It’s no secret that the whodunit genre has been experiencing a sort of revival in the last few years. Films like “The Nice Guys” and “Knives Out” have brought a new generation of viewers to the classic genre, and the audience can’t seem to get enough of the mystery and intrigue. That’s what made Hulu’s latest series “Death and Other Details” all the more exciting for audiences. The show features a stacked cast with Violett Beane, Mandy Patinkin, Lauren Patten, Rahul Kohli, Hugo Diego Garcia, Pardis Sarem, Linda Emond and Angela Zhou who all play an integral part in the mystery on the cruise ship SS Varuna.
Character Media had a chance to speak with Zhou about her role as the prickly Teddy, the crew manager on the SS Varuna, and her experience being a part of the series’ writing room.
CM: What drew you to the role of Teddy and the show in particular? Were you a fan of the mystery genre?
One, I’m just a fan of great writing. I love the fact that there were so many Asian characters in particular, but the show had nothing to do with being Asian. [The characters] were also authentic, speaking not only Mandarin but also Cantonese and coming from different parts of China. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how did they even know about this?”
Two, I was also drawn to the fun aspect of it. I don’t think I’ve really done anything that’s slightly more comedic. Especially after COVID, I realized [that] sometimes things can just be fun — because life is so serious, and sometimes you really need the break to have longevity. And as silly as it sounds, it’s nice to be on a show that has amazing fashion. I get to put on a British accent; I’ve never done that before. It’s all ticks everywhere.
CM: You first booked the role for Teddy. How did it expand to a writing role?
That’s such an interesting situation; I found that many people are curious about it. They’re like, “Wait, so did you write before [you got the role]?” And okay, I want to say all credit goes to [Mike Weiss and Heidi Cole McAdam]. They wrote the pilot all by themselves.
During Covid, I had time to finish this script I’d been working on for a very long time. It’s the true story of China’s first and only female emperor, Wu Zetian. I ended up submitting it to the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting while we were shooting the pilot [for “Death and Details”] in late 2021. They announced I was a semi-finalist, and I posted about it on Instagram. Heidi followed me and showed it to Mike; they were really interested in reading it, but they didn’t want to ask me specifically for it, just in case they hated my writing. So in true detective sleuthy form, they asked the assistants to get the script. I got a call a couple of months later from them being like, “Good news, we got picked up to series, and we did something cheeky. We read ‘Empress,’ and we would love to have you in the room if you’re interested.” And I was like, “Oh my god, it’s a dream come true. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do with my career.”
CM: This is the first project you’ve had a writing and acting role in. How was this experience? Was it hard transitioning from one to another?
It was lucky because in streaming, you’re doing the writer’s room first, and then production started after that. So I didn’t actually have to write and act at the same time. But it was interesting because in the writer’s room, I’m basically like, “What’s great for the story? What is great for the mystery?” And I just pretend I’m not actually going to be acting [as] Teddy.
It was funny because at one point, Heidi goes, “Um, guys, in this outline, Teddy isn’t in this episode at all.” And I realized it’s because I was so focused on making sure that people didn’t think I was there just to write my own character that I never pitched anything about Teddy. The other people — not having known me very much yet [and] not realizing that I’m pretty chill — were worried about pitching anything in case I thought it was bad or something.
CM: Speaking of Teddy, your character seems rather prickly at first but has shown throughout the series to be furiously protective of her family. How did you juggle these two aspects of her character?
I asked myself, “When is Teddy kind of acting?” Not to give anything too much away, but I do think Teddy has this part of her where she’s got the happy-go-lucky, perfectly plastered customer service smile — where her voice is very soft and gentle and quiet, almost like what you would think the stereotypical model minority would be. But then, underneath that, she’s got this very protective side of her that is actually a lot more fierce than she’s letting on. That is the true version of her, and that comes out especially when people are potentially attacking her family members. Having both sides of that was really great because then we could stop her from falling into any of the stereotypes that tend to happen with Asian characters.
CM: “Death and Other Details” has been released weekly on Hulu. How has it been seeing viewers share their theories and thoughts?
It is so much fun because part of what we were doing in the writer’s room was debating about how many clues to put in [the show] — like what would make it too easy and what would not be enough. Heidi and Mike were always saying that they don’t want to make [the show] so that no one’s going to get it correct and things just going to come out of the blue. They were always very clear [that] we wanted to play fair with the audience. It’s been so interesting to see some people say, “Oh, there’s so much going on; there’s no way you’re going to be able to guess it.” And then I’ll go on Reddit and I’ll see that there are some people catching on to the details we left, and they are very close.