Episode 7 of Cinemax’s Warrior – “The Tiger and the Fox” is a pivotal episode in the series that will reverberate throughout the remainder of the season and continue to be felt going forward. This episode is so important that instead of my usual review and recap, I reached out to actor Rich Ting, who plays Bolo, arguably the most important character in this episode. Rich was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me about his background before acting, why he was always meant to play Bolo, and his thrilling scene in The Tiger and the Fox. I’m so thankful that Rich took the time to speak with me, and I was truly amazed by his incredible personal story, all of his talents and accomplishments, and most of all, how humble and gracious he is. Rich is truly the kind of person anyone, in Hollywood, law, or business, should want to work with and be like.
Please be aware, if you haven’t watched episode 7 of Warrior yet, you shouldn’t read this interview! SPOILERS!
This interview was edited for clarity.
Q: Rich – Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s start with your background – You were a four sport varsity athlete in high school, you played Division I football at Yale and you have a JD/MBA. Rich, are you the perfect Asian?
Rich Ting: Not according to my parents (laughing). I’m the oldest in my family, so I’ve always been a momma’s boy. Mom has been supporting me emotionally and mentally, and has been that strong foundation. The reason I joke about that is that my dad’s philosophy – he’s second generation Chinese-American, and doesn’t speak Chinese, doesn’t use chopsticks, actually prefers Mediterranean food – he claims that he’s not a “Chinese dad”. Then he’ll tell me something like this – “You need to take the MCAT, apply to a U.S. med school and get in. Then do your residency, pass all your step 1, step 2, do your boards, and then [you can] tell me you don’t want to be a doctor.” And he’s telling me all this when I’m 18! So in his eyes, the first disrespect was not going to med school, I wanted to apply to law school, and I wanted to do the joint [JD/MBA] program. And then, once I got out of that and was able to get a job in LA, then the second conversation was that I want to do stunts, because I got offered a really cool stunt job in the beginning of my career. I took that opportunity to learn on-set etiquette. It’s like anything in life, we go to class, but nothing really prepares you until you get into a working environment. There’s no education like being on a live, multi-million dollar “A” film. You can’t teach that. To me that’s why I took that stunt opportunity. But then finally my dad accepted it, after he saw what I was doing and that I wasn’t just another kid trying to do it. I was actually doing it. I think they’re proud now. I don’t know if they’ve always been proud but I think my dad is finally on board. But it’s all good. It’s a good time, and I’m at a good place and my parents are both supportive, so it’s been a journey to say the least.
Q: When did you know that you didn’t want to be a lawyer and you want to go into acting?
RT: A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to be a full-time Division I college athlete and student, especially at a school like Yale. It was like working a full-time job and going to school full-time. Once I finished my football career and graduated, when I got into law school and business school, I wasn’t used to having this abundance of off time. I finished law classes at 1 or 2 and business classes don’t start until 7. I always had this fantasy of exploring the acting world for an extra-curricular, so I started diving into acting classes in graduate school. I decided to use it as my escape and really fell in love with it because I could express my creative side. Then it kind of evolved. I started modeling and doing commercial work. And then an opportunity presented itself while in school. There was a show called Beyond the Break and my commercial agent said that I should audition for this recurring character. I didn’t know what I was doing. I waited in the audition line – it felt like I was waiting to go on American Idol! But long story short, I ended up booking this recurring role, and that was the first time I was in front of a camera and cast and crew and I got the taste of it. And then it wasn’t until I moved back to LA after graduating, because I took a [law firm] job in LA, that I got presented with an opportunity to do stunts on a Warner Bros. project. I came to a crossroads then. Really, what motivated me was the feedback from two law firms I had [job] offers from. I met with them separately and was open with them about how I had been presented with another opportunity in film. Both partners of both law firms had the same response, which was so crazy to me. They said if they had an opportunity at my age to do something like that, they would do it. And if it didn’t work out, I could go back. So that was it.
Q: That’s awesome. And what was that Warner Bros. project?
RT: It was called Ben 10 (Race Against Time). It was based on a cartoon. What was so cool about that was that I got to play a character known as Heat Blast, which I later found out was a popular character. The director was Alex Winter, who is “Bill” from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was cool. We’re at Warner Bros., “Bill” is directing and I was playing Heat Blast. And it paid really well. But the problem is, in our industry, you may know what you’re doing for the next three months and then you don’t. So that’s the intimidating factor. But so far it’s worked out so I’m very blessed.
Q: What a story. I feel like only in this town are you going to get law firm partners who would say “you have a shot at Hollywood? Go do it because I would’ve wanted to do it!”
RT: I’ve never thought of it from that perspective! I was so shocked that they were very supportive. Maybe if I was even in the Bay Area it would’ve been different! But [law school] is such a great tool and I’m so grateful for the legal education because it’s so applicable in any situation.
Q: I think it shows too. I’ve noticed that in your past interviews and on video. The way you communicate your thoughts and motivations, you’re able to articulate your points in a clear way.
RT: I appreciate that. People always ask me if it was a waste to go to Yale and play football and then go to graduate school. But they’re all tools. There’s stuff that I’m bringing out in Bolo [in Warrior] that’s from my high school experience. Being able to analyze something – I wasn’t able to do that in undergrad – but it was my exposure to the law that has shaped who I am on and off the camera. It’s one thing to be a successful actor on camera, but to be able to articulate or even answer a simple question, I think it’s so cool to be able to share the intel [with fans]. So that’s one of the reasons I do Warrior After Dark, because I can connect with people who have questions about the show. A lot of time actors take for granted what the process is, but viewers don’t always know what it’s about. So for me to be able to speak on that, I’m just happy that I can share it.
Q: Going into Warrior, how did you get the role of Bolo?
RT: Well, unbeknownst to me, it had been sitting on a shelf for 50 years. Or in Shannon Lee’s [Bruce Lee’s daughter and President of the Bruce Lee companies] garage as she always tells people. I had heard a few years back, maybe 4-5 years ago, that something may be in the works called The Warrior or Warrior, and I thought that would be an amazing project to work on. Two years ago, my manager called me and said they want to bring me in to read for Ah Sahm actually. At the time I was thinking that there’s got to be other roles for this kind of show. I don’t know if they were just bringing everybody in to read for Ah Sahm, to separate who’s who and get a feel, but I think that’s what happened. I think they had everyone read for Ah Sahm and from there they could see who’s good for Bolo or Young Jun or other roles. We got the callback to read for Bolo. And that was a crazy day for me and my life. The Bolo Yeung character has kinda been following me throughout my life. Being the only Asian on a lot of sport teams as a young kid, I was always a bigger kid, and my teammates, my family, my friends, they’d always poke fun at me like “you’re Bolo.” I didn’t really like that to be honest because I always wanted to be Bruce Lee because he was my hero. Bolo was a bad-ass but I wanted to be Bruce. As I got older, got into college, and played in the Ivy League, where there isn’t a lot of diversity on the athletic teams, to a lot of my teammates, I was the only Asian guy they’d ever seen play football and I was at my biggest, physically, in college. So they said “you’re like Chong Li!” played by Bolo Yeung in Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme. So fast forward to this day, I get this callback to go in to read for Bolo. I was thinking this wasn’t a coincidence. I’m going to book this, and I’m finally going to embrace this character. And that’s exactly what happened.
I think there’s something to be said when you see someone like Bolo or Bruce Lee as a young kid – I was 4 years old when I first saw Bruce Lee – whether you try to mimic them or want to be like them, it becomes ingrained in your bio-mechanics. So it was so cool to be able to play Bolo because it was like I had been prepping my whole life for this role. So when they told me that they didn’t want me to mimic or replicate the Bolo character, but I can pay tribute to him, I was already confident that organically it was going to come out because it was ingrained in my bio-mechanics from a young kid. Just like everyone knows Bruce’s sounds and stances. For me I was ready to go from the minute I booked it. It was a really cool experience.
Q: I love that. It’s funny because watching Bolo in Bloodsport, he’s the villain, it’s kind of like Lucy Liu in Kill Bill, where they’re the villains, but looking back I kind of wanted them to win!
The Warrior cast seems like a very close cast. Was there anyone in particular that you really bonded with?
RT: This is where the show was very weird in a great way. The only negative of this show was that I don’t think I will ever be part of a cast like this ever again. Because of the size of the cast, we have about 13-14 leads, and the camaraderie of all those leads. It was a family. Literally we were waiting until the very last episode wondering who was going to be the problem in the group. There’s always one black sheep in a cast. But the “problem” was that nobody was stepping up to be the black sheep. I was afraid that this was too perfect. The camaraderie and the closeness of the cast was so incredible that I started to worry that it wasn’t a good sign. We had the luxury of spending almost every free day together, and that includes families. So for example if Jason [Tobin]’s family is in town, then we’d go to dinner with his family. And the next week Dianne [Doan]’s family is in town. And it was crazy because we say it’s an Asian American cast – I’m a 4th generation Asian American actor – but people like Jason Tobin, who is from Hong Kong and Andrew Koji, who is from the UK, obviously they’re not Asian Americans, but they are that second generation of Asians and I think that’s something that Shannon [Lee] really wanted to emphasize knowing that her dad was denied an opportunity because he was Asian and Hollywood wasn’t ready. So the point is that we have a global Asian cast. To see people from – Joe is from Indonesia. Our stunt coordinator [Brett Chan], Olivia [Cheng] and Dianne are all Canadian,
It was so evident that we got along because it resonated on the camera. I’ve been on part of other shows where it’s toxic and that toxicity floods over onto the camera. So I went to work and busted my ass because I owed it to the other cast members. As far as the camaraderie and the tightness of the group, there are so many instances. Perry Yung is originally from Oakland and now lives in Manhattan. Henry Yuk, who plays Long Zii, is born and raised in Brooklyn, and it’s just like the U.S.! We’re all different ages and generations, and Perry’s wife is Vietnamese, so his kids are mixed, and Henry’s wife is Jewish and it’s like this world. Then I’d have this conversation with Jason about Hong Kong and Joe about Indonesia and Hoon [Lee], who’s the life of the party – I won’t hold it against him for going to Harvard. And then the whole other side of the cast like Dean [Jagger], Kieran [Bew], and Joanna [Vanderham], who plays Penelope, the whole “UK Crew” as I call them. They’re so pleasant. We spent so much time just hanging out. Usually I treat work like work. Like it’s a traditional 9-5. I go to work and then I’m out so I can clear my mind. But with them it was like “what are we doing this weekend?” And I think it resonates throughout the entire season.
Q: I agree. All of you seem like you’re relishing your roles and your interactions on screen. Going to Episode 7, the fateful episode, how did you approach it? This is the biggest, best fight of the season so far. Obviously by then you knew how it was going to play out. What were your feelings and can you give us some background?
RT: One of the cool things about working in this industry and going through a season like Warrior from the pilot until episode 7 – I knew the arc of Bolo’s character with Ah Sahm and their relationship. What was so cool was that my relationship with Andrew [Koji] personally, paralleled Bolo’s relationship with Ah Sahm. From the first episode, I’m getting to know him, just like Bolo is getting to know Ah Sahm. And throughout the course of working and training day-in and day-out, you form a relationship. You start to understand your coworkers. And that’s what happened organically with Andrew. The only thing that was different [from Bolo and Ah Sahm] is that I really get along with Andrew. Knowing that I was going to have to fight him as Bolo and lose that fight – NOT because of Ah Sahm, but because of Mai Ling. We always have to emphasize that I did not lose that fight! If Mai Ling wasn’t in that damn room it would have been a different story! Broken arm or not! Let’s just keep it real, he did not kill me and I’ll never let him say he did (laughing…kind of)!
That was a really emotional moment for me because I knew it was my concluding episode. I knew it was my finale. I took the love and passion I had developed for Andrew out on him in that episode. Meaning that the amount of respect I developed and have for Andrew, I turned that around and used it to motivate me to fight. We spent a whole week shooting that fight. Which, for a TV series like Warrior, is a ridiculous amount of time for one fight scene. If this was a feature film, maybe a couple of weeks. For example the water pit fight (from episode 4 – “The White Mountain“), because of scheduling delays and unforeseen obstacles, we ended up filming that entire scene in about 2 1/2 hours. We were allocated a whole day and a half, but it came down to “we have 2 1/2 hours until we lose this sunlight so we gotta go.” Stuff like that happens all the time. So when I see on the schedule that the finale fight is going to be a week, that means we need three weeks. And if we do it in a week, it’s probably not going to be a full week because stuff happens that will shorten it. There were so many obstacles that happened outside of the fight itself, and I strongly believe and know that Andrew and I were able to complete that fight because of our commitment to each other. So even though we “hate” each other in that scene, it was the off camera love and friendship that we developed organically that enabled me to push myself, push him and vice versa, to get this thing done under the circumstances that we were facing. Of course, I die and it was bittersweet. The thing I like and embraced about it was that it was closure for me. Up to that point, from the moment I got cast until the moment I died, it was about a 9 month time-span. To me, in athletic terms, that’s an off-season, a season and a post-season year. so that was the longest season I ever had as an athlete because I had to be at a certain physicality for that role. Having to always go for 9 months straight, I was mentally and emotionally spent because I put so much of my life and energy into it. So it was emotional, but at the same time it was the best feeling I’ve had as an actor in my career, knowing that I dedicated so much of my life and my world to this show, and rightfully so. At the end of the day I’m honoring the man who motivated me to start martial arts when I was 4 years old.
I think it’s very rare that any of us get to have an idol or role model…how often do we get to really thank them in this way? Bruce Lee is the gift that keeps on giving. He gave me a gift and I feel like I’m honoring him, and in doing that, maybe I’ll be able to give another kid the gift that Bruce Lee gave me – motivation and inspiration. It was an emotional roller coaster in the most positive way possible.
Q: That’s awesome. This show has really been honoring Bruce’s memory so well and your character has been an integral part of that. Bruce was famous for setting up schools and teaching others, and in a way, all of you became his students and are passing that along.
I thought it was interesting was that when Bolo’s body gets delivered to Father Jun, the show is called Warrior as named by Bruce, but your character is the one who becomes the namesake. Father Jun says that “I have no doubt that Bolo was a true warrior until the end.”
RT: Which is funny because in that scene I’m laying there and I remember distinctly being on the floor and hearing Perry say that line and it hit me on the day. That was such a cool moment. I kept telling Perry that you have to Jon Snow me [Editors note: I don’t watch that dragon show but I assume this comment by Rich is some kind of spoiler]! I need to wake up right now! You have to Miyagi me or something [Editors note: This is the kind of reference I understand]! That is a special moment on the show. But for whatever it’s worth, it sounds corny, but there are so many warriors on this show because I got to know each and every one of these cast mates of mine. We’ve been through so many ups and downs. You always hear those stories of people who were going to quit acting and then got cast on a show and their life changed and that’s real. People are struggling and then a show like this comes along and it saves them. So to be called a warrior on the show is very cool, but in life, this cast is so strong that I’m humbled to be a part of it.
Q: So you do Warrior After Dark, which has been amazing grass roots marketing and promotion for the show, and giving fans a chance to connect with you and get insight into the show that you don’t see for other shows. What inspired you to do this and are you going to keep going?
RT: I’m by nature a very private person and I’ve taught and coached myself to embrace social media. And knowing this show had such a huge fan-base because of Bruce Lee, my PR team, publicist and social media people encouraged me to do it. To be honest I was kind of scared. This whole Instagram live concept, you can see me but I can’t see anything. I finally compromised that I would go on for 5 minutes after the pilot and we’ll see what happens. I was hoping people would watch it but I was more focused on whether people were going to watch the show. After that first episode, within a minute, people started coming into the chat room and I was blown away. For other celebrities who do this on a regular basis, they have a fan-base and they know it’s going to happen because they’re ready. I don’t really do that because I used to think why do people care if I go to the gym? No one cares what I’m doing and nobody wants to talk to me. But I thought it would be so cool if someone had a question [about the show[ like “Was that a real set?” As Justin Lin says, it’s the most impressive production set he’s ever worked on . And that’s coming from The Man, who’s done a lot. And I believe it, because when I got on the set, they were driving me in a car and we got lost on the set! That’s how big the set was. It was like a real city. And I thought it would be a cool story to talk about. Long story short, I was so taken aback in a positive way by the feedback and everyone who tuned in, and after that first airing of Warrior After Dark, people were asking if I was going to do it again. I was like thinking “Oh my God! People are actually liking this!” and now it’s crazy because I’ve developed relationships over it. I think I’m old enough, and been through enough stuff outside of Hollywood. to really appreciate what I do. A lot of times we get jaded when we’re in the industry. Being a working actor in Hollywood is such a privilege and we’re treated like kings and queens. Luckily I have a very strict mom and I can’t get too arrogant and I stay grounded due to her. So when someone reaches out to me, I’m flattered. I remember being a kid thinking people pay people to film them. How flattering is that? So if fans and viewers want to talk about it, then 100% lets’ talk about it. It’s been such a positive experience.
I’ve been persuaded to continue to do it throughout season 1. So even though I die in episode 7, I’m planning to do it for 8, 9 and 10 and maybe even for The Man in the High Castle. It’s been a great experience and I’m glad people are doing it.
Q: That leads me to my next question. You were recently on The Fix, and The Man in the High Castle is coming. Is there anything else you can tell us about projects you’re working on?
RT: That’s all I can say right now. Even for The Man in The High Castle that’s coming out later this fall on Amazon, I believe they’ve had one screening of the pilot for season 4, but other than that it’s been kept under tight wraps. I play Captain Ijima on that show and basically he’s a high ranking captain from Japan that comes over to the U.S. to add additional support to the Japanese Kempeitai. That’s what I can say. I’ll leave it at that. Stay tuned. I think the release date is around Thanksgiving. That’s what they’re trying to do. It’s the finale season. I’ve been a fan of that show ever since the first season so to have the opportunity to work on that for its final season is great.
Thank you so much to Rich Ting for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to speak with me about his incredible career. Rich’s performance in episode 7 of Warrior is definitely one of the highlights of the season and I can’t wait to see more of him in the future!
Ron is the founder of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.