'Warrior' actress Olivia Cheng describes her character Ah Toy as 'a bad criminal in her own right'
In an exclusive with MEAWW, the actress stressed on the importance of representing Asian characters as multi-dimensional in US shows.
Olivia Cheng's character, Ah Toy, in the Cinemax series 'Warrior' is a character we have not seen on screen for a very long time. Based on the writings of Bruce Lee, 'Warrior' has been following Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) who finds himself amidst the Tong Wars when he immigrates to San Francisco, sometime during the 19th century. He comes across Ah Toy, a fiercely free spirit who is beautiful in her appearance and precise with her sharp-edged strokes at enemies. Ah Toy, unlike most conventional characters, sheds away the shyness that is often burdened upon any female character and emerges as a warrior who does not need an army to defend her.
In a brief conversation with MEA WorldWide, Cheng spoke about her journey with the character, who is a Cantonese-born American prostitute and madam in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.
However, Cheng's character surpasses that identity since on the show she is not just another prostitute, she is a weapon who keeps her powers to herself unless she sees the need of them to be unleashed. At the same time, we have seen Ah Toy's incredible capacity to look right into a person's soul and keep track of their fears and their vulnerability. This is the point where Cheng found her meeting ground with Ah Toy.
She explained, "Ah Toy is someone who looks around the room and is very good at reading people. I am someone who is a very empathetic person, so I really notice the pattern of behavior. I really notice how there maybe inconsistencies between what they say and what they do. I just naturally take in a lot of that information. That's definitely one thing I was able to lock in when I was first exploring Ah Toy."
As we come across her character on the show, Ah Toy at first treats Ah Sahm as a regular customer, but the moment she notices that unlike other men he was interested in what he was looking for rather than being tempted by what was being offered, she immediately takes an interest in him.
Ah Toy was the one who explained to him the difference between China and Chinatown when she senses the old ethical submission in Ah Sahm.
However, this is also not the first time that Cheng is playing a character who is complex. In Netflix's 'Marco Polo' she played the role of Mei Lin who almost serves as a double agent in order to save her daughter. Although both Ah Toy and Mei Lin share the characteristic dauntlessness in them, it is their intention to fight that sets them apart. Cheng explained, "On the surface when you just hear about them, they sound very similar. But when you actually get into the characters, Mei Lin was a woman who had to face bondage within a system that has institutionalized, she was a mother who was blackmailed, a prisoner of war, almost immediately. She has to survive and pave her way through the system."
She continued, "With Ah Toy, she is a bad criminal in her own right. She is independent which is actually an incredible feet for women at that time- Chinese or White. With Ah Toy, I, as an actress have more opportunity to show different colors of gravity and humor in a way that I was not able to find in Mei Lin. So I think the circumstances and time period are so different, and as our show continues I hope fans are able to see the difference."
Finally, she spoke about how the show is truly marking a difference in the representation of Asian characters. "The difference with our show is we are moving away from one-dimensional undeveloped characters, and we are creating characters that are multi-faceted, complex, flawed, walking contradictions in many cases. That is what makes them very human and very relatable."
As Cheng explained, every character in 'Warrior' - be it Ah Sahm, Ah Toy, or Dianne Doan's Mai Ling - have their own flaws that they are preparing to cover up in front of the world. At the same time, these characters are not at all ethical as they count their moments and make sure that their needs are put first, just like ordinary people.
'Warrior' currently airs on Cinemax.
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