Christine Toy Johnson talks Iron Fist, life in NYC, and why representation matters


Christine Toy Johnson is set to play Sherry Yang in season 2 of Marvel’s Iron Fist. She spoke with Culturess about this role, growing up in NYC, plus the need to further diversity in media.

Season 2 of Iron Fist will be released on Netflix on September 7th, with Christine Toy Johnson making her debut in the Marvel Universe as Sherry Yang, the wife to the head of the triad. I had the amazing opportunity to talk to her about the role along with many other upcoming projects she’s set for. She also shared thoughts about the importance of inclusion in media and the need to tell diverse stories.

Christine Toy Johnson grew up in New York City and has always loved the stage. From a young age, she felt called to acting and performing in many forms.

“I went through a time period as a child of wanting to be a flight attendant, I think that was the only other thing. But I was one of those kids who put on shows like a theatrical rendition of The12 Days of Christmas. I grew up in the NYC suburbs, so I had the privilege and fortune of having Broadway as my local theater. So, my mom and I were traveling a lot to see shows. I just grew up always wanting to be in a Broadway musical… I had a really immersive childhood of musical theater.”

Along with acting in many stage productions both on an off-Broadway, Johnson also a writer herself and has written many screenplays, musicals, and scripts.

“My life in the theater and in the arts has been such a gift. And, then writing too. I didn’t start out as a writer. I started writing like a lot of actors of color I know as a response to not really seeing my stories told. I’ve been writing now for about 15 years.”

She is currently working on a play about a Cambodian-American lawyer who goes against the Cambodian justice system, a story based on true events.

Along with Iron Fist, Johnson is also set to play a character in the upcoming Lifetime series, You, which stars Penn Badgley.

“One of the main characters is a character named Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail. I play her poetry teacher. I give her the encouragement she needs, and it ends up being very impactful… It’s [a] really intense and emotional script.

I always love when a show takes place and is filmed in New York. You can’t really replicate that, the base bones of the city, unless you’re here.”

Onto the topic of Iron Fist‘s second season, Johnson said most details for the show and her character, Sherry Yang, are under wraps. But her excitement about the character was apparent.

“What I can say about her is that she’s a very powerful complicated character which makes me very happy, not only as an actor because that makes it interesting to play, but as an Asian American who grew up not really seeing characters like this on television. I get to do a lot of great scenes.”

She is also thrilled to be joining the Marvel universe and is already excited about the large fan base and their love of this world.

“It is really exciting. One thing that’s kind of interesting I think, an odd thing about Marvel shows, is that when you audition for the show you don’t know what it is. They say the names of different of the characters so you can’t identify which show it is… I only had two days notice.”

Along with her role, Johnson’s learning what kind of a fandom comes with it.

“I just learned that the fans are really awesome and really invested in the story. So, it’s really meaningful to be able to have this kind of diverse storytelling that all of these shows have done… They portray these different communities in the city, as it looks. So, I’m really excited to be part of this whole universe where we can imagine that anything is possible for better or worse. Anything is possible, and the way that the storytelling is manifested by Marvel with these diverse characters, it’s really impactful.”

While she hasn’t been involved in the world of comics and comic book movies for long, Johnson does have a favorite supehero — even if it’s not a Marvel character.

“I might get in trouble because maybe it’s not a Marvel superhero. I’m pretty partial to Wonder Woman. Now that I’ve been more introduced to many of them, I’m intrigued by Misty Night and being around Danny Rand has been interesting… to see his story and his growth.”

Johnson will also be returning to the stage for the national tour of Come From Away. She is excited about the part and loves the story and what it means for the world we live in today, saying,

“It’s such a beautiful show that’s about these people who were diverted during 9/11 because American airspace was closed. These planes were diverted to a town of about 7,000 people and how they opened up their homes and their hearts to take care of these strangers in this terrible time of tragedy. What I’m excited about is it’s a story about kindness and compassion, and I think that we really need to hear stories about that.”

Johnson also is involved in activism and advocacy. She is a founding member of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition as well as on the elected leadership of Actor’s Equity Association and the Dramatists Guild of America and is passionate about diverse stories getting told on stage and film.

“Really at the heart of it and what we are hearing more and more people express with the success of Crazy Rich Asians is this under-representation and the feelings that go along with it.

What I’m really moved by hearing is sort of multi-generationally people saying, ‘I didn’t realize how much I’ve internalized not seeing myself represented in the media or only seeing my self only in one-dimensional roles.’ And how much seeing a film like Crazy Rich Asians, how meaningful that has been. Because all of a sudden, you’re experiencing what a lot of people experience all the time without even really understanding its impact.”

She also talked about the recent New York Times piece Kelly Marie Tran wrote.

“She really expressed something that I have been talking about with my colleagues for a really long time. It’s distressing that it’s still happening to a young person. The same things are inspiring the same kinds of reactions, even in somebody of this generation. So, it’s been going on for this long. I’m hopeful. I’m ever hopeful. Otherwise, I don’t’ think I’d be able to be what I call an inclusionist, or an advocate for inclusion for so long. We need to keep the conversation going.”

As a writer, actress, storyteller, and advocate for inclusion, Johnson believes in the power that stories hold and how they can impact the world.

“The media has this really unique opportunity to shift perceptions of who we are and what we can be, not only to each other but to ourselves, and we can’t do that unless we’re fully representing what America fully looks like. You can’t just choose some of it and say this is America… I think that’s where a lot of the really powerful storytelling comes from. When it reflects the world in some way, and it allows us to become more mindful of what makes us similar and what makes us different. These stories help us make a sense of compassion for each other.”

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We can’t wait to learn more about Sherry Yang and what season 2 of Iron Fist has in store!