In the second half of our interview with Kung Fu star JB Tadena, the actor discusses how he prepared for episode 7’s shocking twist, body image standards for men in Hollywood, where to find the best Filipino food in the DC area, and, most importantly, his three-legged dog, Agatha.
Last week Subjectify Media sat down with Kung Fu’s JB Tadena for an extensive interview about season 3’s sixth and seventh episodes, which both highlight Tadena’s character, Sebastian, in very different ways.
In part 1 of our interview with JB Tadena, we discussed Sebastian’s most important relationships within the Shen family — Ryan, his boyfriend and anchor, and Mei-Li, his boss, friend, and soulmate. Tadena broke down the similarities and differences between the two relationships and where Sebastian finds inspiration and comfort from each.
Last night, in Kung Fu season 3, episode 7 “Villians,” viewers finally got what they’ve been clamoring for — Sebastian in on the action with the Shoobies. But the adventure goes awry when Sebastian is briefly, but impactfully, possessed by Xiao. By the end of the episode, Xiao is out of Sebastian’s body, but the trauma of the experience has left him in a vulnerable and uncertain place, and his relationship with Ryan may be on the rocks.
Read on for more of our chat with JB Tadena:
All right, let’s get into episode 7…
It was so big. I was so shocked.
Were you shocked?
I was shocked. Like after episode 6 — I was also shocked by episode 6, and I practically like got up and ran around my house. I was so pumped up. This one it was the same level of like, “Oh this is really great, it’s so good,” but afterwards I was so sad, because it’s such a different vibe.
When I was watching it and the reveal happens I said, “Oh my God,” out loud so loud that my husband came to check on me and make sure I was okay. I just wanted you to know that.
When did you know this was going to happen? How early did you have a sense that you were going to get the chance to do this?
So, I’m always bugging Bob and Christina. I’m like, “Hey, let me fight. I can fight. Let me fight. Let me fight in the kitchen, whatever you want — I’ll, like, Steven Seagal style with, like, just, you know, Under Siege grabbing two knives, whatever. Let me fight.” And I get a DM from Bob around episode 3.04, and he’s like, “We finally got you a fight, but it’s not how you think it’s gonna go,” and I was like, “Hmm.” And so a few weeks went by and I was just sitting on that information.
But you didn’t know what it was?
I had no idea. And then when they finally revealed to me what was going to happen, I was like, “That’s awesome.” [They were] like, “You’re going to have so much fun with it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, you’re damn right I’m going to have fun.”
I was so impressed by the way that you embodied Xiao. Because there wasn’t this sense that you were trying to play a woman, right? Which some people would go that direction, I feel like. But it was like really, this still felt like her. You knew it was her.
And that’s kind of the delicate thing we were talking about, because I didn’t want to go into full mimicry. That… One, it would be too distracting. Two, it would kinda be offensive, I think. And three, it’s just, I don’t find it either grounded or, I don’t want to say fake, but it’s fake. So I watched Vanessa’s performance. I watched Jennifer Khoe’s performance. And I kind of wanted to take elements of the character, like with her speech, and with her posture, and with the history behind why she’s doing what she’s doing, and who she is and what’s happened to her and embody it in an idea that she’s found this new vessel, but she’s kind of also exploring it a bit. So she’s not fully comfortable in this body yet, so it’s still partially Seb, but it’s also infused with her essence.
I mean that’s how it felt. That’s really like — it’s amazing, because I was going to say the thing that was cool about it was that it really did feel like her having a unique experience in a different body.
And taking advantage of those things.
Yeah, I played it as if she was in a male body for the first time.
It was amazing, you were so good.
I thought that the different interactions with different characters were really good too. And the different ways that she played off of the different characters. I found the scene with Ben [Levin] particularly funny, with Bo, because his relationship with her is so obviously maternal in some way, and so it just was like… And then he chucks the [ax] at him. I mean, everything about it, I was like, “This is amazing,” so I was just wondering what it was like having to interact with the different people as a whole different character?
Oh yeah, well, Ben called me Mom the entire week.
It really gives off that vibe! That is totally the vibe… more like Mommy Dearest.
Yeah, it was very fun to play with him during that scene, and you’re absolutely right, each character was handled differently. And I think it’s infused by the moments that she’s had with each character. So, for instance with Ben, you don’t know his backstory yet, but I do. I built off that relationship and that maternal instinct to play towards him, but also, you know, we have this plan that we have to go through, so like, let’s not mess around. I still need to accomplish my mission, so there was that with Ben. And then with Olivia, how do you act towards the person who’s always kind of foiling your plans? There’s that rage inside, that keeps bubbling that you’ll see come at another certain point past episode 7. And I tried to build towards my hatred towards Nicky, towards Olivia’s character. And then with Ryan, I think that’s using what she knows in Seb’s body. Because how Vanessa, or Pei-Ling, explains when she’s in Pei-Ling, she speaks to how she knows her thoughts. She knows what she’s feeling. So I think in the same respect, Xiao knows exactly what Seb’s going through right now, so when she manipulates Ryan, when she gets, you know, seductive, when she tries to play aloof, it’s fun for her to do all those things. And then with Zhilan and Pei-Ling, I think that starts to show in their final fight scene, when she kind of just dismisses Zhilan as nothing to me. And with Pei-Ling, it’s the same sort of manipulative aura she’s kept the entire season with her.
People are gonna lose their minds.
I’m hoping they have a fun reaction. I’m like the least person who you expect this to happen to.
I mean, how could I be so surprised? They’re all in the room. It’s got to be somebody. But I was still like, “No, well, it’s not going to be Sebastian. That wouldn’t be nice.”
But it does also give them a good reason to give him a break.
I mean that’s true, that’s true. Okay, so this episode was sort of like, give with one hand, take away with the other, for a Sebastian fan. Because, like you said, you wanted to fight. Well isn’t that what everybody wants to see too? Right, like I’m sure we’ve been clamoring for it, “When is Sebastian gonna get in on the action?”
Except for one incident a long time ago.
You’ve really only done one fight scene, right?
Since then, yeah..
So, of course, it comes with a terrible price, which is that this whole experience is brutally upsetting for Sebastian. And so it was interesting to me, because I was worried that after Sebastian quit Harmony Dumplings, he would push Ryan away because he would not be feeling good, and that would be how he dealt with it, so I was like, “Whew we escaped that. We dodged that bullet,” and now in this situation, instead of going to Ryan for comfort it’s like — they basically break up. Mostly break up?
It speaks to how their relationship is in the beginning of episode 7. He doesn’t blame Ryan. He doesn’t blame Mei-Li. It’s just — it is what it is. But he’s in a bummed state. He lost the best job he could have. And when Ryan is trying to comfort him, and be like, “Oh, so like what are you gonna do about it?” And he’s just kind of dismissive, because he’s got opportunities, he’s got this article that’s out there. The word’s out about what a great chef Sebastian is. So it’s just kind of that sulkiness that we get every once in a while. We’re like, “Ah, I don’t like… I give zero F’s right now, so let me just stew in shit’s creek for a while.” And then when Ryan asks him to help, that’s when obviously everything occurs, but I think between losing the job, what happens when you… okay well how could things get worse? I can get possessed by an evil demon, that’s how it can get worse. I think that put him over the top to where it fed into his prior anger issues and he just needs another moment to to regain himself.
So again, and this is probably something you probably can’t tell us, but what can we expect moving forward for them? Like is this a soft break? Is this a hard break? Is this a nobody knows where we are?
You’ll know soon enough though.
Obviously a lot of fighting happens in the show all the time, and a lot of the characters are doing this kind of fight choreography all of the time. And you obviously have that skill set but haven’t been doing it for this show, so what was that experience like? Because there were so many good moments in this.
Oh, it was a ton of fun. The stunt team is just amazing. And they let me do as much as I could for time. And, it was funny because when we were rehearsing some of the fight scenes, there was a move here and there, I would whisper to Ken Do, who’s my stunt double for this episode, I’d be like, “Hey, can we change it to this?” And he would do the rehearsal with the move I asked for and then he’d be like, “Yeah?” and [stunt coordinator] Andrew Chin would be like, “Yeah.” I’d be like, “Yes!” That jump spinning kick I do, I was like, “Give me that Donnie Yen kick. I want to do that.” And then he was like, “Okay.” And I was like, “Yes.”
This is a little bit of a throwback question, but because you mentioned it, and then I forgot to follow up — Sebastian is estranged from his family right now. Are we ever going to see his family? Or is that something you’d be interested in exploring? Like, what’s up with that?
At the beginning of the season, it’s something that Bob and Christina and I talked about. Because you know, in the beginning, you only know the outlines and like the possible storylines of where the characters can go. And my family definitely is a part of the conversation. Whether they show up this season or not, that’ll be seen at some point.
Okay, because I’m interested in that backstory, because I’m so mad at them. Like — let’s find out what’s really going on.
Yes, I agree.
Okay, in your opinion what episode should we be keeping our eyes open for coming up? What’s a good one that you’re really excited for people to see.
Past episode 7?
Okay, so there’s gonna be a very heavy Althea episode coming up. Very heavy Althea, and I’m very excited to watch Shannon shine in it.
That sounds amazing. I just want to give you an automatic pass on this question. You don’t have to answer it. But I mean, you know I follow you on social media, you are obviously putting a lot of energy into getting swole. And I just I wonder — there’s a lot of pressure, I feel like, on men to be the “most buff” and I feel like maybe it’s this like superhero culture, it’s like, that’s kind of the big thing, if you want to be a big star, you know, get cast as a superhero. But it just feels like it trickles down. It feels like a lot of pressure, and we talk about that for women a lot, I guess I’m just curious on your take on that pressure to look a certain way or be a certain way in Hollywood.
I think there is pressure, a hundred percent. More so on women, but there is some for men. And you come into this industry with the higher-ups saying, oh you’re either one type or you’re the other. You’re this completely chiseled handsome leading man or you’re this “charactery,” either incredibly skinny or incredibly full-figured character. You’re one or the other two, they categorize you in. So you’re forced to choose. At some point, will people be allowed to be just themselves? I hope so, but when you’re trying to work your way up from a certain level, you put yourself in one of these categories. I’ve always been into fitness and athletics, so it was easy for me to want to be in the best shape that I can. Am I as stringent as most? No. I allow myself to eat what I want when the time comes. But I also enjoy the workouts. And I trained with a guy named Joey Emont who keeps my macronutrients at a level that keeps me satisfied and I’m not starving. But I mean that it goes to show you, it’s also like your nutrition, I can eat all sorts of foods as long as I stick within this calorie count and my body’s fine, my mentality is fine and physically I feel great, so it’s not a problem for me.
Just make sure that you eat.
I appreciate you looking out, but I do enjoy it.
I guess because I’m local to the DC area, I’m a little curious about your DC theater experience, because, I mean, I definitely could have seen you in something.
I did most of my theater around like 2009 to 2012.
I had a 10 year old then. She liked the theater, but we probably were not going out to those kinds of shows with her.
More adult drama types of shows. I did a musical in Tysons Corner.
What was it?
It’s called By Jeeves. It’s a Andrew Lloyd Webber mistaken identity kind of play.
Did you sing?
I can sing. I sing in Firebuds. [Tadena’s new animated Disney show]
Oh, do you? I’m gonna have to watch that show.
[My character] Lolo Ben shows up for the first time on December 16th. So you’ll hear him sing in a full old man Filipino accent.
Okay, I’m gonna write that on my calendar.
Yeah. Yeah, no, I sing. That’s why I’m also, whenever they talk about a musical episode, I’m like, “I’m down.”
You guys have to last long enough to get that musical episode in.
Alright this is my last local question.
You have to tell me where is the best place to get Filipino food in the DMV.
In the DMV? My mom’s house.
Call your mom up. I’m coming.
I mean it’s tough. A lot of them have both come and gone. All the Filipino cuisine in LA is popular because of the Filipino population, and the fact that more people are now open to all kinds of cuisines. In Virginia, I was spoiled because my mom would cook for me. My cousins who lived in New Jersey, we would visit them all the time, and I would eat a ton of Filipino food there. And all the Filipino families that I knew in Virginia would just cook, so I never had to go out for it. But you know, shout out to Tatang NoHo in Los Angeles. They’re my favorite place to go.
Alright, well next time I’m in LA.
Alright, what’s a question you wish I had asked that I didn’t ask?
That’s a good question. You asked such good questions though. This is a great interview. Because it seems like every interview that I’ve had has not been necessarily about the show and it’s been more about myself and usually those go a certain way, so I’m kind of happy that we didn’t have to talk about my life. I don’t know. Do you have a question that you are dying to ask but you don’t want to ask? Oh, actually, I got one — I wish you’d asked me about my three-legged dog!
Yes, oh my gosh, tell me all about your dog!
So this is Agatha. She’s a rescue. She’s part Shiba, part Shepherd.
Oh, is she part shepherd? We have a German Shepherd.
Yeah. And I had to kind of woo her for two months, because I went to this rescue in LA, and I was like, “I haven’t had a dog in a long time. I usually only have gotten purebreds in the past. I’ve never gotten a rescue. Let me, now I’m a grown ass man, let me get a rescue.” And I saw her — this dog that looked like a fox with three legs and I was like, “You.” But all she did was bark at me for like two months, every time I tried to get close. And then they were like, “How about you just foster her for a week and see how she does outside of this high-stimulus environment.” Because there’s a ton of really skittish, traumatized dogs there. So I brought her to my place. She was just stiff as a board for like an entire day in one spot, wouldn’t move. Then in the middle of the night she kept bugging me, because she was anxious she needed to go to the bathroom, so it was like 1:30, then it was like four o’clock, then it was like five o’clock, and it was like 6:30. I was like there’s no way I can sustain this, so I called them and the guy who runs it is also a dog nutritionist, so he was like, “Buy her this, this and this. Make her this food, and then her stools should harden up. So I went out to get it all back and then when I got back she was at the door wagging her tail. She kind of just knew I would take care of her after taking her out.
After that experience, nothing could go wrong.
Yeah, so now she never leaves my side.
Oh man, that was the perfect question, JB, thank you. I’m so happy to meet your dog. Well thank you so much.