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‘Kung Fu’ Star Shannon Dang on That Duck Speech and Althea’s Sexual Assault Storyline

”It’s funny how oftentimes the most difficult parts of the job are the most rewarding,“ Dang tells TheWrap

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the fourth episode of “Kung Fu”)

The latest episode of The CW’s “Kung Fu” reboot revealed a new side of Althea (Shannon Dang), the generally frothy and lighthearted bride-to-be to whom cake tastings are as important as justice. Grappling with the sexual assault hinted at in last week’s episode and her fiance’s overbearing and wealthy family, Althea erupts in the middle of dinner with a monologue facetiously measuring her worth in ducks.

“Althea is definitely a people pleaser,” Dang said in an interview with TheWrap. “She has so much love for Dennis, and she’s so excited about her wedding. But underneath, she’s also looking for approval. Dennis’ family come from a lot of money and, especially with that layered on top of her sexual assault, I think she’s questioning her worth. I think that’s a layer that is always in the back of her mind: whether she’s good enough, what is her value and what can she bring to this family?”

It’s not until the end of the episode that Althea confides in someone — her sister Nicky (Olivia Liang) — about the assault. The quietly vulnerable moment stands in contrast to the earlier Althea who seemed to be coming undone under the weight of her secret at dinner. “I wanted [those scenes] to be different enough from each other and layered with truth, but also allowing Althea to find it without giving away too much,” Dang said. “Because whatever she’s saying, she’s discovering in that moment.”

“My goal was for someone to watch Althea and her storyline, see what she’s struggling through and feel seen and feel heard,” she said. “It’s funny how oftentimes the most difficult parts of the job are the most rewarding.”

Read TheWrap’s full interview with Dang below.

Shannon Dang Kung Fu
The CW

TheWrap: How early on did you know the workplace assault would be part of Althea’s story and what was your initial reaction?

Dang: I originally did not know about the storyline. When I first received the script and the breakdown, it mainly said that Althea was Nicky’s larger-than-life older sister. She’s tech savvy, and she just left her tech job to focus on planning her dream wedding. So that’s all I got at first. And then once I booked the role, that’s when the showrunners sat me down — I believe it was when were filming the pilot back in March of 2020 — and said, this is what we see for character. They asked me how I felt, and I was a bit nervous. I was actually pretty surprised because my audition was the complete opposite. My character was very much the comic relief of the family, which I would say you can see that in the pilot especially. So to be given such an opportunity to be a vessel for such an important and sensitive subject matter, I was very humbled and I really wanted to get it right. It’s rewarding to be able to share this story and give a voice to anyone who can relate.

How did you approach finding this other side of this character?

I actually relate very much to Althea’s personality. Underneath all of her bubbliness and lightheartedness and her occasional Bridezilla moments, I think she’s really rooted in her heart, her love for her family and taking care of others. As Shannon, I think I can tap into that very easily and I’m honored and feel very grateful to be able to play both of those ranges and facilitate that for the story.

Heading into that dinner scene with Dennis’ parents, there’s a lot coming to a head for Althea all at once. What’s going through her mind in that moment?

Althea is definitely a people pleaser. She has so much love for Dennis and she’s so excited about her wedding. But underneath, she’s also looking for approval. Dennis’ family come from a lot of money and, especially with that layered on top of her sexual assault, I think she’s questioning her worth. I think that’s a layer that is always in the back of her mind: whether she’s good enough, what is her value and what can she bring to this family?

Althea obviously doesn’t feel ready to fully open up about what happened to her yet, but at the end of the episode Nicky is the first person she chooses to tell. What is it about their dynamic as sisters that makes her feel comfortable sharing?

First off, Olivia Liang is amazing and was such a loving and generous scene partner for that. Also our director America Young, who made shooting that scene so comfortable for me. Althea decides to tell Nicky about her secret because she feels really safe, and even though Nicky is her younger sister, she also looks up to her a little bit. Nicky is so brave and strong and uses her voice to stand up for others and to do what’s right. Althea at that moment is completely the opposite. She’s hiding a secret and doesn’t feel like she can share it with others or speak out or stand up for herself. And I think that’s a beautiful contrast of these two sisters. On one hand, Nicky can encourage Althea to speak up and to tell the truth, and throughout the season, Althea will look to Nicky to feel inspired and find her voice and figure out where she fits in to all of this.

The three Shen siblings seem to be pretty close, how do you think about their dynamic as a trio?

It’s really interesting how each sibling has a different relationship with each other. Althea is able to be the big sister, and often you’ll see her teasing Nicky to make a move on Henry and she loves to tease her about boys, and help her with her quest for justice. But you’ll also see later in the season that she and Ryan are actually very close and have that relationship where, when he is also going through something new and in a new relationship, she will be right there for him. The siblings together are actually my favorite dynamic throughout the series.

Kung Fu Shannon Dang
Katie Yu/The CW

Was there a specific scene that you found toughest to crack?

With the abuse storyline and the arc about her sexual assault by her boss, I felt like that is such a sensitive and important subject matter, and I naturally wanted to get it right and speak truthfully and show that in my performance. My goal was for someone to watch Althea and her storyline, see what she’s struggling through and feel seen and feel heard. And from what I’ve been hearing so far, I think I accomplished that. It’s so fulfilling and rewarding to be able to be that vessel for someone else. It’s funny how oftentimes the most difficult parts of the job are the most rewarding. So I’m just so grateful.

Was there a moment when you were doing the scene where you felt like you were nailing it? Or was it the kind of thing that you just had to do without thinking too much and then look back and assess later?

There were two scenes that resonated the most. The dinner scene with the ducks, where she first kind of loses herself in front of her family, her fiance and her in-laws. And the final scene where she tells Nicky what happened. I wanted them to be different enough from each other and layered with truth, but also allowing Althea to find it without giving away too much. Because whatever she’s saying, she’s discovering in that moment. Those were two very meaningful scenes for me, so I hope they resonated with viewers.

I saw that you guy just wrapped filming on Season 1. How does it feel?

Oh, it’s been surreal, this whole experience. I mean, we’ve been filming this since I think February of 2020. We went through a whole pandemic together and now people are just starting to see it. We’ve gotten such great feedback and support from the viewers and the community, so everything’s been surreal. I can’t believe we’re finished. We’ve been through all of this together, and from top to bottom, I think our cast feels so loved and supported by this project. Because there aren’t many shows like this. We know that it’s bigger than ourselves. This isn’t just about TV. We are so excited to be able to give this to not only the viewers but also the AAPI community. It’s been such a rewarding experience.

What can you say about what comes next for Althea?

Throughout the season, Althea will continue to help Nicky on her quest for justice, finding the weapons and finding Zhilan. And I think throughout that, that’s where Althea grows the most. She will always come at a crossroad on can she be brave? Can she speak out? She is so willing to do things for others, and for justice and for Nicky, but somehow she’s always looking in on her personal life. How does that differ? So we’ll see Althea struggle with history and how that affects her relationships with her fiance Dennis and his family and where she fits in with that. I think audiences will enjoy following her journey as she continues to find her voice.

Shannon Dang
Dean Buscher/The CW

“Kung Fu” airs Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.