Interview Television

Shannon Dang Loves Being the Big Sister on ‘Kung Fu’

Today is the last day of shooting on the first season of The CW’s Kung Fu and the cast has been sharing their thoughts on social media. Shannon Dang, who plays Althea Shen, the eldest daughter of the Shen family, shared the following tweet:

Given how great the chemistry has been among the cast, and how amazing the storylines are, it’s easy to see why America agrees!

Since the premiere of The CW reboot, viewers have been loving the series, with the past three episodes having an average of 1.2 million viewers and a 0.2 in the 18-49 demographic. The premiere scored The CW’s highest total viewership numbers for a Wednesday debut in seven years since The 100 debuted in 2014. With the excitement over the diverse stories and the kick-ass martial arts, Kung Fu fans should expect to see more. 

The series centers on Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), a young Chinese woman who returns home to San Francisco after spending three years in a Shaolin Monastery in China. After the murder of her mentor and with nowhere to turn, Nicky returns back home to her family to reconnect after being gone so long. Nicky’s older bubbly sister Althea instantly bonds with her estranged sister upon her return. It’s like no time has passed between the two. The relationship between them seems so chill that Althea already has Nicky join her wedding party and planning. But behind the genius tech brain and the fancy clothes, Althea holds a painful secret that she has kept from everyone, including her fiancé, Dennis (Tony Chung). We learn a bit about it in episode 3 “Patience” and are about to learn more this week. 

Dang took the time out of her busy schedule to chat with The Nerds of Color to go over the relatable moments from the series, Althea’s secret, the big wedding plans, bridezilla moments, and, of course, which person she is rooting for to get with Nicky.

So, when we were first introduced to the Shen family, I was immediately drawn to Althea as she seemed like the most relatable character with her trying to fix the family and, essentially, mind her business. Do you feel very similar to the character or are you very opposite to her peppy personality?

Dang: Well, to be honest, a lot of my friends and family who watched the show make comments that I’m pretty much Althea in real life. I think there are some heightened things that I put into her, but some family will joke that “I think that they just found you and just told you to say these words and there you are.” So, I really do resonate with her a lot. But, except for the tech savviness, I will admit that is very unlike me.

There are so many relatable moments on the show, especially the family dynamics between Nicky and her family. Were there any moments when watching the show that you felt most connected to — as Shannon?

I think I resonate a lot with the relationship between Nicky and Althea. I don’t have a sister in real life, but the banter, the heart, and the familiarity the two sisters have with each other, and that you’ll see throughout the season, it really resonates with me. I think that’s been the funnest relationship. Actually, with Ryan (John Prasida) too, just being the older sister for these two. You’ll see her tease her siblings — make fun of and bring their best selves out, but also act as an older sister of comfort, inspiration, and being a shoulder to lean on. I think those moments really resonated with me [as] Shannon.

It is also an ensemble series based around a Chinese American family. Were there any moments that you saw that connected to? For example, many Asian Americans can relate to taking your shoes off inside the home, or the game of Go, or the food. Was there anything that you went ‘oh my God, this is my family?’

Oh my gosh, there has been so many moments and cultural nuances that I’ve been like ‘wow, I love that the show is sprinkling this in’. I think the show does a great job with showing universal messages, stories, and characters, but celebrating the Asian American experience. Like you mentioned, the shoes are taken off at the front of the house. I’ve had so many people text me and be like, “oh my gosh, I love that these are in there.”

Throughout the season, and in the first few episodes, we have family breakfasts, meals, and dinners. And, a lot of the food if you pay close attention, it’s very specific. I remember growing up and eating things like that. Every time we get a dinner scene or breakfast scene, all of us get so excited. I wonder what’s going to be on the table. It’s just so much fun. I feel like there’s so much nostalgia. It just really feels like, not only is part of my family in this, but I feel like a lot of families are going to be watching the show and seeing themselves in it. So I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of this job is having other families be seen on-screen.

Althea deals with some heavy situations, one that surprised me for being part of The CW. It hit hard hearing about Althea’s sexual assault from her former boss, especially with the current #MeToo movement and including the Asian aspect of our lives to keep our heads down and remain silent. Because the material is extremely sensitive, how did you approach this for the character?

I think, as storytellers, there’s both the opportunity and responsibility to shed light on the world we live in. And, unfortunately, this storyline is a reality for so many. I think I was a bit nervous at first, given the important and sensitive subject matter. Regarding this, I really wanted to portray it as truthfully as possible. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to serve as a vessel for this storyline and this experience. And, I think [there are] really important messages and stories to be told and I’m grateful that our show can do that. I think there [are] a lot of people that will see Althea’s story and feel seen, heard, understood, and supported. If there’s even just one person that feels those things after watching [it]. I think I’ve done my job. We’re doing it. I think that’s one of the most fulfilling parts of my job.

Going towards some happy moments, I love seeing Asian Love, which we rarely get to see Asian-Asian couples together. I was excited to see Dennis and Althea’s strong bond. What more can we expect from this relationship? I know not everything is as perfect as it seems, but please have them always be together.

I love Althea and Dennis’s relationship. I think this couple gets an opportunity to show real-life couples that are happy to deal with issues, whether that [would] be secrecy or family, and how this couple feels with that and move forward. So throughout the season, you will definitely see these two deal with the past and how they make it work for the future. There’s so many different factors, especially bringing a couple together for marriage, it’s a lot more complicated and a lot more dramatic.

With the wedding supposed to be set in May, that’s not much time for them to prepare. It’s only a few months away, are we going to see the process — will we see Althea’s Bridezilla moments?

Oh yes, there are plenty of Bridezilla moments, I would say, actually, those are my favorites to do. She’s not a total Bridezilla, but you will see. You’ve seen [her during the] cake tasting. You will see her picking out flowers and distracting herself. Maybe using the wedding to actually distract and [the] mask pain that she has underneath. So, even more room for her to go all out on this wedding.

There’s a war going on on Twitter about who Nicky should end up with. We know Althea’s choice for this week’s episode, but what’s Shannon’s choice — you have three options: Team Henry (Eddie Liu), Team Evan (Gavin Stenhouse), or Team Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) aka Zhicky.

Oh my goodness, that’s a funny question. The internet is crazy. I would say that Althea is Team Henry. I think Henry stands for a new fresh start. [She] really wants her sister to go for it. And, you’ll see throughout the episode and throughout the season, she just wants her sister to be happy. She wants her to let someone love her and share this journey with her. So, she definitely is all up for whoever that may be, but  you’ll see an episode, she jumps onto Team Henry’s boat.

And Shannon’s choice?

Oh, Shannon’s choice. Whoo! I believe it’s the same. I would [pick] Team Henry. Don’t tell Gavin and Yvonne, but they already know.

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