, no more having to hide from each other. And I think that that gives a lot of confidence to each one of the Shen’s, you know? So you’re going to see every Shen kind of starting a new path for themselves. And every Shen being very supportive of those journeys that everyone’s gonna go on.
Nerds and Beyond: That’s awesome. And so, the way the promotional materials have been advertising it, it seems like Mia’s arrival is the catalyst for Nicky sort of becoming a shifu in her own right, offering her younger cousin guidance. How do you think Nicky’s emotional journey confronting her grief over Pei-Ling last season will affect her stepping into this new role?
Olivia Liang: Yeah, you know, I think you’re absolutely right. The introduction of Mia is the catalyst for Nicky to start thinking about what it means to be a teacher and a mentor. I don’t think that’s something that she was prepared for because I mean, do you ever feel prepared for something like that? But yeah, I think the spirit of Pei-Ling lives on in the way that Nicky lives her life and will continue to live on in the way that Nicky wants to teach Mia those same lessons.
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But, you know, it’s, it’s a little bit contentious at first. Nicky does have a tendency to think that she’s always doing the right thing and to think that her way is the best. So, the introduction of Mia kind of shakes that a little bit, and Nicky has to come to terms with the fact that, you know, she may not know what’s best always. And have to draw back on some of the teachings that Pei-Ling bestowed upon her and try to pass that on to Mia, as well.
Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, thanks for that really thoughtful answer! At the end of last season, we were left with the vague sense that the power struggle surrounding Biange is not finished, though the ordeal with the weapons seemingly is. How much does this storyline tie in with the new focus on Russell Tan as the show’s main villain, and is Nicky as “back to normal” in terms of her powers from Biange as it would appear?
Olivia Liang: I think that the tease of the Biange flower blooming in San Francisco at the end of season one just is letting us know that the magic has followed Nicky from China and the monastery to San Francisco. And with the introduction of Russell being our kind of main villain, he definitely has his sights set on what that magic is. And I think we’ll have to stay tuned throughout the season — I don’t want to give too much away in terms of what Nicky’s bloodline means in terms of power and her abilities.
Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, of course. Speaking of villains, of the two season 1 big bads, Zhilan ends up in prison while Russell Tan, as you were saying, kind of seems poised to take on a big role in the narrative going forward. So considering Zhilan is not really a fan of Tan, and Yvonne Chapman has been upgraded to a series regular this year (yay!), could we possibly be seeing a Nicky/Zhilan team up?
Olivia Liang: I think that that would be a very reasonable possibility seeing that what we set up in season one is that Zhilan, kind of her whole mission was to take Russell Tan down, and now that he’s moved into San Francisco and he is starting to cause trouble there, we could expect Zhilan to follow him to complete her mission. So yeah, I think that’s a fair assumption.
Nerds and Beyond: Switching gears, at the end of season one, Nicky appears to definitively pick one love interest from the triangle that we got to know over the course of the season (#TeamHicky as Eddie [Liu] always tweets out). Everything seems happy, but this is a drama show! We don’t trust anything. So how stable should we assume Henry and Nicky are heading into season 2?
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Olivia Liang: I think that we can assume that Henry and Nicky are very stable. You know, they make a great team. They’re wonderful partners, and they understand each other on a very unspoken level. And so any sort of trouble that may come their way I don’t think is going to be internal or people-related. I think it’s just going to be circumstance-related that might pull them apart or keep them together.
Nerds and Beyond: Switching gears again, you and your cast members seem to have built a really close, unique, familial environment shooting the show. What would you say has been one of your favorite memories on or off-set that you’ve experienced or created with them?
Olivia Liang: Okay, the first thing that jumped to my mind was laser tag. At the start of season two, we went laser tagging like three times with some of our stunt team and the cast and some of our writers. So that has truly jumped out as one of my favorite experiences with my cast. We were so sweaty and so into it [laughs]. Like, it was truly a great bonding experience to be teamed up and then have to laser each other down.
Nerds and Beyond: Speaking of the stunt team, you, Eddie, and the rest of the crew look like naturals performing the action sequences in the show, reflecting the countless hours of hard work that you guys and the stunt team put in every week. What do you think has been your favorite martial arts skill to learn? And is there anything in particular that you want to pick up — besides the Shang-Chi bus kick that we’ve seen you perform already?
Olivia Liang: [Laughs] Oh, my gosh, I was so stoked when they humored me and tried to teach me that. Maybe I’ll try to master that as well. But yeah, the stunts this season, we’ve really stepped it up. What’s been exciting for me is that our coordinator has incorporated a lot more hand-to-hand fight style, which feels, like, really fast and exciting and very intense and violent at times. So that’s been super fun to play around with. There’s a lot less wire work this season that we’ve been doing, so it’s very much more grounded.
In terms of what I would like to dive more deeply into, I want to revisit the bow staff from season one. Because it looks so, so cool when you’re fighting with that, and I just think it’s a really beautiful weapon. And so — I mean, it’s just a big stick. So it’s kind of unassuming, but you can really do some incredible damage and really beautiful stuff with that weapon. So, I would love to see more of that in the future season.
Nerds and Beyond: Kung Fu is the first network drama to feature a predominantly AAPI cast. For you personally, what has been the most rewarding part about being able to bring that level of representation on screen?
Olivia Liang: Yeah, a couple of things are super rewarding. One is, you know, that people watch it with their families. It’s a multi-generational family show really, where people are coming together and enjoying the storyline from all different ages. I love hearing that a six-year-old is watching and wants to be like Nicky Shen and then their grandfather or grandmother is also watching and can see themselves in the other characters that are on the screen. And so I think that’s something so special that we’ve built.
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And then from an industry perspective, I’m so glad that we are a show that I think other Asian performers can know that they have a place on. You know, they know that there can be a role for them on Kung Fu without having to play into stereotypes or without feeling like a token character. You know, they can come and just feel accepted and represented and hopefully feel that familiarity.
Nerds and Beyond: That’s amazing. What’s one thing that you can share (without giving too much away) that you’re looking forward to fans experiencing during season two?
Olivia Liang: Mmmm, so as a cast, like truly, every single script that we’ve read has been a huge cliffhanger. Every episode is so epic and has felt like a finale, and we as the cast are so eager every single episode to find out what happens next. So, I’m really excited for the fans to also experience that hunger for “oh no what’s next? No, don’t stop there!”
Nerds and Beyond: What aspects of your life fostered your love for the arts, and why did you decide to become an actress? Was that always your initial plan for your life?
Olivia Liang: You know, I wanted to do it since I was five, but being Asian, my mom said “absolutely not” [laughs]. But then I kind of, I guess I had my Nicky Shen running away to the monastery moment when I said to my mom, “No, I’m going to do this. I’m going to try it.” And I just love storytelling. I’ve always been like a huge TV fan and movie nerd. And just watching these people tell stories and being able to find something about these characters to relate to, even if I was five years old and watching like, a grown woman on screen, there’s something to relate to or aspire to. So, I just love the inspiration that storytelling brings and the hope that it gives and that it kind of makes the world a smaller place and connects people and makes people’s experiences more universal.
Nerds and Beyond: And so (not that we’re hoping Kung Fu ends anytime soon), but what is one dream role that you’ve always envisioned yourself in that you’d love to do in the future?
Olivia Liang: I want to be in a rom-com really badly. Yeah. My favorite movies are rom-coms because they just make you feel good. And you know, after a long day of work, I don’t want to come home and watch something that is going to bring me down, I’m not looking to watch — well, I don’t want to throw any other show or movie under the bus. But, I always go to like 500 Days of Summer or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Bridesmaids. Things like that, that make me feel good. So, I’ve always imagined like, “oh, maybe I’ll play the best friend in a rom-com”. But now I’m going to dream a little bit bigger and hope that I get to be the lead of a rom-com.
Nerds and Beyond: For our last question, here at Nerds and Beyond, we’re all about letting your nerd flag fly no matter the subject. So, we love to end our interviews by asking, what’s one thing that you consider yourself to be nerdy about?
Olivia Liang: The first thing that’s popped into my head is Marvel. I’m such a big fan — like a freak fan. I watched every episode of WandaVision, and then I would listen to like, two three-hour podcasts that break down every little thing that I might have missed and then go back and watch it. And then, watching the most recent Spider-Man movie was… I mean, it was everything that I could have ever asked for as a huge fan and nerd of these superhero movies. So that’s the first thing that came to my head.
Nerds and Beyond: Thanks so much again for taking the time to sit down with us!
Olivia Liang: Of course, thank you for the questions, these were really fun to answer!
You can catch Olivia Liang and the rest of the Kung Fu crew for the season 2 premiere this Wednesday, March 9 at 8 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. CT on The CW. As always, stay up to date with all of our coverage here.