EXCLUSIVE | ‘Warrior’ actress Dianne Doan drops major spoilers on Mai Ling's relationship with Ah Sahm and Ah Toy
In our exclusive interview, Dianne Doan spills the beans on Mai Ling's chemistry with her brother Ah Sahm and a newfound bond with Ah Toy
She is bold and beautiful. Mesmerizing with her fierce eyes and silver tongue, Dianne Doan brings the perfect amount of sass and serendipity to Mai Ling — head of the Long Zii Tong. Three years and two seasons later, the 30-year-old Canadian actress gleams in the shadow of her success. Did you know she is one-eighth Chinese with roots from her grandma? Just like her character on ‘Warrior’, Dianne is confident and has a clever way with words; her persona intertwined with humility and heroism.
Dianne got her first big break with her stellar performance as Mulan's daughter, Lonnie, in Kenny Ortega's ‘Descendants’. But this was not the first time she had a brush with her passion for cinema. Born and raised in Abbotsford, British Columbia outside of Vancouver, she stepped into the world of drama at nine and never looked back. After ‘Descendants’, she made a name with her character Yidu in season four of History Channel's ‘Vikings’ and her recurring role as Kora in Season Seven of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’.
In our exclusive interview, she narrates the journey of Mai Ling and fore-glimpses into her power struggle as the Long Zii leader. Talking to MEAWW about the Cinemax show, she also spills the beans on her character's relationships with Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) and teases a major spoiler involving her and Hop Wei's brothel boss Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng).
How did you land the role of Mai Ling — the wife of Long Zii, who is actually Ah Sahm's sister, Xiaojing — on ‘Warrior’?
I got the role in 2017... so if we look back, I can't believe it's been three years since we filmed the pilot. It came to me like any other role but the interesting part was before I even got to audition, I actually had the opportunity to talk to Jonathan Tropper — our writer and creator of the show — as I had some questions about the role, especially about its caliber with Bruce Lee writing it and Shannon Lee producing it.
We had this lovely conversation, talking about his vision for the show, and that call led to the most intense 24 hours. I remember staying up all night reading the pilot and submitting my tape. We found out a couple of days later that they were interested. Not even a week went by and I was already on the plane heading to Cape Town to shoot the pilot. So it was definitely a whirlwind experience for me. I think I was the last to be cast on the series regular list. We shot the pilot, had a couple of months off, and then we went back for the rest of the season... back in 2018.
What is the one thing about the character that attracted you and resembled your personality?
Um, it's hard because obviously, we're very, very different. I really admired Mai Ling's trajectory in the first season — we see her rise to power. I don't necessarily agree with how she got there, but the reasons why she needed to be a person in power really resonated with me... it was to protect herself. She probably went through horrendous things before riding along with the Tong. And I admired her strength and the need to never be a victim. How she and I are similar? Olivia Cheng (who plays Ah Toy in ‘Warrior’) actually asked me this question on our Instagram Live the other day. Mai Ling is very loyal and I would say that would be the same for me as well.
Now, as you just mentioned that in the first season, we see her rising to power, and taking on the leadership role... What do you think about Mai Ling's transformation and how strong will she get moving forward in Season 2?
In Season One, she had to choose between the Tong and her brother Ah Sahm. Obviously, she chose her Tong and that relationship cracked and disintegrated. As we pick up in Season Two, I interpreted the character's focus and struggle to keep that power. Her goal was always to be at the top, but I don't necessarily think she knew what it meant until she got there. [Remember the scene where Mai Ling tells Li Yong: “I've had nothing before and I've sacrificed too much to ever have nothing again,” in Episode 4 ‘If You Don't See Blood, You Didn't Come to Play’]
She is struggling to maintain the trust within her Tong. A lot of actions that happened in Season Two were not necessarily Mai Ling's choice. But she's got so many people under her, doing her dirty work, so it's hard for her to control everything. You have Walter Buckley (Langley Kirkwood) pulling her in one way, Zing (Dustin Nguyen) of the Fung Hai pulling her another way and Li Yong (Joe Taslim) on a different path. She's trying to find a balance. On the outside, it looks like she is on top, but I feel like, inside, it's still that struggle to figure out how to deal with the power.
Since the beginning, Mai Ling has always yearned for more control and dominion over the Tong... and even her partner. In Season One, we saw how she killed Long Zii. Can she do that again with her lover Li Yong to get more control over the Tong?
It's really interesting you thought that. I think it's a different power relationship between her and Long Zii in Season One versus her and Li Yong in Season Two. Throughout Seasons One and Two, you'll notice Li Yong and Mai Ling have always been on the same level in terms of power. They're behind the scenes — him, the right man of Long Zii and me as a wife. But as Mai Ling slowly rose to power in Season One, she surpassed Li Yong. I don't think Mai Ling would necessarily have to kill him in order to gain more control. If anything, Li Yong has been a source of support and maybe a voice of reason. So no, I don't think that needs to happen. The one thing that Mai Ling is yearning through Season Two is for that relationship with Ah Sahm to be mended.
Absolutely. In Episode 5 ‘Not for a Drink, a F*ck, or a G**damn Prayer’, she goes to fix things with Ah Sahm but he refuses saying, “Your brother died the night your ordered your boyfriend to kill him.” Now, obviously, he is angry and has threatened to destroy Long Zii and everything she cares about. But, is there a chance for the two to get back and fight together... for the greater good?
I would hope so. (Grins) We always dream of things and we never know... so if we had a season three, I would hope that's where the story would lead. [So, Mai Ling and Ah Sahm don't reconcile in season two. Sigh!] Of course, the writers love these cliffhangers and leaving everyone wanting more, so I think right now in Season Two, Ah Sahm doesn't see any way back. He has been so scorned. He almost physically died from the fight. So, in his immediate future, I don't think there is any sign of getting back together.
For the greater good? I think you'll have to wait and see because there's still two episodes left. I do believe there is a sense of coming together and fighting for the greater good. It's just not necessarily how, maybe, Mai Ling would want it. That's not a spoiler but hopefully you'll see what I mean when you watch it. However, as an actor playing Mai Ling, I would love to see the two of them teaming up together and can't wait for that to happen.
Will her past as Xiaojing in flashbacks ever come back to haunt her to show her bond with Ah Sahm, maybe when they were younger? Is that something that we would ever get to see? Because, I personally feel, that it could help bring a change in their relationship.
You know, in Season One, they did such a beautiful job on that little snippet of those flashback scenes to show how Ah Sahm came to be. There's so much going on, in their present time in Chinatown, with the immigration, the government and everything against them right now. I don't think that the past would come into play necessarily. But, hey I agree with you. (Laughs). My favorite scenes from Season One and Season Two would be filming with Andrew Koji and doing those Mai Ling-Ah Sahm scenes.
Another very interesting dynamic is when Mai Ling meets Ah Toy, and there's a kind of power struggle because both women have been at the top in their own arenas. When they came face to face with each other, Mai Ling almost threatens Ah Toy to bow down. Will we see that power struggle play out again?
Olivia and I were both very excited when we read that script... and realized our characters finally get to meet and exchange words because for almost two years of filming, we had become very close, but we didn't have a single scene together. Not only was it really exciting, the hilarious part was that complete awkwardness of that scene. You're right about the power struggle — which is not who Olivia and I are in our own personal relationships — so that was really, really fun to film. And we did that with Loni Peristere, who is one of my favorite directors on our show. He did a beautiful job.
I don't want to spoil too much, but ultimately, you could see on the faces of Ah Toy and Mei Ling, how they wanted to establish that power that even though they are at the top of their industries. Mai Ling is above automatically because she's the leader of a Tong. I will say that things transpire in Chinatown and the two may or may not be forced to come together. You'll have to watch it... but there is a big climax that will happen within Chinatown and a lot of relationships will change as we all have to fight for the greater good.
‘Warrior’ premeired on October 2, 2020 with season two and the last two episodes will air on Cinemax on Fridays from 10 pm ET to 11 pm ET. Catch ‘Enter The Dragon’ on November 27, 2020 and the season finale ‘Man On The Wall’ on December 4, 2020.