It’s a well known fact that we here at Black Nerd Problems adore Warrior. It’s unique blend of genres and fantastic production has made it a stand out show of Spring 2019, so when we were given the opportunity to talk with Dianne Doan, the actress bringing Mai Ling to life, we pretty much jumped at the chance…
Black Nerd Problems: What does it mean to you help tell the story of 18th Century Chinese immigrants, based on Bruce Lee’s writing, in 2019 with Warrior?
Dianne Doan: I think it’s kind of the perfect time to be telling this story. There are a lot of amazing things in media in terms of inclusion and diversity. For me personally, to be able to tell this story of Chinese American immigration… it’s never been told before. I think Justin Lin mention that in history books it takes a couple of paragraphs or maybe half a page in the book. To tell the story in the way that we’re telling it, this poppy, pulp fiction Martial arts drama; it’s never been done before. Personally, it couldn’t have come in a better format.
I feel very honored and grateful to be a part of this project. Looking at our cast list, the first eight out of eleven series regulars are Asian, whether it’s Asian American or Asian Canadian, it’s such a diverse international cast. Turning up to the table and seeing so many familiar faces and relatable faces, it got emotional. There’s a movement right now, but to know that we’re one of the first out of the gate is incredible.
BNP: Specifically to your character, Mai Ling, her backstory and arc see her trading her life in exchange for her brother and eventually becoming this key player in the Long Zii gang. How do you prepare for such a complicated role and what elements of Mai Ling resonate with you?
Dianne: With Mai Ling, I wanted to make sure that I understood the time period and what rights we would have as women. The main thing that came across was not many women got to immigrate to America. You had to be either a purchased bride or a prostitute. For Mai Ling specifically, Jonathan and I came up with this backstory that what happened to Mai Ling, being married to a warlord and being abused and raped, that I have to escape to another world so I got on a boat and being a prostitute wasn’t an option. I’d never be in that vulnerable state again.
To find power in the Long Zii and to make sure that I would maintain power or garner more and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t like the typical Dragon Lady, a trope in my eyes, or a mustache twirling villain. I wanted to make sure that she was grounded and hope the audience could understand the past and see her brother mess up her plans and dealing with that with the different Tongs and the upcoming war between the Tongs and the war between the government and the Irish workers.
BNP: Mai Ling is essentially the power behind the Long Zii, as you mentioned, during a time where women were constantly underestimated, especially Chinese women. No one expected her to be this sort of “mastermind” character. In a show full of “warriors,” what is it like being the one who drives the plot in the back and foreground.
Dianne: It’s interesting. In the tong, she is married to the leader, but the rest of the world doesn’t know if she’s a trophy wife or her exact role. And given Mai Ling is older now and I would know better. And I think initially, we see Li Yong (Joe Taslim) is the right-hand man in the tong, and it begs question why is Mai Ling given the opportunity to call all the shots.
There is there is a beautiful story that comes from her need of power and in the end, take control. But I think it’s really fun playing her, because she’s so underestimated. She has a lot more plans than anyone expects. What is her plan? What is she doing? She’s clearly has this deeper power in her pocket. There’s a big spiderweb around Mai Ling, and it’s exciting reading a new script and seeing what the writers have planned for her.
BNP: At the time of the interview, we’ve about four or five episodes in. What are some of your favorite moments that you can talk about?
Dianne: My favorite episodes are four and seven, but my favorite scene that people have seen, it’s actually a simple scene, but it shows so much of the relationship and dynamic between the siblings of Ah Sahm and Mai Ling, but that carriage scene outside, where Ah Sahm leaves Penelope’s apartment and I kind of wrangle him into my carriage. It’s so civilized and it’s two real brother and sister bickering with each other. It was so fun to play. Any scene with Andrew Koji is always great. I think it’s important that it shows the dynamic between the two.
BNP: Did you find it challenge to work with the historic set pieces with the different lexicons and languages switching, all of the different elements that you weren’t necessarily familiar with.
Dianne: No. Not at all. With the language barrier, the show editors and writers have used language as such a clever tool to weave you in and out of the experience. As the audience, you’re watching from the outside and then get immediately immersed into Chinatown. All of the costumes and set pieces made it easier to work, because you were in the world. We weren’t working with green screen, there were tangible things you can touch and feel to transport back to the 1800’s.
BNP: You could say there’s an authenticity to it?
BNP: For anyone somehow still on the fence, why should they tune into Warrior this spring?
Dianne: I think, personally, there’s nothing really like it on TV. We’ve said it before. It’s like Gangs of New York meets Kill Bill. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s martial arts and action with drama and elements of comedy, and tie Bruce Lee’s name it kind of sparks anyone’s reaction to what the could be. And the fact that we have the stamp of approval… It’s this world that’s never been shown before.
What have you thought of the show?
BNP: Oh. I was entirely in the love from the moment I started watching. The opening Ah Sahm beating up a racist white police officer was very cathartic in this day and age, I’ve been very invested in how it turns. It’s been my honor to interview you today.
Dianne: Thank you so much. And I hope you stay tuned. Episodes nine and ten are pretty juicy.
BNP: Oh, I will be.
See Diane on Warrior playing on Cinemax now, with new episodes on Friday nights.