Actor Ludi Lin has always played the good guy. Whether it be as a Power Ranger or an Earthrealm warrior in Mortal Kombat, Lin has always been on the right side of the law. Now, in The CW series Kung Fu, Lin is getting a taste at playing the bad boy aka the villain.
Lin plays Kerwin Tan, a billionaire playboy and heir to the Tan fortune, who has been trying his whole life to impress his cold-hearted father. Kerwin’s father has been looking for the ancient weapons for years, but has struggled with finding all of them. Kerwin hopes by teaming up with Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman), he’ll be able to obtain the weapons and, therefore, show his father who is the real boss.
“It’s kind of like being raised in a nest of vipers,” Lin describes Kerwin’s upbringing in a call with The Nerds of Color. “Him and his siblings have been vying for his father’s affection and for his father’s validation. Ever since they were children, his father just plays this insidious game of seeing who can rise to the top. This game of survival of the fittest. So that’s all he’s known is how to survive and how to manipulate and use whatever you can to get to the top.”
Lin says Kerwin is mischievous in his own right and compares him to Marvel’s character Loki. “He is kind of a little dark one,” laughs Lin. “He’s got a bit of Loki in him in a way that he likes to be satisfied. He likes to play. It’s kind of his way of putting up defenses and not letting his dramas really get to him, because he does have some really serious scars from his past.”
As for Lin himself, he is completely different from his character. Instead of being dark and moody, Lin is a strong beacon of positivity. From his thoughtful affirmation posts on social media to his activism for Asian representation and Stop Asian Hate, Lin understands he has a platform he can use to bring visibility to important issues facing us today.
“I think this responsibility is just to reflect who I am and what I’m going through at the moment,” Lin shares.
We got to chat with Lin about what to expect from his character on Kung Fu, the responsibilities of social media, his fitness regimen, what it means to obtain perfection, and how his mom is going to react to his character’s romance with Kung Fu’s sexy villain, Zhilan.
So, we meet Kerwin Tan, this rich elite son of a billionaire who has it all, but there is something inside of him that wants to show his father he’s capable of more. Is this what drives him or is there more to that?
LIN: I think this is partly what drives him. I think this is what he thinks drives him because it’s all he’s known with the Tan family. But, of course, he’s fallen out, and now he’s found something new. Zhilan has landed into his lap or maybe it’s the other way around. So maybe he can discover something new to complete his character.
We learn about Kerwin’s relationship with his father and the competition between his siblings. Are we going to see that play out this season as well? Are we going to see the Tan siblings fighting for the weapons?
I think I’ve been involved in the [ancient] weapons. It’s been hinted at in the beginning of the series for quite a while now. I think what Zhilan has found now is a key to unlock that part of the story. The Tan Empire is really kind of like the Dark Empire that’s been hoarding this kind of very mystical and indescribable force. So, from now until the end of the season, I think things are going to accelerate pretty fast and new discoveries are going to come hard and one right after the other.
So, I know you’ve been talking about the significance of Kerwin’s name — which means The Little Dark One. What can you tell us about that?
That’s really funny. That’s what I thought too. As soon as I get a character, I started delving into all sorts of things. Kerwin, his name, really struck me at first. I wasn’t sure about it. The more I repeated it, the more I loved it. But, I spoke to the writer who named him, Ryan [Johnson]. In the end, it had nothing to do with any dark one or anything like that. So that’s really hilarious to me. But, I’m glad I was able to make a meal out of it.
Kerwin and Zhilan have a lot of sexual chemistry going on between the two, but both are wicked in their own ways. How can Kerwin and Zhilan trust each other if anything? How could he trust her not to stab him in the back like she’s done to all of those around her?
Yeah, that’s right. [The] question here is whether you can form a lasting and true alliance with a friend based on shared trauma and past wounds. [You need to decide] whether you can come through that and find something that’s greater that can unite two really opposing forces. Because for me, shared pain is, at the end of the day, something shared. And, based on their nature, they don’t trust easily. They’ve been hurt deeply in the past. That’s a huge hurdle to get over whether there’s sexual chemistry or whatever else they find that can overcome that. I guess that’s their challenge.
So far, what we’ve seen from Kerwin with this next episode is he’s more of a lover than a fighter. But, because you’re proficient in martial arts, will we see Kerwin also be a fighter? Will we see any battles between him and the Shen Gang or even against Zhilan?
I think that’s all a possibility. I think it’s hard to get away from fighting with a show that’s named Kung Fu. I think actually it’s going to come hard and fast. I’ll be doing some fighting for sure. I think you guys will find out soon enough. For sure, every single episode, we’ll have some new revelations and they’re going to be big ones.
You’ve talked about your characters being a lone wolf from Zack in Power Rangers to even now with Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat and even with Kerwin, he has sort of this lone wolf appeal. You’ve even recently posted about being alone and never feeling lonely. Is this something that draws or appeals to you? Or do you bring out the loner from these characters?
That’s really funny because I forgot I said that about Zack. That’s just a line that stuck in my head because ever since I was a kid, I seem to have been as I move around a lot. I seem to have always been the one that’s on the edge and trying to get in and being self-sufficient was important. But, now, I’m hoping that these lone wolf characters can eventually find themselves to be kind of aspiring and inspiring lions to bring some light into their pride. That’s something I’d like to see.
A series like Kung Fu is rare in the U.S. with a predominantly Asian cast. When watching the series, what aspects in the show did you find yourself relating to, if any?
I think a lot. It’s all very experimental and, by no means, is it a perfect show, but I know the producers, the writers, [and] the entire cast definitely has poured their hearts into the show and try to make it as great as possible [with] things like the food, the culture, the distinctive way that Asian Americans communicate, and their families. It’s all really exciting. Sometimes, even the imperfections and the flaws in it, is exciting to me because that tells me that we’re experimenting. That really impressed me about the show. Just the fact that people get along so well together. We feel so comfortable on set. It’s not just an entire Asian crew, Asian cast, and [Asian] producers. It’s the fact that everyone can work so well together. And, be open to ideas and what we bring from our cultural backgrounds/nuances and incorporate those ideas [into the show]. That’s what’s really inspiring for me.
I’ve watched and read many of your interviews and I’m so sorry that you’re constantly being asked about inclusion and diversity, because we as Asians know how we feel about it. I’m tired of asking these questions. I was wondering what your thoughts are on these sorts of questions and how we should approach this topic?
I think we should. I guess I’m hoping to talk less [and people to] listen more. I really appreciate you saying that because it’s a complicated subject to me. Because [as] someone who has grown up all over the place, one thing that I hold most dear is the fact that I got to share in so many cultures. So this topic of cultural appropriation is a hard one for me to discuss because I really want my culture to be shared as much as possible but, of course, respectfully. So, for me, one thing I’ve been thinking of is, we should really come up with a code for how to appreciate cultures rather than open ourselves up to accusations of appropriation. I don’t know. Maybe something like a citation system, like in scientific papers, is the appropriate way to go about it. I really want people to reimagine [or] reinterpret and do whatever they want with what we bring. Because I think, at the end of the day, that’s the only way to leave a united and acceptable story for everyone to enjoy.
You’ve maintained this muscular body that people perceive as perfect, but I see you are striving for more and more with each social media post, workout, and healthy vegan diet. I feel like with each project, you put your body out there in fighting condition. Is there ever a point where you want to take a step back and enjoy or are you in constant fit mode?
I really don’t start anything unless I can keep it up for life. Exercise is something I do everyday, not because I need to keep [up] anything. It’s just simply a part of living. It’s not a lifestyle for me. It’s not a style that I can change. It is my life. But, there are projects where I choose to portray the character properly. I can’t be in six- or eight-pack shape. Some of these projects I’ve done — one just got released this year. It’s a Chinese film called Summer Night and I play the retired soldier who chain smokes and has a belly. So, there are those times where I need to not be in peak condition, at least, appear to look like I’m not in peak condition and that’s fine because I really trust my body to get back to where it is. It’s as simple as that.
There is always a level of perfection when it comes to the body. When people describe the perfect body, they’ve shown your characters in their peak condition. There’s also pressure to achieve this level of perfection. What is that level of perfection for you?
I think perfection is just a work in progress. I think perfection is finding a game or an activity that you can play indefinitely. [It’s] not compet[ing] to win, but playing to just play. I think health is one of those things. For me, [with] the arts, acting is one of those things as well. I don’t think anyone ever wins at [being] healthy. We all know that nobody gets out of this life alive. So health is just something you keep playing and you enjoy playing. Acting is the same way. I get more discoveries and more knowledge about myself and the people around me in the world. The more I delve into these characters and the more stories I do, it’s something that I feel like you can play forever. And, for me, that’s a great game to play.
I’ve read all your interviews. I’ve seen your posts.Your social media and interview answers are always so positive. Do you feel like a responsibility with your social media? Do you feel a level of responsibility when it comes to your social media and how you present yourself?
Lately, I’ve really been thinking about the idea of what people are for and what our responsibility is in creating a more positive future. We’re kind of like emotional factories. One thing I want to use my factory for is to take in a lot of that negativity, feel it, not necessarily reject it, transform it in a way that can be used, and [turn that] into an energy that can actually do something. [And, to use] that [to] make something happen. To that end, I want to make a better future — more united, coherent, peaceful and fulfilling for everybody. That’s the way I can keep playing the game of life. So that’s what I want to do with every aspect of my license, including social media.
One more question regarding social media. I do love that you feature Mama Lin aka your mom on there. She’s reacted to some of your projects. Have you shown her any of your Kung Fu projects coming up, especially with the romance between you and Zhilan?
Oh God. I haven’t. That makes me go that red, to be honest. I’m really not for what she would say. I’m never sure what comes out of my mom’s mouth and it always surprises me. Maybe I’ll show her just to kick me out of my comfort zone a little bit.
Last question, this has been going on since Kung Fu has started. For Nicky’s affections — are you Team Henry or Team Evan… or the notorious Team Zhilan?
Well, I might be stabbing myself in the back, but I’m really Team Zhilan. I think Zhilan and Nicky share more in common than they both realize. It’s inevitable that they come head to head at some point. So, I’m rooting for them.