Gavin Stenhouse Just May Surprise You on ‘Kung Fu’

Kung Fu’s Gavin Stenhouse knows he’s pretty privileged. 

As the only non-BIPOC person in the predominantly Asian cast on The CW’s Kung Fu, Stenhouse understands the responsibility of being part of this monumental drama — the first Asian American-centered drama on primetime television. Stenhouse has been using his platform to lift up his costars and the writers of the series instead of putting his own input when it comes to the cultural nuances of the Chinese American experience.

“I know more or less the responsibility than any other white person in today’s society should feel,” Stenhouse told The Nerds of Color over the phone last week. “I think that I’m in a privileged position that I am part of an ensemble that is working towards what could be a start of a solution. But I think that every white person should be doing the work and putting in the effort to educate themselves. If I can impart any knowledge or help or resources along the way that has helped me learn to be a better ally, then I think that’s my responsibility, just as a white person. Let alone, as the only white person on a predominantly Asian cast. I think that given the platform that I have, I have an opportunity to help others. I think it is a mutual responsibility that we all have to put in [the] work.”

On the show, Stenhouse plays Evan, Nicky’s (Olivia Liang) childhood sweetheart, who broke up with him to find herself in China during their last year of college. After three years, she returns to find Evan, now working as an Assistant District Attorney for the San Francisco DA’s office. Still harboring feelings for Nicky, Evan does help her on her adventures — aiding her in finding out Zhilan’s location and, sometimes, keeping Nicky from getting arrested.

Kung Fu — “Pilot” — Pictured: Gavin Stenhouse as Evan Hartley — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Like Evan learning through the Shen family, Stenhouse grew up surrounded by Chinese culture. Born in Hong Kong, Stenhouse spent a good portion of his childhood there. Now, he’s on a show that centers around an Asian American family and the cultural ties that comes with it.

“These are all things that I’m somewhat familiar with being from Southeast Asia,” says Stenhouse. “I just keep pinching myself because I’m the person that gets to be in this show. I feel like I appreciate it moreso than someone who didn’t, perhaps, have that childhood experience that I had.”

With the mid-season finale airing tomorrow, we had a chance to probe Stenhouse about many things from his childhood and how that opened his eyes to the real issues in representation to Evan’s thoughts and feelings regarding his relationship with Nicky; his current girlfriend, Sabine (Rebecca Olson); an upcoming shirtless scene; Team Zhicky; and Evan’s beef with Henry (Eddie Liu).

When we are first introduced to Evan, we meet this nice assistant DA who was dumped by his childhood sweetheart, who moved to China to join a Shaolin monastery. Most people would be really upset over their ex, especially their ex coming back and asking for risky favors that could not only affect his job, but also his personal life with Sabine. What’s up with that?

Stenhouse: Yeah, you’re entirely right. It’s very clear in the first episode how upset Evan is at Nicky just coming back out of the blue. I think that he’s had so much time to stew in his own thoughts that keep him up awake to figure out why it may have happened. Was it anything to do with him? You know the typical things that go through our mind when something like that happens and you’re left in the lurch. I think the level to which Evan is willing to test his boundaries and help Nicky is a testament to the underlying love that they still have for each other as childhood sweethearts. I think that certainly Evan wouldn’t do that for anyone except Nicky and only Nicky would eat that kind of behavior out from Evan. I’m excited to see how far Evan is going to go down this path of corruption with Nicky. I think that it’s really testing his moral boundaries. But, at the same time, I think we’ll start to see that the initial hopes and dreams that Evan had getting into the criminal system may not be as straightforward as he initially thought. I think what we’ll see over this series is a realization that Nicky and Henry get stuff done. And, maybe, Evan can’t from his end.

Throughout the series, I’ve grown fond of Evan and just how nice he is. Maybe too nice. Maybe too nice that he gets taken advantage of by his ex-girlfriend. Will we see a breaking point with Evan? Is he more than just a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?

Right, I think that’s the thing. Anyone who’s taken advantage of too many times is going to reach a breaking point. And, I would be surprised if there isn’t a breaking point coming. I think that is an exciting thing that we’ll be able to explore with Evan. [Just] how the good guy gloves come off and what does that make Evan?

Kung Fu — “Sanctuary” — Pictured: Gavin Stenhouse as Evan — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Evan’s relationship with the Shen family seems very passive aggressive. Throughout Nicky and Evan’s relationship, there seems to be tensions between them BECAUSE of Mei-Li’s (Kheng Hua Tan) influence and how she would prefer her daughter be with a nice Chinese boy. Now it seems Evan is chummy with Mei-Li, again. This is the same woman who didn’t want her daughter with a white guy. What’s up with that? Will this be addressed?

I think that there’s a couple of things going on that stick out to me. I think that, firstly, the common denominator is Nicky. As you know, Evan is no longer a threat to ruining Nicky’s future in Mei-Li’s eyes. And, I think that they bonded over the last few years with a mutual loss. Nicky was ripped out of their lives. Suddenly, they both dealt with that in their own ways, but, they’ve also found a mutual camaraderie together in aggrieved parties. I think that that’s allowed a channel of understanding and friendship to open up between them and I think that’s flourished during the time that Nicky is gone.

We finally see a bit more of Sabine and a little bit more about their relationship. It’s pretty obvious Evan is not over Nicky. It just doesn’t feel the same with Nicky feelings towards Evan, but it could also be women respecting women and her not wanting to make Sabine feel uncomfortable. Evan also seems like a commendable guy who won’t cheat, unless we don’t know something about him.  But, I just don’t know how all of this will work. Please give me a little insight.

Sabine is the first woman that Evan has met in the time that Nicky’s been away that has really fulfilled a sense of friendship, security, and understanding that resonates with Evan on a level that he’s on. I think that Evan is definitely in a very difficult situation where he sees this great thing that he has with Sabine and he feels it. But, at the same time, there’s a very primal, ingrained deep-seeded love for Nicky that perhaps has been quashed away but maybe never dealt with. I think that dealing with that feeling could only come from having an open conversation with Nicky. I’m not sure Evan is in a position to do that yet until he figures out where he lies in the sense that I’m not sure right now Evan really knows what he wants. And, for the moment, I think he’s just too happy to have his childhood best friend back to really address the deeper questions. I think he probably won’t until he is forced into that situation.

Pictured: Gavin Stenhouse as Evan Hartley — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

They were childhood sweethearts that they grew up together. She went away to China for three years. People can change within those three years. Nicky has definitely changed during those three years. Do you feel like Evan is still stuck in that time loop and stuck on OLD Nicky, even though she changed as a person?

I think absolutely. I think that in order to really deal with your demons, you have to confront them face on. For the last three years, he hasn’t been able to do that because his demon ran away to China. So she’s been haunting him from halfway around the world. It was one of those things where it’s a situation where he’s been left ruminating on their last conversations. Did he say something wrong? Could he have said something different? Would she have stayed if he’d said something different? And, those thoughts and obsessions have not been able to be resolved. So I think that he will have to resolve them at some point. I’m pretty sure he will in episodes to come. But, you know, for now, I think he’s just so enamored with the fact that Nicky’s back and he’s willing to put some blinders on himself, in terms of what she’s doing behind the scenes. I think that Evan is maybe correlating the change in Nicky’s character more to his suspicions with Henry. I think that he thinks that Henry has a bad influence on Nicky. I don’t think Evan necessarily sees that Nicky has changed [as a person]. 

Okay, so I do my research and in an interview, Tony [Chung] revealed you have a shirtless scene coming up. I need to know more details and how that is going to convince us for Team Evan. 

Tony throwing me under the bus! I don’t know if that is gonna convince anyone to be Team Evan. I think that one of the benefits of having Evans sharing the same passions that I do with rock climbing outdoors, as well as sitting down with comic books and being able to kind of nerd out. He’s also quite an active person. I think that one of the byproducts of being an active person, especially being a rock climber, is that you get to do shirtless scenes every now and then. [laughs] But, you know, I think that that particular scene is parceled in with some other scenes that show Evan in his natural habitat. And I think that once people see that he’s not just an ADA, he actually has a life of his own. I think that people might start to see Evans for what he can offer as a person, not just as Nicky’s tool on the inside.

Speaking of natural habitat, you grew up doing martial arts.

I did.

And, this is a martial arts show.

It is.

I do my research. Will we see Evan doing some fighting?

You will definitely see Evan be brought into a situation where he has to stick up for something. And, he may or may not come out of it with some bruises.

I know most of the shipping conversations will go towards Henry/Nicky and Evan/Nicky, but I was wondering what your thoughts on another competitor pining for Nicky’s attention — the crooked yet sexy Zhilian aka Team “Zhicky.” 

[laughs] I mean, I’m not going to go up against Team Zhicky. She is a formidable adversary and I don’t think there’s anything that Henry or Evan could do to stop that ship sailing.

When Evan and Henry first met, it was very tense. Note: I created a meme for that moment. Since Evan found out Henry’s past and revealed it to Nicky, are we going to see a throw-down happen between Henry and Evan?

Well, I think that any physical altercation between Evan and Henry would only go one way and one way fast. And, I don’t think that is in Evan’s direction. But, I think that definitely when we come back from a mid-season break, which is after this [week’s] episode in a few weeks, you will definitely see Henry and Evan forced into a situation where they have to address getting to know each other. I think that is one of my favorite episodes. And I think that’s also an episode full of cringe, love, and funny moments. I’m really excited to see that in the future but it is definitely coming.

Growing up in Hong Kong, you were surrounded by a bunch of Asians and Asian culture. Now, you’re back surrounded by Asians and a show surrounding Asian culture. How do you feel like your childhood impacted your viewpoint towards the series and the role of Evan?

I moved away from Hong Kong when I was about 9 or 10, but I’ve always identified as being from Hong Kong. I’ve always had such a love for my own cherished memories of living in Hong Kong. I’ve been back several times and it always feels like coming home. A big part of the part of me is just so grateful that this is the show that I get to work on, because it not only feels like family or like home, it also feels reminiscent of my childhood. 

So, this is what I really appreciate regarding Evan and I appreciate the writers for including you in this story. It’s San Francisco, it has a huge population of Asians. He grew up essentially with the Shens. He and Nicky were childhood sweethearts. Then, they break up. Now, Evan is with Sabine, a fellow lawyer and white woman, therefore, avoiding the fetishim idea of Evan only dating Asian women. When joining the series, did you realize a lot of the tropes and stereotypes that Asians had to deal with and how it affects the characters, including Evan?

I think that I’ve always been aware of the situation of whitewashing in Hollywood. Even with what recently happened with Ghost in the Shell and Aloha. And, I was reading another article today about a Star Wars show [The Bad Batch] that also came under fire for whitewashing one of their animated characters. It’s an ongoing issue. I think that it’s something that, as a white actor, I’m very conscious of that. I’m part of a society of an area of Hollywood that needs to do more work and do the work to help raise awareness of these issues and representation, I think that, given my role in Kung Fu, I’m just so fortunate that Christina [Kim] and Bob [Berens], our showrunners, are so sensitive and aware of these issues down to the microscopic details that go into my job. They have already put a lot of effort in the writers room with consultants to [make sure] nothing is going unnoticed. There’s a testament to how much they care about the show and, for me, it’s just a privilege to be able to work with them.

Kung Fus mid-season finale “Rage” premieres tomorrow at 8/7 pm on The CW.