Season 3 of AMC’s Into The Badlands premieres on Sunday, April 22nd. Timothy Tau got the chance to sit down and talk with the show’s executive producer and star Daniel Wu on Season 3, his future plans and his views on the current state of media.
TT: So you’re in Ireland right now, Dublin?
DW: Yeah we’re in Dublin right now, trying to finish off the season. We’re on the last episode. Three more weeks and then we’re done. Then we’re out of here, we’ve been here nine months already.
TT: Wow. You guys also shot Season 2 in Dublin, right?
TT: Awesome. So you are about to wrap the Season 3 finale?
DW: Yeah, we’re about to wrap the Season 3 finale right now.
TT: So generally has there been any difference or major changes in how you shot Season 3 versus Season 2?
DW: Well story-wise, it’s a completely different season compared to last season. We have a whole bunch of new actors, Babou Ceesay (who plays The Pilgrim), Lorraine Toussaint (who plays Cressida), Ella Rae Smith (who plays Nix), Lewis Tan (who plays Gaius Chau), Dean Charles-Chapman (who plays Castor). A bunch of other actors. Quentin [as the main villain] died last season so there’s a new character called Pilgrim and all his group of people come into the Badlands and want to take over so they become a new nemesis to be defeated. The themes are similar in that we get more into the dark chi – they all have that issue, they all have got that power, they are all looking for that power – and so we’re diving deeper into that aspect of the story that we sort of teased from Season 1 and Season 2.
TT: Got it. So in the trailer, there’s a scene where we see MK join The Pilgrim.
DW: Right. And then there’s also this element of Sunny being a single dad. So he’s also dealing with that as well. He’s dealing with these forces coming in but he’s also trying to be a Dad, trying to protect and take care of his son at the same time.
TT: So Lewis Tan is joining the cast as Gaius Chau, the brother of Baron Chau. So is it part of the storyline for Season 3 that the different clans or the two main factions left are warring against one another?
DW: Yeah, the story picks up where the Widow’s clan, the Butterflies, are still fighting Chau’s clan – and those are the only two clans left. There is sort of this struggle of power for control of the Badlands. But once Pilgrim comes in, he brings in this whole new element – he’s a whole new enemy. And he sort of shakes the story up. There’s a war going on, with Sonny dealing with his situation and all of them realizing that they need to be somewhere else.
TT: As for the returning cast, it looks like Nick Frost, Sherman Augustus, Orla Brady, Stephen Lang, Ally Ioannides, etc. will be back - we’ll also be seeing them?
DW: Yeah, you’ll get to see them but as I was saying before, their relationships have changed. So they have to face that as well, they have to accept that, which becomes a critical story plot point. But yeah, a lot of the original cast members are back. Obviously Quinn is not back, Veil is not back, but everybody else is: Tilda, The Widow, Moon, Bajie, MK, the main players are back and will be joining in on the story.
TT: And at the end of Season 2 there was that scene where Bajie/Nick Frost goes to that tower and activates a signal, can you maybe hint on what that might be?
DW: Sure, I can’t give you too much but all I can say is that what he was expecting was somebody from Azra to contact him or a call back from Azra but what it did was attract Pilgrim and his group and actually brings in a whole bunch of trouble.
TT: You mentioned earlier Sunny having to take care of his infant son Henry. What do you feel are the overlying themes for Season 3?
DW: I think the overlying themes for Season 3 really revolve around the “dark chi” from Azra, and we dig into Azra much more now, and because of that you find out more about Sunny’s past, which is an element you don’t know about because as shown in Seasons 1 and 2, Sunny came to Quinn as an abandoned kid, and he had a life before that, his past before that is revealed – which also relates to his attempt at being a good dad because if he is trying to be a good father he also has to escape a violent past; so the idea is whether he can really escape his past and his character. Thus, the question becomes whether he can escape that past or not, and this becomes a question for the whole season.
TT: As compared to Season 2 -
DW: Season 2 was more about Sunny going back to the Badlands and getting his revenge. Season 3 is now about how Sunny can move on from what happened in Season 2, which forces him to become someone completely different.
TT: So it sounds like a connection with Sunny’s own past and his own roots will help him raise his infant son.
DW: Yeah, it – the burden of raising his son is also a curse to him as well. He became a Dad because of the past and he has to rectify the events that led to that in order to move on.
TT: More about the production, are you continuing the same action choreography and direction from Stephen Fung just like last season? And is he directing several of the episodes?
DW: Yeah, this season is 16 episodes. Much longer than last season. We’ve been here almost nine months now. So we sort of had to break it up. So (Master) Didi came in for the first half. And then we had Andy Chang, who did a lot of the fights from last season as well. So half and half, we split it up a bit. It’s still the same group of guys though, really. We still had the fight unit going with the drama unit, the fight unit going at all times. A crew of like 300 people to make this thing work. Very complicated, very crazy, and to make it work over nine months was really challenging.
TT: Did you have to step up the fight training? The existing cast was probably already used to the training but how did the new cast members adjust to the regime?
DW: We had a fight camp again like we did before for the previous season, we got everybody into shape and then started the season. And the thing different for this season was that we had trainers available for actors that weren’t working so that they could keep in shape throughout the season. Because you can’t go to a fight camp for a few weeks and then not do anything because you won’t fight for a month or two. You’ve gotta keep in shape during that time and can’t come in cold and just do a fight. You have to keep in shape and all that stuff before you get into it, so we specifically had a trainer that looked after the actors to make sure that they were all good and ready [to go] for the fight scenes.
TT: Any interesting martial arts featured this season?
DW: Because there are so many fights this season, our main goal was to keep it fresh, keep it live and keep it going. So we tried to make each fight totally different than the ones before. Or something different than the season before. We’re still doing homages to different classic kung fu fights from the past, but we’re also doing pretty new things as well. For example, the first fight that Sunny has this season takes place in this tiny little RV where he’s off the grid taking care of his son and these four nomads try to come in and attack him. And it’s really a bar brawl, a close fight, no wire-work; it’s just brutal and really real. The fight is kind of made to portray Sunny’s state of mind as not really wanting to fight anymore but being forced to because of the situation he’s in. And the place that he’s in. And much more is at stake because he’s protecting his son now. He’s angrier, he’s a little more raw. “If you’re gonna fuck with me, I’ll fuck with you” – that kind of mentality, whereas before he was a trained fighter, he was a soldier, and he was being sent off to fight – now, everything at stake is his son, which is ultimately what he has to protect. So he has to fight for his life and his son’s as well.
DW: So there are so many amazing fights this season because the season is so long and there are so many new characters. There’s all kinds of different fights. And because there are characters with dark chi, there are a lot of kind of fantastical fights but there are also some very real and hardcore raw and visceral fights. So it’s all mixed up together. And there’s some comedic fights like kind of Jackie Chan style…
TT: With Nick Frost?
DW: Yeah, Jackie Chan-esque style with using props and things like that. And this is not a spoiler but there will be a fight with Nick Frost where he uses an octopus as nunchakus.
TT: Haha, awesome.
DW: So there’s a lot of cool shit happening, you know?
TT: Changing tracks, congratulations on Tomb Raider and Geostorm – are there any other projects coming up for you, film-wise, that you can talk about?
DW: Not really at the moment. But I’ve been working for two years straight, so I requested to have the summer off. And maybe during that time I’ll think about what I’m going to do next. I’ve been working a bit crazy for the past two years. Basically before the break between Season 1 and Season 2 [of Badlands] I starred in a Hong Kong film, jumped right into Season 2, and after that, jumped right into Tomb Raider and then I did a reality show in China and then came right into Season 3. So I’m beat. And I need some time off, haha. That’s the priority at the moment.
TT: Definitely. I was also wondering your thoughts on the current state of Asian American cinema and maybe Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood cinema, e.g. with the recent news of Marvel’s Black Panther really doing amazing at the box office and breaking all sorts of records left and right, showing how films featuring predominantly minority casts can perform quite successfully. In China you have Wolf Warrior 2, Operation Red Sea, Detective Chinatown 2, etc., but do you think Asian American cinema featuring Asian American talent (directors, writers, cast, crew) will ever have something like Black Panther or will that take time to develop?
DW: First, Black Panther’s precursor is a comic book that people knew about before, right? So you need to start laying down that foundation first. And then as things enfold and develop – I think we’re getting there, we’re moving in that direction, but we’re not quite there yet – I mean, I think the African American struggle in film started way before the Asian American struggle started so there were African Americans first and then there were Asian Americans…and we’ll arrive at some point, you know? So it’s there, I see it in the cards at some point – but it is also something where I think we’re not right there [just] yet. But things like Mulan coming up, that’s going to be an all-Asian cast, so if that’s successful that’ll pave the way for other projects like that.
TT: Also Crazy Rich Asians from Jon Chu –
DW: Right, which is slightly different because it’s not a superhero Black Panther type of thing. Not to detract from that film [Crazy Rich Asians], but to me that might be like a Joy Luck Club because when that came out, everyone thought that there was going to be all these new stories from Asian American film but it [Joy Luck Club] didn’t really do anything after it came out. So those types of movies are good on their own but in terms of larger commercial successes, it has to be a big, big, tent-pole like Black Panther. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a big blockbuster film, its more its own thing, you know?
TT: How do you view the state of those cross-China productions, e.g. Pacific Rim II, which recently featured more Chinese characters e.g. Jing Tian, Max Zhang, and a storyline based in China versus or compared to the token Chinese characters/scenes, e.g. from something like Iron Man 3.
DW: I think that is a sign of Hollywood realizing that you can’t just sprinkle in people and think that just because if they meet a quota requirement, they’re going to have success in China. They really have to put in real actors that have presence in China, that have a following in China, give them roles that have an actual bite to it, and not put them third-billing and like the 20th character down the line: you’ve got to give them significant roles. And they’re realizing that now with the failures of past experiments. And now that will give them sort of a schedule to follow, which will push that movement that we were talking about earlier…to making that movie that we were talking about earlier as well.
TT: Certainly. What are your views now with Badlands getting traction, do you have any long-term perspectives on the portrayal of Asians in mainstream media? What are your feelings 10 years from now on how Asians will be viewed in TV, on film and in other forms of media?
DW: Its changing now, and it’s becoming more of what it should be. And so, five or ten years down the line, we’ll just be integrated into any kind of storytelling. So just as you’ll see Blacks or Latinos in other stuff, you’ll see Asians in other stuff and having significant characters and I think it’s a natural organic process that’s going to happen – you can’t really force it, you can’t really push it hard, it’s just going to happen on its own. But with the #OscarsSoWhite thing happening, I felt that really did kickstart people to think more in terms of diversity and trying to reach out to more and other audiences. That also has to do with the people in power now. Like a lot of the people running the studios who are now in their late 40s or 50s, they grew up in a more diverse environment. Like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, those old guys in power – you can’t really blame them because the environment they grew up in was all-white. In the 1940s-60s, it was mostly white, and that was what there context was. Even if they were making movies in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, they’re upbringing was that. And so they just didn’t think in any other way. But for guys now, like Jon Glickman at MGM, he’s in his late 40s, so he grew up eating Chinese food and all that so he respects other cultures. It’s just more natural for them to integrate diversity into their projects now. And they are very aware of it. And they are doing their part to achieve that.
TT: Do you think they have learned the lessons of the consequences of whitewashing?
DW: Yeah, I mean I don’t know if they’ve learned the lesson but they definitely know that there’s a negative reaction to that. So that’s going to happen a lot less now, that’s for sure.