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Actor Kai Bradbury is a man on a mission. Having grown up surrounded by the arts, Kai credits his exposure to different mediums for helping him develop his voice as an individual and as a creative. And as Hollywood makes inroads towards greater representation, Kai hopes to do his part by paving the way for the next generation of up-and-comers of mixed race or Asian descent with projects like Motherland: Fort Salem.
Set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution three hundred years ago by cutting an agreement to fight for their government, Motherland: Fort Salem follows three recruits who go from basic training in combat magic to early deployment. Kai’s character, Gerit Buttonwood, is the “object of desire” for one of those recruits. It’s a role that means not only a great deal to Kai but also to a community who wants to see themselves properly represented on screen.
Pop-Culturalist caught up with this rising star to chat about all things Motherland: Fort Salem.
- P-C: In Motherland: Fort Salem, Raelle, Tally, and Abigail, and the rest of the recruits find their strength through their voice. Tell us about your journey as an artist and discovering your own voice.
- Kai: It’s been an amazing roller coaster of opportunities. We’ve talked about this before. All my family members are artists of different kinds. It’s been great to be exposed to all kinds of mediums in my life. Finding my voice has had a lot of things play into it: who am I as a person, what is important to me, how do I bring forth my culture and the walks of life that I get to represent? All of that has allowed me to find my voice and to share it.
- P-C: You come from a theater background. What’s that transition been like going from the stage to the screen?
- Kai: Live theater is such a different medium. It certainly was my first love. I did find it challenging to shift and learn a new skill set. Film and theater were always things that I was interested in pursuing, but once I got my agent out of theater school, and saw that film presented itself as a more viable opportunity at that point, I was definitely keen on switching over but still trying to manage both interests. They’re both very important.
- P-C: This is your second television role as a series regular. What’s the biggest lesson that you learned on the set of Warigami that you brought over to Motherland: Fort Salem?
- Kai: The pacing of television really set in for the first time. Previously working as a day player, you just have your stuff prepared. You’re not doing days on set. You pop in and do your work and head out. But when you’re doing more days on each episode, you start to see the real workload and the pace that TV moves. It was great to bring that fearlessness and awareness knowing that it’s fast. TV is fast.
- P-C: You’ve said in a previous interview that this project has had a lot of firsts for you. When you look back at Season 1, which of those first stands out the most?
- Kai: I want to say my first on-screen kiss. It was one of the earlier things that I shot. It was my first opportunity to do a romantic role on film. It was the first time I got to be, for lack of a better term, the object of desire. It’s groundbreaking. It’s really important to me to share that representation because with Crazy Rich Asians and Henry Golding leading the recent movement of seeing mixed-race or Asian actors as sexy—and being seen in that way—is something that I hope to continue to show and have other people of Asian descent see that—see that they can be attractive and beautiful.
- P-C: Audiences have really connected with this show. What do you think is resonating most?
- Kai: That’s a tough one. What I’ve noticed so far is that the majority of our audience is female. I mean, I don’t have any details on the demographics, but that’s the overwhelming initial response that I’ve seen. I think the biggest thing that our show is leading with is female empowerment and seeing the strength in sisterhood. But it’s hard to peg because we do truly have so much diversity. We have different races, body types, walks of life, and sexuality. I’m so grateful to be standing behind a show that is a forerunner in female representation on camera.
- P-C: Like you said, Motherland: Fort Salem features this diverse cast from all walks of life. What’s the biggest lesson one of your fellow castmates has taught you?
- Kai: They’ve each taught me so much about life and the business. Every time I talk to my costar Jessica Sutton, there’s a way that she speaks about the world that’s so wise. I’m constantly inspired by all of them. But yeah, Jess really imparts wisdom, almost in a way that’s hidden, just the way that she speaks about her craft and her love of life. It’s just intrinsically a part of her being.
- P-C: Speak of Jessica [who plays Tally], Gerit and Tally have had their ups and downs, especially in the last few episodes. What can you tease about their future?
- Kai: In the most recent episode, we get to see that Tally has a lot on her mind. She’s hiding the secret that she knows that Scylla is a Spree member. She’s found out that Gerit is engaged. Their initial awkwardness and inclination to be friends quickly turns into a realization that the passion is there and she needs the distraction. So I guess I can tease that we’ll see a little bit more of that happening for her.
- P-C: How far ahead did you learn about Gerit’s engagement? What was your initial reaction when you read that in the script?
- Kai: I didn’t know about the engagement until pretty much the first draft of Episode 5. We were shooting Episode 4 at the time. It was very shocking to me because I didn’t get any kind of character arc ahead of time. I just signed on with audition scenes to be a really nice boyfriend. It was cool to see that arc that Gerit was about to get because I didn’t anticipate it at all!
- P-C: If you had to summarize what we can expect from the rest of Season 1 in one sentence, what would it be?
- Kai: Hold on to your socks. Isn’t that just the worst? The first half of the season was building this world and a lot of character development because this whole show is a new concept entirely. To get everyone on board, each character’s storyline was key. But we start to see in Episode 5 and moving on, we start to see a lot more darkness, a lot more action. It’s time to see these witches get deployed and put everything on the line. The stakes are only going to get higher. I’m so excited for everyone to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
- P-C: If the series gets picked up for a second season, where would you like to see your character’s storyline head?
- Kai: I really want to see Gerit do some fighting and see what kind of power the male witches have in this universe. We do know that the supply of soldiers is dwindling, and the races of witches is at an all-time low. I almost imagine that it’d be really cool to see that the male witches are needed to fight and are recruited. I love physical work, so that would be great to get in there with the girls.
- P-C: Biggest jokester?
- Kai: Taylor Hickson. She’s a very funny goof, and when she’s not working, you can find her running around all over the place.
- P-C: Who would be most likely to be caught singing on set?
- Kai: Demetria McKinney. She’s an incredible singer. Actually, there’s a lot of singers on set. I mean, Taylor is a fantastic singer as well.
- P-C: Who in the cast can brighten up your day?
- Kai: Jess lights up a room.
- P-C: Who can nail a scene in one take?
- Kai: Ashley Nicole Williams. She’s been doing this for so long. She just delivers.