Gavin Stenhouse as Evan season 3 Kung Fu

‘Kung Fu’ star Gavin Stenhouse: Evan’s career change is a ‘release from the shackle,’ but leaves him doing a ‘knife edge dance’ with girlfriend Nadia

Kung Fu’s Gavin Stenhouse caught up with Subjectify to chat about Evan’s history with the Shen family, including his long-term friendship with Althea, and whether his new career developments and his new romance with Nadia turn into a conflict of interests for one or the other of the couple.

When Kung Fu kicked off in 2021, one of the most surprising characters among the ensemble turned out to be Evan Hartley, played by British actor Gavin Stenhouse. Evan was introduced as the long-term boyfriend of Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), and we learn that the pair have been together since high school and shared a common goal of becoming lawyers. At a rough estimate, they’d been together for about a decade through high school, college, and much of law school.

Although Evan had been close to the Shen family for much of his life, underlying friction with Nicky’s mother Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) regarding the fact that he’s not Chinese is actually the instigating incident of Kung Fu, as Nicky discovers that the cultural tour of China that Mei-Li sent her on was in fact a matchmaking trip with Chinese men. It’s then that Nicky runs away and ends up secluding herself in the Shaolin monastery. Although Nicky’s quarter-life crisis is largely a reaction to her mother, her decision also fractures the romantic relationship that she was upset that Mei-Li refused to respect.

Evan had conflicted feelings about Nicky’s return just as Nicky had conflicted feelings about Evan moving on, but after season 1’s shockingly well-handled love triangle that saw Nicky eventually decide move on as well with newcomer Henry (Eddie Liu), Evan has remained a close friend, an honorary member of the Shen family and a important part of Nicky’s support system as a vigilante hero.

For a while, Evan served as Nicky’s man on the inside in his role as an assistant district attorney, a job he eventually left after uncovering corruption within San Francisco’s criminal justice system, and the start of season 3 saw him opening his own legal firm, eventually teaming up with his old school friend Althea (Shannon Dang) to work as private investigators. He’s also navigating a sweet new relationship with Nadia (Marissa Cuevas), a former colleague who still works for the city under the new, hopefully less compromised, DA.

We chatted with Gavin Stenhouse recently to discuss of all these season 3 developments for Evan, how his history with Nicky, Althea and all the Shens plays into his performance, and where things stand with Henry after he pulled a similar stunt on Nicky that Nicky once pulled on Evan!

We’re three seasons into Kung Fu now and your character is one of the more unusual “members of the family” in that you were introduced in the beginning as kind of this jilted ex. When you got the part, how much did you know about the role Evan would continue to play in the lives of the Shen family? Because it’s a bit of an unusual situation, really, to have that kind of dynamic.

When I was auditioning for it, I had no idea how far they were going to go with this particular love triangle, the Henry-Nicky-Evan love triangle. I was pleasantly surprised when Evan started getting friendzoned because actually it left Evan with a little bit more latitude, for the character to function within the unit without the complications. I really like the fact that Evan can come in and have these relationships, these platonic relationships within the Shen family unit and for it not to be muddied by emotional relationships, his emotional past with Nicky. And yeah, it’s just progressed forward from there. I don’t think that Evan would be working quite as well with Althea in season 3 if that weren’t the case. And certainly, Evan settling old debts with Mei-Li as well, because I don’t think Mei-Li ever would have really warmed to him, and that’s also another relationship that’s been really lovely to watch blossom over the seasons.

That’s kind of one of the more interesting parts that we always talk about, the fact that Nicky ran away effectively because of this drama with her mother regarding Evan, the conflict over potentially marrying or being in this long-term relationship with Evan as a white guy. We’ve obviously got really great relationships with the Shen parents now for every young character. We didn’t really ever see a conversation about that Evan and Mei-Li relationship, why she warmed to Evan or anything like that, but by the time Nicky gets home from China there is already an improved dynamic that happened behind the scenes and Nicky is quite shocked. Have you ever thought about what might have happened there, what peace might have been made behind Nicky’s back, or rather while she was off the grid? This is going back a bit, but it’s always been something we’ve been curious about.

I think that a lot of the barrier between Mei-Li and Evan forming a relationship was to do with preconceived ideas that maybe didn’t align on either party’s side and I think that when Nicky left, those superficial barriers were stripped away because both of them had this mutual loss in their lives. And during the time that Nicky was away, I think they would have both connected on that and let down their guards and maybe gotten to know each other a little bit better. Evan’s a good guy and I would hope that Mei-Li would see that and I think she did and I think that’s part of the reason that when when Nicky comes back, she finds that Mei-Li and Evan have such a good relationship, a good banter together, because they found a likeness within each other after sharing a mutual loss of Nicky having left.

Kung Fu season 3 is obviously playing heavily into that history for Evan, or rather the comfort levels with the Shen family because he’s been paired so much with Althea and they have old history as well. Last season we had a little tidbit of Evan sharing a memory about Ryan and this season we’ve got the Evan and Althea show which is an old friendship, her and Dennis and Nicky and Evan all having been at high school together. What is it like creating a dynamic with Shannon that is speaking to an old friendship, like a familiarity? How do you play that history that we never got to see?

You know what, it’s actually been really fun because we’ve had two years prior to this point as actors to build a relationship together ourselves, as co-workers, and I think that that on top of the fact that Shannon and I, I would say, share quite similar approaches to our work, it kind of allows us to have a shorthand banter on set and I think that shows through the chemistry. It’s been a real joy to be able to play in these scenes with Shannon because she’s just so good and always so prepared, and whenever either one of us suggests something, we’re able to kind of go with it and discover things that the other person might not have thought of and. I think that’s where a lot of the light-hearted banter and comedy comes from, that combined with the ease of just being able to work together because all of us, not just Shannon for that matter, but all of us have been working together for so long now that we kind of have a shorthand vocabulary together and I think that reflects in the chemistry on screen.

We were very excited to find out that you guys were going to be teaming up to have a private detective agency effectively. We were rooting for that for a long time. Obviously Evan came from formal law enforcement and it seems like Kung Fu is sort of trying to basically avoid glorifying that, whereas he’s currently in the relationship with Nadia, who’s still inside that system which he no longer trusts. She’s helping him out a lot on the side, which I keep getting worried about for her, but how do you think that dynamic is working, or will there be anything in the future that might be a conflict between Nadia still being inside the system that Evan no longer trusts?

Well, I definitely think you have the finger on the pulse, because that will indeed be something to explore in a future episode, as for something that happens, but yeah, I think there’s definitely that knife edge dance that Evan and Nadia are having to do, Nadia continuing on the good work on the inside that Evan was trying to do in seasons 1 and 2, and looking back on previous seasons, with Evan’s conversations again with Althea, about how frustrating he found it working inside of a system that wasn’t flexible enough to allow him the flexibility to help people in a way that he wanted to help them. One of the nice things about starting this season was being able to play with how much of a release from the shackle that was for Evan, being able to branch out and do the kind of work that he wanted to do, in the community. But yeah, that is always going to be a difficult knife edge to walk for Nadia and there may or may not be some slip-ups along the way.

That’s very interesting, because obviously Evan’s currently wrapped up with helping two different legal situations for the Shens, with Jin’s campaign and with the restaurant being in a bit of trouble. We’re all very curious to see who the Corporate Baddie really is in all of this and how that’s going to go down. Is there anything else you can tease about the legal battles or the situation that Evan might be facing with the cases close to his heart?

Without spoiling it, you definitely won’t be disappointed because it’s a pretty awesome reveal but it’s also not the only case that will come across Evan’s desk that he has to figure out. There are more! There are more problems that he’ll have to solve with Althea in the coming episodes.

Related: ‘Kung Fu’ season 3, episode 7 in conversation: I’m A Good Boy, Mommy

We got a little hint of that in episode 7, when they suspected a personal spy targeting the client and discovered more of a surveillance installation has been going on, which we have to assume is to do with the private security issues in the city, so yeah, we’re keeping an eye on how it all might come together but the big picture isn’t quite clear yet. I’m a bit curious about backstory. I don’t know exactly what you’ve been told or what you’ve imagined, but a lot of the characters have a backstory or they have a family coming into the plot — Dennis’s family, Henry’s family — and we haven’t really seen any of Evan’s history even though he was at school with the the girls. I’m just curious if you had any ideas about that, or why he might have stuck so close to the Shen family, what his own family situation might have been like, or if there’s anything like that coming up for him, regarding his own personal life. We don’t really see that outside of his attachment to the Shens.

No, not really. Evan comes from a very privileged and stable background and I think that is a big part of how he can afford to take the positions that he takes on the issues that he feels strongly about, but the beautiful thing about being able to explore wide-arcing narratives on a show like Kung Fu is that from episode 1 to the final episode you get to be taken on quite a long-arcing journey that has a beginning a middle and an end, and unlike procedural shows where there’s the baddie of the day, it’s a little bit more narrative driven and cliffhanger-y, but at the same time it doesn’t really leave too much room for exploring things like Evan’s backstory currently. Maybe in the future, who knows!

Going back to the original Henry/Nicky/Evan love triangle, obviously that’s well-buried in the past, but I have been thinking about it a lot this season because — if you’ve seen our recaps, I’ve said it before — effectively what Henry did to Nicky is what Nicky did to Evan, but in a shorter period of time, and I’m wondering if that’s something that’s ever been spoken about or even something that you guys personally might have had a conversation about, because I just keep thinking “I feel like Henry and Evan need to have a conversation about that circumstance!” If Henry and Nicky are to get back together, I feel like there’s a conversation that could be had from Evan’s perspective of what Nicky did to him, or even talking to Nicky herself, Nicky not thinking about how that’s what she did in the past to someone else. It just keeps getting to me, that Henry kind of went and vanished on Nicky in the same way Nicky did on Evan, and it feels like there could be a conversation about that between someone on the show. Have any thoughts about that at all?

You’re absolutely on the money. When [showrunners] Christina [Kim] and Bob [Berens] called me and gave me a brief rundown of what was to come in season 3, before we even started shooting, there was some talk about when Henry comes back, Evan being some kind of brotherly kind of guide in the whole situation, seeing Henry put in put his foot in his mouth and saying things or acting in ways that he perhaps shouldn’t if what he really wanted was to get back with Nicky, and for Evan to be there and say “Hey, buddy, I’ve been here, you did the same thing that was done to me, here’s some tips, I’m gonna give you some like, brotherly advice,” but in the end I don’t think we had time to fit that into the story because, as you know, every episode is just packed with story. I imagine that might have happened off screen.

Is there any particular episode coming up that is the one you most want us to look out for in terms of Evan, in the last run of Kung Fu season 3 episodes?

I’m a big fan of episode 10, I think — 9 or 10. There’s a case that comes to Evan’s desk that he has to deal with, very close to his heart, pretty personal and I really like that storyline for Evan. But also this episode, episode 7 just in my personal opinion as a viewer is just so fun and has all these throwbacks to The Thing and The Shining and those kinds of influences.
This episode is one of my favorites from the season.

‘Kung Fu’ airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW. Episodes stream free the next day on The CW website. ‘Kung Fu’ season 1 and 2 are streaming now on HBO Max.