The Flash writer Kai Wu talks Writing for TV, Bryan Fuller, and Diversity

The Flash executive story editor and writer, Kai Wu, didn’t originally want to be a writer. While she was growing up she used to think, “I guess I’ll be a Red Lobster manager, or something like that.” Born in Taiwan, Kai moved to the US a the age of 7 and raised in a small American town. However, her life changed upon seeing the movie Casper on the big screen. The movie not only pushed her to become a writer, she loved it so much that she also has everyone’s favorite friendly ghost tattooed on her skin. Since then Kai has made a career as a television writer and risen in the ranks by making waves on critically acclaimed shows like the deceased Hannibal and CW’s hit show The Flash. Jes Vu caught up with Kai recently to chat about her career.

What made you end up in TV writing?

I kind of fell into by accident. I didn’t really watch TV growing up except for Full House—I only watched movies. I worked at Gersh Agency, was an assistant in the Motion Pictures Lit Department, and went into development—I wanted to be in features then. I was really lucky there was a point someone had to help someone out. One of my co-workers at Gersh—an old co-worker—knew a showrunner, and said I’m looking for a writer’s assistant [job]. And he knew I wanted to be a writer, so he passed my resume along. I interviewed and I was very lucky to get the job. But I had no idea what writer’s assistant meant in TV. So I took it. I hated television because of that routine of going in every day—and I was a crappy writer’s assistant because I had no idea what I was doing. But I was also the showrunner’s assistant, which I was great because of my agency experience, so they didn’t fire me, thank goodness! After that, I didn’t want to be in TV again, but then I got a job on Burn Notice as Matt Nix’s assistant. I learned so much there, and from then, TV popped for me a little. People were responding to my TV samples more than my features, so I just went with it.

Your first staff writing gig was on Hannibal for Bryan Fuller—How did you get involved in Hannibal as well as The Flash?

I was, and I still am Bryan Fuller’s biggest fan. As a fan, I was obsessed with his work. Wonderfalls is my favorite television show, and I loved Dead Like Me. Through all my assistant jobs, I had met this woman named Kath Lingenfelter—an amazing writer—she wrote on Pushing Daisies. I knew Hannibal had gotten picked up, and I asked Kath if she would pass my resume on because I wante to be a writer’s assistant for Hannibal hoping that there would be this show called Mockingbird Lane. Bryan was at NBC, and I was hoping he could staff me for Mockingbird Lane. So I went to interview Bryan and Jesse Alexander for Hannibal. Miraculously, they offered me a staff writing job.

What was that feeling like getting your first gig?

I’d worked so many years and I never worked freelance—no one ever promoted me. [Bryan Fuller] didn’t have to. There was no reason for him to give me a chance, but he did. I was ecstatic! On top of that, it was Bryan Fuller. I’m like his biggest fan, so I was all smiles. Like wow. It’s a little surreal. So I got on Hannibal and very quickly you realize that it’s work too.

Now you’re currently on The Flash. Had you read The Flash comics or watched any of DC Comics’ animation before getting staffed on The Flash?

Before the job?—No. The night before the meeting? —a crap ton. It was really tough only because they literally asked “Can you come and meet tomorrow?” From 8 o’clock that night to whenever the meeting was the next day. I had read so much. I knew Arrow because I was watching Arrow a little bit here or there. So I was trying to go back an episode, trying to watch episodes The Flash guest starred on, and then I was going through all the villains and history. It was overwhelming because I guess they reboot their continuity a lot—so I was like what was happening? There was a lot of information to be consumed in that in that 12 hour period. Whenever I go into a meeting, I have to be overwhelmed by information, so even if it doesn’t come out, it’s in my subconscious. I was still watching episodes and reading stuff an hour before the meeting.

Writer Kai Wu with Grant Gustin (Barry Allen/The Flash)


You’ve worked with very difference shows and networks. How is Hannibal handled vs working at the the CW and The Flash.

Even though Hannibal is [a network show], it’s essentially a cable show. I think it’s just how explicit it needs to be, and I think with Hannibal…it was a lot of subtext—we’re always talking about things without talking about them. Every conversation with Will and Hannibal was something about them…it’s all circular, which that’s the kind of writing I actually like. With CW…I assume it’s like what writing for a big studio movie is because you’re reaching a wider audience. You have to be clearer….There’s also 23 episodes instead of 13.

I think that was the hardest adjustment for me, but I don’t think one is better than the other. It’s just different ways of writing. What’s fun about the CW—[The Flash] is lighter, so we are able to go super light, just the funnest situations will get on the page. With Hannibal, it’s a lot more cerebral in your head. It doesn’t need to be a lot of plot, it just had to be a lot of beautiful philosophical talk. So that’s different too. And I think that’s the show.

How has being a woman of color play a role in the writers’ room for you?

I think The Flash…some people will disagree with me—I think The Flash is incredibly diverse in that half the staff is women, and that itself to me is diversity because people focus only on race. I am the only one on the show that is non-white, but I can offer something. But as a woman, I can also offer a point-of-view. I’m incredibly proud to be on a show with so many women.

That’s also more interesting that it’s a comic book-based show and there’s so many women involved.

Yes! And kudos to all the DC shows. Arrow has women…Legends of TomorrowSupergirl has a lot of women, so it makes me I’m think it’s great. It frustrates me a little bit when people focus just on race. We get a lot of comments like “we need a writer of a certain race…we need more diversity.” If you look at the statistics of Hollywood, women make up 30 percent. We [as women] are a minority group to men…to straight white guys. So that’s an accomplishment. To me, it’s a testament of [The Flash showrunner] Andrew Kreisberg in hiring so many women. Aside from that, I think it gets too narrow or people just focus on one group, to this one race. As to any other “diversity” trait that may qualify…if you’re a gay, white guy, to me, you’re “diverse.” You’re able to offer this outsider’s’ point-of-view….I think we’re making progress. Could there be more? Yeah.

Kai Wu with Victor Garber (Dr. Martin Stein on The Flash)


In that respect…how has TV changed since you first started your career as an assistant?

The way people write scripts. I remember going to a panel where Shonda Rhimes said if you write characters descriptions and you write everyone’s race out except for the white person—then you’re fired. Because it implies that white is the norm. So either you put a race for every single person—white, black, Asian—or you don’t at all. And that is something I notice I do too. Even for me as a minority, I still do it—Now, I’m very careful. If I’m naming race, I’m naming the white person as well because that’s not just a given. So I think [writing] is changing. Also, describing women not just by how they look. I mean, that is huge. I remember reading an old script I had and I was like “Good God, I can’t believe I’m doing it too!”—And I’m a woman too. So much of it is subconscious.

What advice do you have for those who want to be a writer like yourself?

Make sure you write. Because I think a lot of people don’t write. They’ll stop at one or two scripts. Also, my friends are going to hate me for this…with all the noise about diversity, and more women…yes, there’s all these things we can fix, but sometimes complaining about them without doing anything just doesn’t work because you’re relying on someone else to fix the problem.

If there’s a problem—and there is a problem—you keep on writing. If I get up there, I make sure it is balanced, so that’s how I can change it. Right now, don’t let those things deter you. Don’t focus so much on it. Be aware, but make sure when you have the chance, you’re fair and you’re even. I feel like there’s a lot of people that’s like “This is unfair!”—Life is unfair. Hollywood is definitely not a bureaucracy, so I have no idea what they were getting into. But you can do your part when you have the power.

With that final note, what advice would you give to people that you would have given to your younger self starting out?

I’ve seen a lot of assistants get bitter when people get ahead. They’ll be like “oh that person got ahead because of that connection.” Again, this is Hollywood. This is life—it’s not fair sometimes. Just stop worrying about other people, and worry about yourself. It took me a while too. You’ll carry a lot of negative energy, and I truly believe negative energy affects you. As soon as I let go of that, it’s kind of like “You know what? I need to focus on myself and not who got ahead of me.” It’s easier to say because in that time, you’re working so hard as an assistant, people are getting promoted before you—But that’s all just noise. At the end of the day, you’re doing this because you love telling stories, so go write your stories!

For more of Kai, follow her Twitter @chinoiskai! Otherwise, catch the season finale of The Flash tomorrow night, May 24 on the CW at 8pm ET/PT.


Images provided courtesy of Kai Wu

The Originals’ Lawrence Kao talks Kinjaz, Witches & the Pursuit of Acting

Being falsely accused and arrested for attempted murder on his 18th birthday may have been a blessing in disguise for actor/dancer Lawrence Kao—it solidified his pursuit in acting.

Born and raised in Hacienda Heights, this California native has been known in the dance scene on America’s Best Dance Crew with Kaba Modern and his time now with The Kinjaz. However, he can be seen more often pursuing his primary passion: acting. He’s appeared on shows like Hawaii 5-0, The Walking Dead, and soon—the CW’s supernatural drama The Originals. Kollaboration recently had the opportunity to sit down with him as he talked about Kinjaz, his role on The Originals, and his pursuit of the craft.


The Kinjaz were just announced to perform at Kollaboration Star next month in Los Angeles as special guest performers—How did you get involved with Kinjaz?
It all stems from me doing Kaba Modern in college. All our group of friends are dancers—Mike Song, Anthony Lee—he was on CADC—we were all friends and stuff. They’ve always wanted to create a group.

Kinjaz competed on America’s Best Dance Crew‘s comeback. What was it like sitting on the sidelines this time?
Dude, I thought it was awesome because, obviously, I had to do nothing. All I had to do was watch and support. These guys are guys I grew up with for a very long time, so it’s awesome to see them on such a big stage at the level they are at now knowing how we used to be when we were younger. It helps me appreciate it a lot and all the hard work they’re putting into it not just for themselves but for the whole team in general.

Muneer Katchi (left), Lawrence Kao (center), David Reivers (behind), & Vijaya Kumari (right) in the film CIrcle

Has your dance background helped in the development of your acting career?
It’s funny—after ABDC and after the show—I started going to auditions because the dance stuff was done now. But I had ABDC on my resume—and it was so popular at the time. At these acting auditions they were telling me to dance. So it was like “oh can you dance for us!” So then I took it off my resume. I set it aside because I felt like at that time, I didn’t want to be just known for dance. I had a really weird relationship with dance right after [ABDC.] I didn’t really enjoy doing it. I mean, I had a good time, but I didn’t really—but looking back at it now, I should have appreciated it more. But at that time, I was like “F— this shit—I want to focus my attention on doing acting” when I could have used dance to propel me toward bigger things. I feel like I had to separate it a bit, so I could go back to [dance.] So now [dance] is so cool. I still dance with Kinjaz.

What made you decide to pursue acting?
It’s a crazy story. So in Senior year [of high school], we were doing a Shakespeare play—Midsummer Night’s Dream—I was playing Lysander. We were doing previews for the English classes just so people can go and watch the show. During one of the previews, I get arrested in school. They take me to jail, and it’s my 18th birthday. I’m suppose to do this show at night, but I’m in jail for over 3 days…and what [the police] said I did was attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. So I’m trippin’ out. They’re telling me I’m going to be there for 40 years minimum. So that whole week, I was thinking: “What do I want to do with my life?”

But by the end of the week—for some reason—they let me go, and I got to go back to school. It was the closing night of my performance, and the director’s like “Hey, do you still remember your lines?” So I do the play and I’m on stage, and I’m like “Aw, man, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Because I’ve been thinking about it that whole week. I changed my major [to drama] and went to UC Irvine. I did some main stage shows at UCI—still loved it. I knew that after I graduated, it was still something I wanted to do. Dance obviously took over for a little bit. I love dancing—it’s still a passion of mine—but it was never as strong as my passion for acting.

Did they even find the guy who committed the crime?
They didn’t even find the guy. I don’t even know what the story was; there was a couple stories as to why I was arrested. The people who got really messed up pointed me out in a yearbook. Obviously, it wasn’t me. It was definitely a blessing in disguise—it really solidified what I wanted to do. I feel like knowing that at such a young age is so powerful.

You were recently cast on the CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals as Van Nguyen. What can you tell me about your character?
I’m a witch. And something happens. And I get pissed. So far, he’s been pretty ruthless and stubborn as to what he wants to accomplish in terms of revenge. He doesn’t want to get involved with what’s going on in the quarters, but because of certain situations, he feels like he’s forced to and he has to. I feel like he’s a very passionate character—he really believes in the things he believes in.

Danielle Campbell and Lawrence Kao on the set of The Originals
Danielle Campbell and Lawrence Kao on the set of The Originals

He’s sort of like your co-star’s character, Vincent (Yusuf Gatewood), in that sense.
Yeah, he’s sort of pushed toward that direction. He has no choice but to do that. I feel like once he gets that [goal], “It’s like alright, things are good again.” But then I feel like it’ll be him having to do more things. Obviously he’s pissed. Like he wants justice for what’s been wronged to him and his people.

What’s it like playing a supernatural character?
It’s fun. I love supernatural things. You get to use your imagination more. I feel like it’s still such a young character too—like early 20’s. I still think they think I’m pretty young, or I feel like the cast does when I’m walking around and talking about stuff. It’s such a roller coaster though. I never know how long my characters are going to last, so I’m sort of hanging on a string.

According to your social media, you’ve worked with Danielle Campbell (Davina) and Yusuf Gatewood (Vincent). How was it working with them?
They’re awesome. It’s just fun. Everyone is just super professional. Everyone’s on top of their game. It’s just fun working with a great cast and great crew. Everyone’s so nice and hospitable.

Have you watched the show?
I started watching it recently—maybe last month. I’m in the middle of the second season. I like it a lot. At first, I was like “oh man, this is going to be like a teen TV show.” But after a couple episodes, I was like “Wow, this is really good.” The actors are actually really damn good—That made me excited. Joseph Morgan is awesome. The sister (Claire Holt)—she’s awesome too.

Do you have any future projects lined up?
I’ve been asked to audition for a couple plays. There’s also a film I shot 5 years ago—it’s in post right now finally. I just ADR’d it maybe two months ago. It’s taken a while. But it’s a cool little movie. It’s a romantic comedy with me and some girl. I’m just waiting for it to come out.

You also had a strong YouTube background too. Can you tell me about that and are you still making online content?
Yeah, like 2 years ago when I was not booking anything—I was like, oh I got to make my own original content. I have a lot of dancer friends that choreograph a lot, and they’re always able to show what they can do [online]. I had a strong desire for people to see my storytelling capabilities and just me being able to act. That was fun. It lasted for about a year. I used to put stuff up constantly, and then I got busy, which is cool. But I still want to go back to YouTube doing stuff and creating content. But right now it’s just focusing on other things that are in the way or are happening right now.


For more of Lawrence Kao, follow him at @iamlawrencekao on Twitter and Instagram.

Also, be sure to catch his debut as Van the witch on The Originals this Thursday, October 15 at 9pm ET/8pm CT on the CW.


Photos Courtesy of Lawrence Kao

What’s in a Name? Asian-American Identity in From Dusk Till Dawn

Rich in action and featuring snake-like vampires, From Dusk Till Dawn may be one of the more racially nuanced series in television. Wait a minute—Did I say From Dusk Till Dawn? As in the series based on the 1996 Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez b-horror action film? Yes, you read that right!

From Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn is a supernatural crime series about two wanted criminals, brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (played with magnificent chemistry by DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz) who kidnap the Fuller family and use their RV to help them escape into Mexico. Chaos ensues as they are hunted down by local law enforcer Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) and are manipulated by the supernatural forces tied to the Mexican cartel.

With a strong number of Latino creatives in front and behind the camera, From Dusk Till Dawn has proven itself as one of the more racially nuanced shows in mainstream media. The television landscape is getting more diverse, and while that landscape is not perfect, it is progressively better. After all, Viola Davis became the first black woman to win Best Actress in a Drama Series in all of Emmy’s 67-year history. Shows like FOX’s Empire and CW’s Jane the Virgin, both dominated by a strong Black and Latino cast respectively, are earning nominations and awards. Meanwhile, ABC Network has 18 Asian series regulars this season and where three of their shows—Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Quantico—have one or more Asian lead.

Robert Patrick as Pastor Jacob Fuller, Madison Davenport as Kate Fuller, Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" Photography: Robert Rodriguez Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.
Robert Patrick as Pastor Jacob Fuller, Madison Davenport as Kate Fuller, Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

As a Vietnamese-American, I cling to every occurrence of Asian-American representation I see. I yearn to see more diverse faces in mainstream media because, like Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez said in the Washington Post, “that lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world. It really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be.” It’s why I appreciate shows like From Dusk Till Dawn having such a diverse cast. But more importantly, I appreciate the fact these characters aren’t fully defined by their race or ethnicity. As From Dusk Till Dawn director Joe Menendez told Nerd Reactor, their stories are universal, but it’s the specific elements that make their perspectives unique.

With From Dusk Till Dawn, I can’t help but pay particular attention to Scott Fuller, the only Asian-American character in the main cast. Who, much to my surprise, resonated with me much more than I initially realized.

In the series, Scott (played by Brandon Soo Hoo) is the teenage son to Jacob Fuller (Robert Patrick) and the younger brother to Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), having been adopted into the family at the age of seven from China. However, Scott is not simply a prop for the other characters, and the show is not afraid to delve into his specific experiences as an Asian-American transracial adoptee.

Warning: Minor spoilers for From Dusk Till Dawn season 2, episode 5 ‘Bondage.’

Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" Photography: Robert Rodriguez  Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.
Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Season 2, episode 5 marked a major development with Scott. In an emotional moment to reconnect with him, Kate confesses she resented him when he joined their family, and the heartbreaking truth that Kate’s resentment was rooted in his foreign-ness. She even admits that she was the reason everyone called him Scott instead of his birth name: Jian Jun. But it’s not that she couldn’t pronounce his name—she didn’t want to learn how to pronounce his name.

This aspect of Scott’s story resonated strongly with me, reminding me much of The Improper Bostonian’s interview with Orange is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba who as a child “asked [her] mother if [she] could be called Zoe” because “nobody ever knew how to pronounce [her] name.” The story is a rarity to see and hear on American television. From Dusk Till Dawn may be a fun supernatural action show, but this pivotal moment between Kate and Scott, took me multiple days to emotionally unload.

I was born with a Western name, while my Vietnamese surname is easy to read and pronounce. My surname isn’t Western, but it is simple and ambiguous enough that I’m rarely confronted about the foreign-ness of it. However my Vietnam-born refugee mother did give me a Vietnamese name: Thục Yên. Unlike my surname, it’s not as easy on the Western tongue, but I respond to its call just as quickly as if it was on my birth certificate. My western name was chosen for me by my mom, and the thought doesn’t escape me that she did so because it would be easier for me to assimilate in the New World.

This is why  I’m further enraptured by the show’s awareness. It doesn’t necessarily smear Kate as the antagonist of their relationship, but instead dives into the complexities of it. For Kate, her brother’s birth name was too different—he was too different, and that was bad. So she changed his name. As author David S. Slawson stated, “names are an important key to what society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.” Even though Kate was a child (and she’s aware that she was), she’s directly confronting her mistakes by acknowledging the consequences of her actions and how it affected her brother.

We cater to the Western ear, and rarely is it the other way around. As Uzo Aduba’s mother once told her: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn how to say Uzoamaka.” Learning how to pronounce someone’s name is the simplest form of respect and acknowledgement.

So it’s powerfully symbolic when Kate calls Scott by his birth name, Jian Jun, and tells him she loves him. In the words of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, it’s her “recognition of the individual to whom it belongs.” It’s like she’s giving back what she stripped of him—his identity—and truly accepting him for who and what Scott is and everything else that comes with it.

In the framework of From Dusk Till Dawn, names have a lot of power. They represent who we are, they are tools to help empower, and they are weapons to control. The name Scott rids Jian Jun of his foreign-ness just as the name Jesica was given to me to preemptively cater to the Canadians and American around us. Names are the core of our identity, defining our relationships to ourselves, to the people and the world around us, because as Thoreau wrote, “he [or she] who can pronounce my name aright, he [or she] can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.”


Featured Image: Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

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