Kung Fu returned this week on The CW and star Olivia Liang spoke with Subjectify Media about where Nicky has been this season and where she is going. Read on for Liang’s thoughts about the two turbulent romances that have impacted Nicky’s story so deeply in season 3, and the identity crisis that her own emotions have led her to.
Kung Fu season 3 picked up few months after Nicky and Henry’s unexpected break up. While we never want to define Nicky solely by her romantic relationships, there is no doubt that Henry’s abrupt absence and the introduction of a new love interest were big motivating factors throughout the first part of the season. Nicky closed the door on rekindling a romantic relationship with Henry and put her faith in the seemingly perfect barista-hacker-electrician-vigilante, Bo. Actress Olivia Liang was reunited with her Legacies co-star and close friend Ben Levin to bring this romance to life, and while their ship name may be ‘No,’ their chemistry had us on board much sooner than expected.
But Bo is hiding a big secret. The mentor he told Nicky about early on is in fact Xiao, this season’s ancient big bad, and he’s been working to free her from her spiritual cage. Bo is not aware of Xiao’s sinister intentions, but Nicky doesn’t know that, and discovering Bo’s perceived betrayal sent Nicky into a downward spiral, culminating in a confrontation where Nicky nearly kills him.
The mid-season premiere deals with the emotional aftermath of Nicky’s rage and shows us a Nicky who has lost faith in herself. Is this rock-bottom? Will a little me-time in prison help Nicky sort herself out? We spoke with actress Olivia Liang to find out.
Much to our delight, Liang has been an extremely vocal supporter of our Kung Fu conversation reviews from day one, so finally getting the chance to sit down and chat about the show with her was something we’d been looking forward to for a long time. The feeling, it turns out, was mutual.
I am so excited.
So am I.
This is the best day of my life. I’ve been waiting for this for three seasons, well two seasons.
Yeah, so have we. We’ve been just like when? When? It’s really nice to meet you.
It’s really nice to meet you.
I feel like I already know you.
Yes, me too. I know too much about your fantasies, how your brain works.
I know it’s a little too much, right? TMI, but…
No, I love it. I love it.
We have fun. I guess we should just jump right into it. I have so many so many questions I’m sure we won’t get to them all. So Nicky’s really going through it this season. You had kind of a brief time in the middle where things were okay. The beginning was a little rough and now it’s a little rough, and so you’ve had some really great, meaty, emotional scenes to play this season. But I always really love it when Nicky gets to be a little lighter, and especially funny, so I’m wondering for you — what do you like? When you’re looking at the script, what is the most exciting for you, to get to do a funny part or to really have those deep emotional scenes?
Oh, I like both. I savor the funny parts because I’m like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t happen very often’ and I just want to show that Nicky is able to be lighter and not everything is so serious all the time for her. But at the beginning of the season, or I guess at the end of season 2, when Christina and Bob were asking me what I want for Nicky, I, as Olivia, don’t really — I’m not a writer, and as I’m reading this season, I’m like ‘And this is why I’m not a writer, I would have never been able to come up with this, this is amazing’ — but I just told them that I, as Olivia, want to be scared and I want to feel challenged because I just want to grow as an artist.
So I told them to scare me, and scare me they did. Because there’s so much that Nicky goes through this season and I had to tap into so many parts of myself that I didn’t even know was there, so those things, although not as as fun on the surface as a funny moment for Nicky, it is fun for me as an actor to challenge myself and try to hopefully deliver a good performance and deliver something that resonates with people. So yeah, even though the emotional stuff is quite daunting and I freak out a little bit about being able to pull it off, I have a lot of fun in the process.
We have to talk about Nicky and Henry a little bit.
That break up was so shocking. I almost couldn’t even believe it happened. But then the writers, again, I guess doing what they do best, really convinced me, “Oh yeah, maybe that was for the best,” you know?
And Nicky really was very convincing that what he did was so hurtful that she had to move on for her own well-being. So now, where we are in this season, with everything that’s happened, do you think that’s still the case? That there is a bridge that cannot be rebuilt. I mean, we see in episode 9 that they are still really good at working together. What’s going on with that relationship? Where’s that going?
I think Hicky fans can remain slightly hopeful. And are you a Hicky fan because you like them as a couple, or are you because you like them? I think episode 9 shows that their bond is beyond the status of their relationship. That they are always going to be there for each other. That what we’ve seen them go through is kind of like trauma bonding, and Henry understands Nicky in a way that truly nobody else does because he was with her through everything that she’s been through, and he’s seen how hard it has been for her and how strong she is, and I think he might be the only one who has seen it.
So I like to think that Hicky’s still alive in that way because that part of their relationship is not dead, and I think it’s safe to say that Nicky probably is second-guessing her choice to pursue Bo, especially since she doesn’t know about the emotional abuse or the manipulation that he went through with Xiao. All she has to go off of is what he has shown her, which is that he might be a crusty ass bitch and he betrayed her, and Henry has never done anything like that to her. So I think she’s human at the end of the day, and she might be regretting some of the choices that she made. I can say that we will get some very juicy Hicky moments throughout the rest of the season.
Good! Now I have to bring this up because Natalie mentions this all the time — that what Henry did to Nicky is very similar to what Nicky did to Evan. And so I’m just wondering if you see that similarity, or does Nicky see that similarity?
Of course, 1000%. The original version of 3.03 where Nicky and Henry finally see each other again had a little bit more of Nicky not understanding what Henry did, and I was reading and I was like, ‘But this is what you did to Evan.’ And Eddie and I had extensive conversations about it and then we had conversations with Christina and Bob as well, which is why everything that I infused into it was like, ‘And I know that I did this, but I guess I’m seeing…’ I think Nicky was then able to see ‘Oh, that was really shitty for Evan.’ She should not have done that to him. Now she’s got a taste of her own medicine, and because of time, lines were cut, obviously, but there were lines in that scene of like, ‘And I know I did this, but that doesn’t make it any less hard.’ So even though she understands why he did it, and she of all people understands because she did the same thing, it doesn’t make it less hard what he did. And again, she’s human and humans are complicated and they are hypocritical so…
I think me, as Olivia, I was like, ‘But Nicky, you did this!’ And then me as Nicky, I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it still sucked, it still really sucked and maybe now I regret doing it to Evan as well.’
When we talked to Christina and Bob, Christina said that she enjoyed getting to see the more mature, less ‘fresh from the monastery’ Nicky this season, and you’ve talked about her going dark. And obviously, we see that big time in that confrontation with Bo. So that’s the climax of that, but were there moments leading up to that where you felt there were things that showed that Nicky had that capability in her? That kind of anger that could snap? Or do you think it was just in that incident, everything that had happened created this rupture with her values that she’d had up until this moment.
I think it’s the latter. You know, we’ve seen her have anger and rage with Zhilan, and she certainly accesses it when it’s time to protect her family. But being personally hurt and betrayed by someone who you’ve been intimate with, I think nothing could have prepared her for that. There’s definitely ego involved, right? That she’s like, ‘Oh I’m, I am an idiot for letting this happen.’ And so I think the rage is not only towards Bo, but towards herself. She’s like, ‘I let this happen. This is actually my fault. Yes, he’s the one who has lied to me and betrayed me, but I didn’t see it and how stupid am I?’ So I think it was definitely something that she didn’t know she had in her, and I think when we pick up in episode 9, Nicky’s scared of herself and scared that she had that in her. And now she has to face it and face that she is having a bit of an identity crisis.
Obviously Bo is a big part of Nicky’s story this season. A big motivating factor, both for the good and then for the bad. And I know that you and Ben Levin had worked together before, and are friends. How excited were you when he was cast?
I was so excited. We knew from the chemistry read that we had on Zoom. Bob could not contain his excitement, he was like, ‘Okay, so we have our guy, right? Like we don’t even need to have a conversation anymore, this is done.’ And Joe Menendez, our producing director, was so excited as well because he was directing us in the chem read. I joke with him about it all the time, but his Cuban accent came out. He was like, ‘So, Ben, Bo is a vigilante, right?’ I was like, ‘Oh, vigilante.‘
Everyone was so excited about Ben. As soon as he came on the Zoom, we knew it was him. But you know, he and I didn’t get too many scenes together on Legacies. We became good friends on Legacies, but I didn’t really get a taste of what it would be like to work with him until Kung Fu and he exceeds all my expectations and my wildest dreams, he’s such a generous scene partner. And he thinks so deeply about everything and he wants, he’s so excited to do a good job. But it is weird to kiss your friends. It is so weird. I will never get used to it.
I did wonder about that.
Like gotta kiss Ben. Gotta kiss Eddie. These guys are my close friends and it’s funny whenever Eddie and I have to do a scene like that, we’re like, ‘All right. I’m coming in buddy… Do I have permission to land?’ We speak like that, we’re like… ‘Permission granted.’ It’s a hoot. It’s very fun to work with Ben.
Yeah, and your chemistry was really off the charts and I feel like it really helped to make it both convincing that she could move on, but also then convincing that this betrayal was such a huge deal. Knowing that the betrayal was coming, how much fun was it to kind of build up that relationship and get the audience, to some degree, I mean, me quite a bit, other people to some degree, on both sides, knowing what was coming?
Yeah, oh yeah. Ben and I were always like, ‘Alright we’ve got to make it hurt later.’ So let’s be in love so that when the betrayal comes, and that big scene of Nicky beating the crap out of him comes, let’s really make that hurt. And we didn’t know that their plan was to also make it hurt even more by showing young Bo and the audience having the dramatic irony of being like, ‘No Nicky, you don’t understand he’s been manipulated! He doesn’t know!’ So as actors, it was fun for us to set up the pain and, you know, I’m a fan of TV too and I like to hurt, I love crying. I love a show that’s going to hurt my feelings so that I can feel something. So I’m like, ‘Okay, I want to be that show for people this week. I really want it to hurt.’
You’ll know from our conversations that I was really moved by that backstory and even before it happened, I saw it all, it just laid out like a vision to me. I was like, ‘I know it, I know what this is.’ Natalie’s not so much into that backstory. He just went downhill in her estimation. When you’re looking at the story, from your perspective, is Bo a villain or do you have sympathy for his backstory?
Olivia has total sympathy for his backstory. He and his backstory is very similar to Nicky’s. He has a shifu that he will do anything for. That’s exactly what Nicky’s been doing since day one of us meeting her. They’re not different, and he blindly trusted her. Unfortunately, he had a shitty mentor who wanted to manipulate him and Pei-Ling is not that, so Nicky got lucky in that way, but they’re very similar. They think that they’re doing the right thing. He thought he was freeing those souls in the wasteland. He thought that he was sending them to their salvation and it turns out he’s been lied to this entire time so I, reading it and as an audience member, I have total sympathy for him and I am like, ‘No, Nicky, go say sorry because you you don’t know the full situation,’ but I do as Nicky understand that she felt so betrayed and didn’t know.
We find out in episode 9 that he is going to live, but are we going to get some closure on that relationship before the season ends, or is he just laid up in the hospital until the season’s over?
We will get some closure for sure. It will be… it is some kind of closure. Maybe not a close the book, put it away kind of closure, but there will be some kind of resolution for Nicky of what she’s done and for giving herself a little bit for it.
So in episode 9, Nicky ends up in prison. What is going on in Nicky’s mind when she says she needs to be held accountable for breaking into Delta Security? Because the scene where they hand the clothes over, the prison jumpsuit, I was very much immediately taken to Zhilan’s time in prison, where she was using that as a way to hide out, to avoid dealing with her personal demons. From your perspective, is Nicky coming at this from an emotionally healthy place like ‘Oh, yes, I did something bad and I can’t live outside the law in this way’ Or is she using it like she said earlier in the episode, ‘I wish I could just stop having people look at me.’
Yeah, I think it starts off with that. I mean it’s a little bit both, maybe 60% she wants to hide, but 40% she actually does — when she’s like, “I’m facing the consequences of what I’ve done,” — it’s not just breaking into Delta and breaking laws, it’s, you know, obviously she feels like a monster because she did something that violated everything that she been taught and has believed in since we’ve met her. But yes, I think it’s a little bit of both.
We’re going to see in episode 10 that she does have a parallel with Zhilan of facing what she’s done. Obviously she and Zhilan are very different people at the core of it. I think what we’ll see in episode 10 is Nicky being like, ‘Why am I doing all of this? Do I continue? Am I the best person for this? Or should I let Henry take over? Is he the guy who I should delegate all of these things to? Do I need to just stop?’ And not because she doesn’t want to anymore, but because she’s really facing like, ‘Am I helping or am I hurting with everything that I do?’ So yeah, I think just to your question is that, I think it’s a little bit of both. She wants to hide, but she also maybe needs a place to hide so that she can face what she’s done and it’s hard with all the distractions around her.
We’ve gotten a lot of joy this season out of less evil, more socially awkward Zhilan. But where do you think Nicky and Zhilan’s relationship stands right now?
This has been something interesting for me to think about as Olivia, because I’m like ‘Would I forgive someone who murdered my mentor in front of me?’ And that’s why Nicky’s a better person than I am, cause I’m like, ‘No, I think I would kill her, given the chance.’ But you know, Zhilan has been on a redemption arc of sorts. This is her second chance. She thought she was dead and now she’s not. She thought she killed her sister, which she did, but now she’s back, so she gets this second chance, and I think ultimately Nicky believes in second chances.
And they kind of need each other, they’re like two sides of maybe the same coin. Zhilan’s side is very, very rusty and dark and scary, but the same coin, kind of, nonetheless, and so I think, especially with how dark Nicky has gotten, and the more gray her life has become, she is able to understand Zhilan a little bit more and understand that perhaps there are parts of Zhilan, within Zhilan, that Nicky is now realizing is within herself as well. And so the more Nicky goes dark, the more she is able to understand Zhilan and start to not see her as just a villain.
I think we’re almost out of time, so I was just going to ask you one more question.
I know, it goes so fast. Leading this show feels like, looking at it from the outside, like a pretty big deal. It has personal significance and industry significance in terms of Asian American representation. Do you feel that pressure in the moment on set, or off set? Does it motivate you or does it put pressure on you? How do you see that?
I think for season 1, we all felt a lot of pressure. And I actually had a hard time in season 1, because I was so afraid to do a bad job and that the bad job would reflect on the entire Asian community. And if we flopped, it would be fully my fault because I was in so much of it and then I would ruin it for representation for us all because, you know, then Hollywood would be like, ‘See it doesn’t work.’ So yeah, I did put a lot of pressure on myself, but it really took a toll on my mental well-being because I was so stressed all the time. I was worried about my scenes and everybody else’s lines and how this would come off and like ‘Oh, no are people going to take this the wrong way, or are people going to feel underrepresented or are people going to think this is on the nose?’ and I was just so stressed about it all.
But after we aired and after we got to see the pilot and see what we were making and see that, oh, okay, this is not a documentary, we are a show with magic and adventure, it should not be taken this seriously. Once I stopped taking myself so seriously, I was able to have fun again and just be excited that I get to work as an actor and I just happened to be Asian, and everyone else around me on this set happens to also be Asian. Ultimately, we’re all doing what we love, which is telling a story. So after we premiered in season 1, I think we all kind of decided collectively to take the pressure off of ourselves of being the voice of an entire culture, and we’re just one place where people can feel seen. But hopefully it’s not an Asian show. Hopefully not only Asians are watching it and everyone can get a little bit of something from it. So yeah, it was very very pressureful season 1, but by 2 and 3, we’re all just excited to be telling a fun story and we just happened to be Asian people telling it.
Well, thank you so much. It was so nice to finally get to chat with you.
Thank you. I love talking to you off of Twitter.