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Kung Fu's Olivia Liang Talks The Biggest Developments From The Season 3 Premiere And Teases What's To Come - Exclusive Interview

The following interview contains major spoilers for the Season 3 premiere of "Kung Fu."

By the time the second season of The CW's "Kung Fu" came to an end, a major earthquake had rocked San Francisco and devastated the Shen family restaurant Harmony Dumplings. Russell Tan (Kee Chan) and Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) were dead, Mia (Vanessa Yao) had entered a monastery to train, and Henry (Eddie Liu) decided to go on a quest to learn more about his father, leaving Nicky (Olivia Liang) in the process. 

If that weren't enough, in the Season 2 finale's concluding moments, Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai), Nicky's shifu who was killed right in front of her at the start of the show, suddenly appeared in San Francisco. Needless to say, those developments left a lot of story for the show's third season premiere to tackle.

Luckily, the episode hits the ground running. The premiere picks up four months after the earthquake, and it's quickly revealed that Nicky and the rest of the Shens are still dealing with the fallout. While Nicky has become a shifu in her own right, she's still attempting to get over the absence of Henry, whom she hasn't heard from since he left. 

When mystery man Bo (Ben Levin) appears during a mission to recover the stolen stove her mother needs to reopen Harmony Dumplings, it presents an intriguing new possibility for romance. However, romance is the last thing on Nicky's mind when she learns Pei-Ling is somehow back and living in the woods of her city; even though she wants to believe it's really her beloved Shifu, even Nicky's not positive. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Liang discussed how she felt about where we find Nicky in the premiere and teased what's to come as Season 3 continues.

Celebrating Season 3

There are so many huge developments in the Season 3 premiere, I'm excited to get to them. First, I wanted to ask: There were a lot of cancellations at The CW at the end of last year, but "Kung Fu" luckily was renewed. How did it feel to come back for the third season?

It felt amazing. We feel extremely lucky because it was really sad to see a lot of shows that I enjoyed and, like "Legacies," that I was on, have to say goodbye to their fans. I was watching the writers rooms on Twitter from those shows say goodbye, and I was like, "This is really sad."

Secretly, as soon as I saw that "Legacies" was saying goodbye, I knew that Ben [Levin] was available to be working somewhere else. I texted my showrunners. I was like, "If you guys are looking for a new boyfriend for Nicky, my friend Ben Levin, we've already played love interests on this other show. Throwing that out there." That happened, and that was fun.

Coming in and being on the fall and not having too long of a break between Season 2 and Season 3 felt like we picked up right where we left off with the same crew, the same cast, [and] some new additions. It feels like I get to go to work with my friends, and that's awesome.

A new vocation for Nicky

At the beginning of the premiere, we learn that Nicky has a new vocation — she's teaching martial arts. How did you feel about that development for her?

I was so excited. We've been like, "Nicky, do you work? How do you pay to live?" We've been saying since Season 1, "Nicky needs a job." I was very excited for Nicky to have that job and for her to take on the role of a modern Shifu and put into practice the things that we've watched her learn since Season 1 and pass that on to her students. 

What's interesting about it is that we've seen all of the struggles that Nicky has gone through, and we'll continue to see that throughout this season. Knowing that she has wisdom to pass on, even though she still goes through things, even though she's not perfect, is really encouraging to see from someone who's a leader.

Is her teaching something that will impact her story arc this season?

I think so. It definitely plays into a lot of that gray area that we're exploring this season. She's trying to be the best version of herself, but circumstances that we'll see happen throughout the season are going to challenge that. We're going to see new sides of Nicky, darker sides of Nicky, and it'll be interesting to watch all of that play out. She doesn't take her role as a teacher lightly, and that's part of what the internal struggle is that we'll see this season.

Getting Ryan and Althea into fighting shape

We also saw Althea and Ryan get into the action a little bit in the premiere. They do a little punching and kicking of their own. Is there any possibility we'll see Nicky training them?

When we pick back up this season, it's four months later, and we read between the lines, and we assume that Nicky's been trying to get the "Shooby" gang to know some basic skills so that they can defend themselves in case Nicky's tied up with seven goons and can't get to them. After what happened to Ryan [who was shot] in Season 2, Nicky got really freaked out and didn't want the people that she loves to be defenseless in the face of danger, especially because she's knowingly and willingly still the vigilante of Chinatown and helping out her community, and she can't convince her siblings not to help her.

They love it. We know that Ryan loves to get in on the action. It totally makes sense that she's been teaching them a couple things just so that they can take care of themselves in dire moments. That scene is so funny. When I saw that, I couldn't stop laughing. They're so cute.

Missing Henry and meeting a new love interest

Eddie Liu, who has played Henry for two seasons, is in the premiere, but he's off on his own journey now. We know that he and Nicky have been broken up for several months. Was it difficult for you as an actor to adjust to him not being there after you'd spent so much time with him, especially last season?

Yes. It felt like there was something missing, because he was my work husband for two seasons. Most of his scenes were with me, and I would say 85% of my scenes had him involved. We felt his absence on set. His goofiness and his energy [were] missed.

Once we finally see him again in Episode 3, things felt normal again and snapped back into place. It helped me as Nicky to be like, "Henry's gone and so is Eddie. Eddie's not here right now." It was very meta, very layered.

Despite Nicky's heartbreak over Henry, Bo, played, as you said, by Ben Levin was introduced, presented a new potential love interest. Is Nicky ready for the possibility of something new?

I don't think she thought she was ready because the Nicky-Henry departure wasn't a clear breakup. Henry was like, "I got to go figure this out," and Nicky, of all people, totally understands that. She did that when she went to China. In fact, she did it to [her former boyfriend] Evan [played by Gavin Stenhouse], but without any warning. She disappeared for three years. At least Henry was like, "I got to go." There wasn't a clear breakup; it was two people understanding each other.

Nicky didn't know if she should wait for him, if she should move on, but we do find out that she hasn't spoken to him in four months and that it's been really hard on her. When Bo comes in, and he's hot, and Althea's like, "Go for it, girl," Nicky's like, "Okay, fine." As Olivia, I'm like, "Go, Nicky. You started dating the first boy who said 'hi' to you after three years with all women at a monastery. You need to see what else is out there."

Pei-Ling's surprise return

One of the most astonishing developments in the premiere, which was hinted at in the finale of last season, was the reappearance of Pei-Ling. Nicky is insisting it's really her. Can we trust her?

No, probably not. Nicky wants it so badly to be Pei-Ling but because of all the stuff that went down in Season 2, there is that underlying danger that maybe it's not her, maybe it's [villain] Xiao, maybe it's too good to be true. As much as Nicky wants it to be, she is wary, and we're going to see her struggle with that, we're going to see all the characters struggle with that this season.

For two seasons, we've seen Pei-Ling largely as a ghost that only Nicky could see. What's it been like to have Vanessa Kai, who plays Pei-Ling, become someone who all the characters are able to interact with?

Maybe two weeks ago, we were all sitting in a green room together, and it was most of the cast together, including Vanessa, which is rare because most of her stuff through the first two seasons [was] with me and Yvonne [Chapman, who played Zhilan]. I was like, "Vanessa, it's really nice to see you interacting with everyone and also out of that orange outfit." It's been fun to watch her character get to know the other characters. Nicky's been talking about her for two seasons with these people who didn't get to meet her, and now everyone gets the joy of the Pei-Ling wisdom and getting her in their lives.

Mia's at a monastery now. Will we see her again later in the season?

We might. We haven't yet, but it's very possible that things get very dire, and we might need to take a trip and enlist the help of a cousin for that.

New magical discoveries are coming

Especially last season, "Kung Fu" had a ton of magic mixed in with some of its more grounded storytelling. This season, with Pei-Ling's return in particular, should we expect the story to involve a lot of magic as well?

Definitely. Our writers are super good at balancing the magic and the "grounded," Kheng [Hua Tan, who plays Mei-Li Shen] likes to call it, the heaven and the earth. All the magic stuff is that very airy, heavenly vibe, and then all the Shens, who are "normal," are the grounded force. What makes the show work is that the magic affects the people and the characters that we care about and affects their real life. Our writers are so good at balancing that and weaving that in the story. I will tease that some new characters discover some magical things about themselves as well. It's not just the Shens anymore, [and] it's not just Nicky.

Teasing what's next for Nicky in Season 3

Is there anything else you can tease about what's coming up for "Kung Fu" Season 3 and especially Nicky's journey?

I read an outline for an episode we haven't shot yet, Episode 8, and I'm super excited for the audience to see it because I was screaming reading it and weeping because the audience knows something that Nicky doesn't. We see Nicky go to a really dark place, and that's very exciting for me to start to explore that side of her because we've gotten so comfortable with these characters, and the writers have explored many layers already, so we're going to see new colors from every character this season. This season gets very dark, but still has so much heart and so much humor. We keep getting better, and this season is a testament to that.

You're going into your third year of playing Nicky. What keeps playing this character fresh for you and keeps you enjoying this role?

The writing, it starts there. Kheng, who plays Mei-Li, and I talk about it all the time. We feel very invigorated by the storylines that we're seeing. Our writers are amazing. They give us these really magical storylines, but also very human, and as an actor, it's fun to explore all of these different emotions and think about how a human being would react to this magical thing that happens to them. The stories are what keep me excited about Nicky [and] excited about the show. It starts there.

The third season of "Kung Fu" airs on The CW on Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET. New episodes are available on the CW website and app the following day.

This interview was edited for clarity.