Olivia Cheng was already aware of who Ah Toy was before being cast to play her in Cinemax’s martial arts drama Warrior. Cheng will likely be familiar to audiences for her role as Linda Park in Arrow and The Flash, though others will remember her from the SYFY series Eureka and Netflix’s expansive (loosely) historical drama Marco Polo. More recently, Cheng has appeared on another SYFY series, Deadly Class, as Master Gao.
But playing a real-life figure is quite different from the characters Cheng has played in the past. Thankfully, the actor describes herself as a “history nerd,” which meant she was already aware of the independent Chinese woman who became a madam in San Francisco in the 19th century. Warrior being what it is (that is, a highly stylized action-drama that unfolds in a heightened world) Cheng would have some freedom with her and the show’s interpretation and fictionalization of Ah Toy, but the actor was till eager to see the how the character could help break certain stereotypes.
In a recent interview with Screen Rant, Cheng discussed her approach to the role of Ah Toy, her fears regarding the character’s overarching storyline, and how pleased she is with where the show is taking the character in season 2.
“I am a history nerd. I actually knew about Ah Toy even before this project. And I was really intrigued by a fictionalized version of Ah Toy. I was also really intrigued by the caliber of people behind the project. I knew anything coming from the HBO, Cinemax family and you're going to sit up and take it seriously. And when you have people, like all the people I mentioned previously involved, it definitely helps you as an actor take a leap of trust and take a leap of faith into a project. And I'm really glad I did because I certainly had some fears about playing Ah Toy.
I was very worried about what direction they would take her in. But now that we're nearing the end of filming season two, I have to say I'm so excited for people to see what's coming and I'm so excited that both Dianne [Doane] and I, specifically as the female Asian characters on the show have this opportunity to take characters who on the surface and may sound like stereotypes and tropes and be able to view them with complexity and humanity and hopefully break people's expectations of where these characters might normally go."
One of the aspects of her character Cheng is most excited for audiences to discover is how Ah Toy was able to rise to the level of power and relative autonomy that she has. It’s Cheng’s hope that Warrior will be on long enough to explore Ah Toy’s background as fully as the character deserves.
“I think for Ah Toy when we meet her, it almost creates so much more mystery and intrigue about how she rose to the level that she risen to. Very early on, of course, we see that situation for Chinese immigrants. We see that it's mostly men. We see that those men are at an incredible social economic disadvantage, are incredibly mistreated, outright abused, and murdered. So the question of how a female Chinese of that time could obtain any kind of agency and independent wealth creates a lot of questions that I think our show will hopefully answer over time.”
Warrior continues Friday, May 24 with ‘They Don’t Pay Us Enough to Think’ @10pm on Cinemax.