For Olivia Liang and other Asian actors, just auditioning for the new Kung Fu was a reason to rejoice.
The significance of leading an all-Asian cast in The CW's remake of Kung Fu is top of mind for Olivia Liang.
She stars in this reimagination of the iconic 1970s series, which featured David Carradine, a Caucasian actor playing a mixed-race character.
In the new Kung Fu — which has already been picked up for a second season — Liang plays Nicky Shen, a Chinese American who returns from a life-changing experience at a monastery in China to find her hometown of San Francisco plagued by crime and corruption.
The prospect of working on a series about an Asian-American heroine so delighted Liang and the other actors who tried out for various roles that the final auditions became a supportive celebration. "We were all so happy to be there," Liang says. "After each person came out, they'd get a group hug. And after the final callback, we all went out for lunch together."
Liang, who attended a yearlong acting program at UCLA after graduating from UC San Diego with a communications degree, started hustling for roles while working several jobs. In 2017, she was chosen for the ABC Discovers Talent Showcase, which led to an agent, and then to roles on Hulu's Into the Dark and The CW's Legacies.
The casting sheet for Kung Fu came out while Liang was shooting Legacies, so she quickly recorded an audition from her Atlanta hotel room. The character Nicky has left law school because of an identity crisis, and after learning Shaolin values in China, she finds herself torn between the world she fled and the woman she has become.
"Being caught between Asian and American values, and trying to bridge those worlds, helped me understand Nicky to a T," Liang says. "Our show is a universal story about family and how we deal with challenges."
While she doesn't have a martial arts background, Liang enjoys getting into a harness and being pulled through the air for the fast-paced fight scenes (her stunt double is Megan Hui). Watching clips from the first iteration of the show and its '90s spinoff, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, gave her historical perspective on the series.
"It holds a special place in people's hearts," she says. "But today we're broadening our world view and seeing all the beautiful shades of people onscreen. This is the show we [as Asian Americans] would have wanted to see as children. I feel unbelievably honored to be part of it."
Catch-up viewing of Kung Fu is available on the CW app and CWTV.com.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2021