Ben Levin is very apologetic when he first gets on the call — and for good reason.
*This post contains spoilers to tonight’s episode of Kung Fu*
Tonight’s episode of Kung Fu revealed Levin’s character Bo, Nicky’s new boyfriend, has also been the Harvester, who has been taking the deceased Guardians and Warriors’ souls in the mystical realm, this entire time.
“I’ve been telling everybody I’m sorry,” Levin jokes with The Nerds of Color this week. “You know, my bad – I totally didn’t mean to harvest and reap the souls but it just played out that way.”
Levin was introduced this season as Bo, the mysterious and – according to all the characters on the series – “very hot” martial arts/hacker/barista extraordinaire who seemed a little too perfect for our heroine, Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang). But, after winning the hearts of the Shooby gang and Nicky herself, Bo fit into the gang quickly and quite nicely. Everything seemed to be going great between Bo and Nicky – especially after a night of passion that brought them closer than ever and Nicky revealing her Warrior roots to him.
Little did we know, Bo is also connected with magical resources and has been doing the bidding of the sorcerer Xiao (Vanessa Kai) to make her even more powerful. But not everything is as it seems. Levin says that Bo is just misunderstood and is not the villain in all of this.
“It’s a pretty crazy reveal,” Levin explains. “I guess, at this moment in time, what you’ve seen is that Bo has been seemingly betraying Nicky and the whole community. But in his mind, it was for a good reason.”
We chat with Levin further about how this secret will affect his relationship with Nicky, more on Bo’s backstory, joining the cast, how it feels to be “the other man” in the shipping fandom, and why we should give #Bocky (the shipping between Bo and Nicky) a chance.
The Nerds of Color: There is SO much to unpack with this reveal. I’ve interviewed a lot of actors who don’t want to know much about the characters because they want to portray it as innocently as possible before finding out they’re actually the murderer. When reading for the role, what were you told about the character? Did you follow that trend?
Ben Levin: I’m of the belief that the more I know, the better as an actor [I could be] – even if it’s stuff you have to bury and really not play actively at the very beginning. When I first spoke with [showrunners[ Bob [Berens] and Christina [Kim] about the role, they did tell me that it was going to this place so I knew roughly what was leading up to episode 8. I didn’t know much more than just the loose sort of outline. And I was told explicitly not to play any of that when it came to the Nicky-Bo relationship. My head’s been in the space of [having a] deep longing and sort of a magnetic attraction to Nicky. That’s sort of been my guiding point of view up until episode 6. I think it’s good for an actor to know, but I can also see the benefit in [not knowing because it] wasn’t relevant till now. It’s a pretty big shoe to drop at the end of that episode. I know it shocked my mother when I told her.
Obviously, this is going to affect Bo’s relationship with Nicky. Nicky knows nothing, but Bo does. If they’re being open and honest now, how will this play out?
Basically, Bo is going to be very torn. At the end of episode 6, it’s the beginning of the big question of what he’s been doing. But prior to this, Bo has been somebody who is pretty certain of himself, which is exemplified in his very clear approach to pursuing Nicky. He’s also doing what he’s doing in this other realm for what he believes is a righteous reason. It’s gonna be really hard. It’s gonna be really troubling. In the next two episodes, you’re gonna see a lot of push and pull from the mentor that has been guiding him and the person who he is in love with currently. It’s also [Bo] hearing at the beginning of that episode that Nicky comes from a long distant line of ancient warriors and when she reveals this to him. the fact that Bo isn’t so shocked there is telling. Yeah, it’s gonna involve just a lot of secrets being slowly unraveled. It’s torturous and this is the beginning of the torture.
Well, you said he’s not the villain. The villain does not always perceive themselves as the villain. Also, there are the antagonists or even the antihero. How would you categorize Bo as a player in this story? Would you say he’s an antagonist? You’re saying he’s not a villain, but maybe the antagonists or even an antihero?
I’ve particularized this to myself as he is a hurt person, and that results in hurting others. But I don’t think there’s any world where Bo thinks he’s a villain. It appears [like that] starting at the end of episode 6 and on for a bit that he has been nothing but a liar and is someone who cannot be trusted and has betrayed someone who he was intimate with and all of that – but I consider Bo a wounded troubled boy, essentially. That’s what led to this predicament [that] he’s now in where he’s doing [his mentor’s] bidding and what he thinks is for a good reason. I’m rooting for Bo. I don’t see any world where Bo is a bad person. It’s tough when you have to go fetch souls through swords. That’s not an easy task [especially[ while he’s also doing cafe work and the occasional hacking. He’s a busy guy.
I love the series because it really touches on the Asian American identity with Asian people just existing and seeing a healthy and happy family. With the addition of Bo, I feel like it also provides the opportunity to showcase mixed Asians and their experiences. Is this something that we will see reflected in the series or something you want to see in the future?
I love the fact that the show features almost an entirely Asian cast. And then to be also half Chinese myself and get to join this world is truly a dream. I would almost say it’s been emotional these last few months getting to work on it because I’ve just never been around this large amount of Asian actors and creators. We are going to see a bit of the mixed side of both for sure. We will get some of his backstory and that will certainly showcase a not-so-typical Chinese upbringing or anything like that. I don’t know if I can say this, but we [will] see a young version of Bo. I got to spend some time with this young [actor who plays young] Bo. That in itself was amazing. They definitely got a great match for me. You’re going to definitely see diversity within diversity. And that’s something I really love about Kung Fu – we’re seeing a lot of different kinds of Asian people. That’s why representation matters. That’s what I wanted to have seen growing up myself as more people like me and more people like Olivia and the entire cast. It’s just such a diverse group.
We’ve had to deal with the sexless Asian men stereotype for many years in the industry so it’s refreshing to see Bo and the many hot Asian dudes of Kung Fu showcase that sexy Asian men exist. I know we are all more than just our bodies, but it’s still refreshing. What was the conversation for you regarding the sexy perception of Bo?
One of my missions out here, as an actor, is to play characters that are not sexless. I grew up watching [Asian men as] more of the sidekick and the tech-heavy friends. It’s very important [to me] that we see people like me and [costar] Eddie [Liu] and anyone on our show have dynamic romantic love. From the get-go, when I auditioned for [the role], it was very clear that they wanted someone who was a strong, confident, and attractive person without being arrogant. That’s how I leaned into the character. He speaks his mind but he’s not trying to be “Mr. Macho” in some ways. I think being an actual alpha or a leader of sorts is by not pushing that, and not trying to prove that. That was initially the way the character was portrayed. That’s something I leaned into heavily. I know they refer to him as hot a bit. I don’t think that there’s anything I can play there. I know this swooshing of the hair that people liked – so I kept swiveling my head and moving my hair around. I don’t think it was a huge thing to play. If anything, what makes people attractive is the listening and the wanting and not being aware of that. I really did like how the the sex scene and then the morning-after scene played out with me and Olivia [Liang] because I think our connection to each other is sincere and strong. We make good partners out there. This wasn’t a huge conversation. I know [director] Marielle Woods was amazing. Her and writer Melissa Rundle were really good. We had an intimacy coordinator and we really did choreograph that a bit. They crafted a fair amount of time for us to really work those beats out and that just made it even stronger between Nicky and Bo.
There’s no denying Bo and Nicky have a strong sexual chemistry. Honestly, it’s nice in general to see Asian-Asian relationships play out on television because we rarely get to see that outside of this series. Media always place the character of Color with a white character or as we call it – a “safety net” for networks. How was it for your character to be in this relationship that showcases Asian romance?
It’s beautiful. It’s an emotional thing. I’ve never really gotten to play a love interest to an Asian actress before in this way – minus [my character’s brief thing with] Olivia from Legacies. I completely agree with you though. It’s is such a refreshing thing to to be able to have this pining and longing sexual chemistry with an Asian actor. It’s just something that we definitely need to see more of. The fact that there is this love triangle thing with Henry happening, it deepens the point that you’re making here, which is we need to see how large this specific story can go. I feel very lucky. I don’t think Olivia would have wanted to do this with me if she didn’t feel comfortable. We’ve definitely put in the time to make sure we each feel safe and connected. She’s also very easy to care about, so it has not been challenging. It’s a treat. It did remind me that actually that one of the early things that [the showrunners] told me about Bo was that they really wanted him to be a foil to Henry. I have been purposefully trying to lean into [this role] – I don’t want to say masculine but more “sure of himself” energy. Henry has been more on a self-discovery journey as of late and he’s been the one who has been more torn about his feelings. Bo is coming in as the opposite with a very clear attraction that he’s not hiding from or he’s not mincing words.
You entered the Kung Fu fandom into its third season and came between a very popular relationship — Hicky. How has the response been from fans coming into the series as the mysterious new guy?
Eddie and I have talked about it. First off, it’s Nicky’s choice – no matter how this plays out. I’m not trying to step on the Hicky fandom’ toes here. Olivia mentioned to me that Nicky didn’t have any partners before Henry. I think it’s pretty clear in life that you need options to decide and to know what you want. As much as I do support Hicky – I’ll #Hicky – I’m not trying to not #Hicky. I just might like the tweet that says #Bocky more. I’ll double tap more on #Bocky. I definitely support the two seasons of the Hicky love that they’ve gotten. I do like Henry. I even had to watch a whole montage of [Henry and Nicky]. Did I feel jealous? Yeah, a little bit. Maybe a little bit, but Bo is also not afraid to say he’s a little jealous as he did in episode 5. Also, I want to see Nicky pursue someone. That was really cool the way Episode 5 ended where she came back [to Bo] and took matters into her own hands. I thought that’s part of showing her strength and what makes her a dynamic character.
What can we expect to happen next?
we’re gonna find out why Bo’s been moonlighting as the Harvester. We’re going to see his tragic backstory revealed, which explains this betrayal. For a couple episodes, people might be “Team Hicky” which I totally get, but just don’t don’t abandon the faith because Bo is hurt and he’s trying to figure out who to believe and what is the right thing to do. Because in his mind, he has been nothing but a hero. The Bo that ingratiated it into the Shen family here is going to dissipate a bit and he is going to struggle with his role out here, but don’t lose faith in him. That’s my main takeaway. He’s a good guy at heart.
Yes, please! #BockyStillLives. He’s alive and well in my heart.
Kung Fu airs every Wednesday 9 pm on The CW.