Kim Rhodes only had one demand when she was offered a role on Kung Fu – her character CANNOT be a “Karen.”
“I did not want that,” Rhodes tells The Nerds of Color. “And they didn’t want to write her that way.”
Rhodes made sure her character Carrie, a businesswoman working with Harmony Dumplings, was as respectful to the culture as possible. So much so, she wanted Carrie to be skilled with chopsticks for her scene. that required eating. She didn’t want the character to look like she was fumbling or making fun of the use of chopsticks in any way. It’s these little things and microaggressions that many Asians have dealt with that Rhodes didn’t want her character to exhibit. She wanted to make sure that, although she is a representative for the corporation that is investing in Harmony Dumplings, Carrie is not considered a villain.
Rhodes explains, “You can respect [the culture] you aren’t a part of. You can want to be an ally and still make choices that are not what an ally would do. I wanted her to come in and be, ‘no, I respect you. That’s why I want to help you.’ And [yet], still fuck it up.”
She is excited for fans to meet Carrie because she’s so “multi-layered” and “definitely not a Karen.” Rhodes said if Carrie were a “Karen,” we’d automatically know she’s an “asshole” to hate, but she’s not because she sincerely wants to help Mei-Li. But, again, she is still a businesswoman who plays by corporate rules.
“It is the situation,” she says. “And Carrie is a representative of what Mei-Li is struggling against.”
We chat more with Rhodes below about coming back to The CW family, the [non-love] triangle between Carrie, Mei-Li, and Sebastian, Easter eggs, and what she thinks about all these “ships.”
The Nerds of Color: Welcome to the Kung Fu Family! How does it feel to be among your fellow CW family? What drew you to this role?
Kim Rhodes: What drew me to the role is that [co-showrunner] Robert Berens wrote it. The CW family is so connected to me. Because of that experience, I have first-hand knowledge of what a gift it is to be playing a character that Robert Berens has had a hand in. That right there – there’s no other [reason]. You don’t need it attached to Supernatural. You [just] say, ‘Hey Kim, would you –’ I will say yes. Then once I got into it, I loved the fact that this show gets to explore [picking] good and evil battles. And at the same time, [have] such human adversarial relationships and it’s all about family. It’s about the way you can damage family and be redeemed by family and you can adopt family and the way your blood is family. It just is larger than life and yet just a tiny, sacred little moment. That’s my jam when it comes to storytelling.
So, what we know of Carrie so far — she’s a rep for a major company that wants to invest in Harmony Dumplings. She seems really sincere, but what else can you tell me about her?
I can tell you that she is very sincere. She very much admires Mei-Li. She sees [her] as an equal. She has no nefarious plans. However, her perspective comes from a corporate mindset. And her job is to reinforce the contract and make money. So they’ve created a conflict. This isn’t out of any ego or nefarious counter plot. It’s simply out of two people who have different ideas about what’s best.
Bob told us that Carrie, Mei-Li, and Sebastian are going to face off against each other – regarding Carrie as a business woman to Mei-Li and Sebastian as her artisan chef to Mei-Li. What can you tell us about that dynamic?
Without spoiling anything, I will say we have the opportunity to address some conflicts. It doesn’t become about the “Issue,” but the writers did not shy away from what it means to have a white person telling People of Color how to run their business — when their business is around their culture. I think that is a very brave [and] interesting thing to address. Because there are perspectives that are different, that each have validity in a way, and that’s why they never solve the problem. I love that they never solve the problem. They just address the problem and it’s like oh, we go there.
Whenever we meet a new character, we only meet them above the surface and the dealings they do with our characters. Will we see Carrie’s personal life — like her home life, love life, or family life?
You’ll get some inkling of who she is. Carrie [and Mei-Li] are both mothers. So they do have a common bond around that. But Carrie’s a professional. Also, it wouldn’t necessarily serve the storyline to delve into what her outside life would look like. I just love that they wrote her to be so multifaceted — you can see that she’s the kind of person that might be a devoted mom, but boy that marriage didn’t work out and we know why — things like that.
You’re part of the Supernatural family with Bob and was part of The CW. Did you and Bob decide to leave tiny little Easter eggs — whether it be Supernatural or Suite Life or Star Trek for fans to notice.
I don’t think so. My poor little brain just was like, ‘oh shit, was I supposed to think of another job while I was doing this job?’ [laughs] I will say that one of the great things about my experience is that it’s completely consumed me. It never occurred to me to see if I could sneak in. I will tell you that the second episode I did – Richard Speight directed. So that’s a big ol’ Easter Egg that you had – Gabriel and Jody on set together dealing with monsters. But no, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try to find a way to fit something in there at the end. It would never even occur to me.
Maybe we find out in another life she wanted to be a sheriff or we find out she’s a huge Star Trek fan.
That [would have] been hilarious. The other thing is that that’s not up to me, especially as a guest star. I don’t get to walk into somebody else’s house and tell them what music they have to listen to. It’s the same way when an actor shows up on set. I don’t get to tell them what words I’m going to say. I don’t think any of the writers ever wanted to toss that in there. So to whichever writer writes the last episode I’m in, you can wrap it up by telling them that I quit [and] I’m gonna go to be a sheriff into the sunset I go!
I know we just met Carrie, but I was wondering what makes this role as Carrie different from the other roles you’ve played.
I love this is the first time I’ve gotten to play a foil without being a bad guy. She will be seen ultimately as an adversary because she’s doing what she’s got to do. But this is not a person who takes pleasure in inflicting pain on others. This is not a person who revels in her power over others. This is not someone that is like “ha ha ha look what you made me do.” And yet, this is still someone who causes pain in the course of doing her job. So I really like that nuance. Most of the bad guys in my life that I’ve played haven’t really been terribly nuanced. They’ve been more of the storm and drama kind. So it’s been fun for me to commit to what I need to commit to but still find it rooted in a humanity I can relate to.
So, the Shooby gang (that’s what we call them — Shen/Scooby) have expressed an interest in a musical episode. Bob joked one day, especially since he’s had experience in it for Supernatural. We all know you sing, Would you be down for it?
Oh my gosh, yes. Bring me in. Yes, I’ll just go wandering through! One-hundred percent! I can’t wait to see them do that.
Relationships of characters have always been a big deal on this show, especially for our lead star Nicky Shen. People love her with Henry. She’s now with Bo. There’s a fun thing with her and Zhilan. I ask this of everyone – who is your favorite ship? Do you even have one?
I want to give a shout out to Jin and Mei-Li. How fucking cute are they? I mean, I get it. You think of ships and you think of [young romance]. But, oh my God, how cute are they?! I love them so much. That’s my answer. I’m sticking to it.
People have been saying Meibastian. Olivia has pushed for this. What do you think of this?
Why?! You know what, I don’t poop on anybody’s ships. I say what you do [you] in the confines of your own mind or whatever room you happen to be in. I have to say how wonderful [it is] that I get to, for a living, spark creativity in other people. So I never ever going to say, I think a ship shouldn’t exist. If it is consensual in your brain and it makes you happy, then ship the crap out of it. That said, I love how in love Jin and Mei-Li are. I’m not processing the Meibastian necessarily, but that’s just me. Maybe it’s because I know what’s happening this season and they don’t yet.
Nicky Shen’s love life seems to be a huge topic too. Do you have a Team for her ship?
That’s hard. I’m Team Nicky, quite frankly. I’m privy to information you’re not. I am tearing up. I support ships but I also support women being defined for who they are, not who they love. Tthat is so dominant in our culture today — who a female love defines who they are. I fight passionately against that. It is the love that defines who Nicky is – not necessarily who she loves. So as she expands as a character, as she learns more about herself, she is going to love differently, which means inherently she is going to love different people. So my commitment is to her as a character. That comes from me as an actress loving [and] watching what these young women get to portray — that I never got the chance to. I always played characters that were defined by who they love. I always played characters that were defined by how other people felt about her. And I love that the show is creating these female-presenting characters as who they are and who they are learning to become. I really didn’t mean to become a soapbox. I know it’s a question, but it means like [a lot to me]. I cried when I was talking to Olivia about how far what a “strong female character” means. And the fact that I’m getting to watch an evolution come behind me. You know, it’s incredible.
Yeah, Kung Fu doesn’t shy away from multiple strong women leads — and now including yourself.
I am honored and delighted to be a part of it. Yeah, again,this season is going in a direction that will surprise everyone — and it is daunting. It is jaw-dropping, and I have to stop talking about it now.
Kung Fu airs every Wednesday at 9pm on The CW.