Five-0 Redux: Hawaiian actors show real Hawaii

Sep. 6, 2014 | 9 Comments

COURTESY CBSShawn Garnett, Teilor Grubbs, and Taylor Wily in a ʻohana scene from “O Kēlā me Kēia Manawa” (“Now and Then”).

COURTESY CBS

Shawn Garnett, Teilor Grubbs, and Taylor Wily in a scene from “Hawaii Five-0.”

BY WENDIE BURBRIDGE / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Fans of “Hawaii Five-0” have always loved the Hawaiian connection of not only the show’s location, but the addition of Hawaiʻi-based actors to the recurring cast.

The main cast is made up of actors who hail from other parts of the world; Alex O’Loughlin is Australian, Scott Caan calls California home and Grace Park is from Canada. Daniel Dae Kim was born in South Korea and raised in Pennsylvania, yet he has lived in Hawaiʻi since 2004 and can easily be called kamaʻāina, or a long-term resident of Hawaiʻi. (The term can also refer to someone born and raised in Hawaiʻi.)

O’loughlin is well on his way to being a kamaʻāina, too, as he now makes his home on Oahu and is married to Hawaiian surfer and clothing designer, Malia Jones.

Some of you might be a little confused. Why not call all Hawaii residents Hawaiians? Don’t the terms kamaʻāina and Hawaiian refer to the same thing?

Actually, they don’t. Native Hawaiians, also known as Kānaka Maoli, are individuals with ancestries that can sometimes be traced all the way back to the original Polynesian settlers of what became the Hawaiian Islands. Even if you’re born and raised in Hawaii, that doesn’t necessarily make you Hawaiian.

For example, Steve McGarrett was born in Hawaiʻi, but is considered kamaʻāina due to his caucasian ancestry. Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalākaua were both born and raised in Hawaiʻi; the assumption is they are part-Hawaiian. Kalākaua is a Hawaiian name (the last reigning King of Hawaiʻi was David Kalākaua), while Chin speaks Hawaiian and is the team’s expert on Hawaiian culture and protocol. Their characters are meant to be seen as the Hawaiian connection on “Five-0.”

COURTESY CBSDennis Chun as "Sgt. Duke Lukela" watches approvingly as McG, Danno, and Kono save Chin from OCCC.

COURTESY CBS

Dennis Chun as Sgt. Duke Lukela on “Hawaii Five-0.”

The Kānaka Maoli characters on the show — Sgt. Duke Lukela, Kamekona, Flippa and Kawika — are mostly played by real Native Hawaiians. Dennis Chun, Shawn Mokuahi Garnett and Kala Alexander are all part-Hawaiian; Taylor Wily is actually Samoan, but portrays Kamekona as a local Hawaiian would behave, speaking pidgin and sharing his love for Hawaiʻi (and SPAM!) with everyone he meets.

Chun, the son of actor Kam Fong (who originated the character of Chin Ho Kelly in the classic version of “Hawaii Five-O”), is Hawaiian and Chinese. His character is definitely seen as a trusted friend and advisor to the team, as he was one of the officers who came up the ranks with John McGarrett at the Honolulu Police Department. Chun plays Lukela as someone always ready to aid Five-0’s investigations and admire their unorthodox ways while still trying to keep them as safe as he can.

“The most important thing is that we represent the Hawaiian people and our fellow local actors in the.most professional way possible,” Chun said. “We all feel very honored to part of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and we are grateful to be blessed with the greatest fans any show could have for these last four seasons.”

COURTESY SHAWN GARNETTCousins for life: actors Shawn Mokuahi Garnett and Taylor Wily as Flippa and Kamekona.

COURTESY SHAWN GARNETT

Cousins for life: actors Shawn Mokuahi Garnett and Taylor Wily as Flippa and Kamekona.

Wily, a former sumo wrestler and mixed martial artist, first intrigued fans on the big screen as Kemo in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Wily turned a short scene in the pilot episode into a recurring role on “Hawaii Five-0” and has become a slick entrepreneur off set. Fans can get their fill of Kamekona T-shirts and other gear when they shop for souvenirs at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, as well as get some ʻono grinds at his Big T’s shrimp truck at the Hilo Hattie flagship store on Oʻahu.

Kamekona is well-loved by fans, as he is seen as a friend to McGarrett as well as the entire team. He feeds and protects them and is always there to make them laugh when they sometimes need it the most.

Garnett, the newest Hawaiian to join the recurring cast, plays Kamekona’s cousin Flippa. While his character is usually a partner for Kamekona, he adds a touch of aloha to the cast with his big smile and bigger heart. Fans love his openness and gracious nature, as well as his singing and musical talent.

Hopefully we’ll get to hear Flippa play a few Hawaiian tunes while the Five-0 team unwinds with shrimp plates and Longboards at Kamekona’s in a sunset ending this coming season.

Alexander is another fan favorite, especially to those who follow him on Instagram and Twitter and enjoy his stunning photographs. A professional waterman and Mauli Ola Foundation team rider, Alexander is Hawaiian, Filipino, Irish, German and Scottish.

COURTESY CBSActor and professional waterman Kala Alexander as "Kawika" in a scene from season three of "Hawaii Five-0."

COURTESY CBS

Kala Alexander as Kawika in a scene from season three of “Hawaii Five-0.”

While Alexander’s character, Kawika, has been in just a handful of episodes, he definitely made his mark with fans, especially in “Hoa Pili” (“Close Friend”) from season three. Fans love how Kawika helps the Five-0 team by using his many island connections, as well as how the team respects Kawika and the Kapu.

Another Native Hawaiian actor on the show is Teilor Grubbs, who plays Danno’s daughter, Gracie. While her character is not Kānaka Maoli, Grubbs is part-Hawaiian. The young actress has built a very strong relationship both on screen and off with Scott Caan and is beloved by fans because of the sweet father-daughter interplay with Danno.

COURTESY CBSActress Teilor Grubbs shows off her grown-up side in season four.

COURTESY CBS

Actress Teilor Grubbs shows off her grown-up side in season four.

Overall, both the kamaʻāina and kanaka maoli actors can be seen as more than just local color. All are talented in their own right and hold their own on a show that continues to endure.

REDUX SIDE NOTE:

If you haven’t taken part in the ALS ice bucket challenge yet, consider yourself challenged — Alex O’Loughlin, Daniel Dae Kim, and Jorge Garcia recently participated, as well as many fans around the world. O’Loughlin will participate in the second annual Hawaii Walk to Defeat ALS this weekend in honor of his late mother-in-law, Violet Jones-Medusky. “Hawaii Five-0” fans have helped to raise over $4,000 as either virtual walkers or joining in on the fun at Kapiolani Park.
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Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

  • Angela Gerstner

    Wendie, it was a fantastic idea to dedicate a blog to the local actors on “Hawaii Five-0″ to highlight the important and valuable contribution these actors make to the show. As much as I love the main cast, it just wouldn’t make any sense to have just “haoles” acting on a show that is set in Hawai`i. It is the local actors that give real authenticity to the show!
    All the characters played by these locals bring something to the show that I love about it. Kamekona is so much fun to watch and, yes, we do appreciate that he always feeds our beloved Five-0 team. Some of the best ´ohana moments have taken place at the world-famous shrimp truck. I definitely wish Taylor all the best for his growing off-screen business, too! I found a very good interview with Taylor from 2012 in which he talks about his work on H50 and how grateful he is for it. I’ll share the video clip on the Five-0 Redux Facebook page this weekend… :-)

    I don’t know much about Shawn except from the one blog you wrote about him before but he is obviously a very likeable, humorful guy and a good musician, too.

    We don’t even have to say much about Dennis, anymore. He is well-known as a fan-favorite who always takes time to meet with fans and to send messages for the fans through your website. We all love him for that – and for helping Five-0 on the show as “Sir Duke” as he is referred to by his fans. He is also very special and valuable for the show because of his family’s connection to the original series. The reboot has always tried to pay tribute to the original show, and having someone like Dennis on board has probably helped a lot in achieving this goal.

    As to Teilor: I don’t know a single fan who does not love her as Danno’s adorable daughter Gracie and their sweet father-daughter relationship. It is really nice to have someone on the show whom we can literally watch growing up over the years or seasons. Gracie/Teilor has definitely turned from a cute little girl into a pretty teenager. It is very likely that we’ll soon see Daddy Danno seriously worrying about Gracie having a boyfriend. I already feel pity with the first boyfriend Gracie will introduce to her very protective father :-)

    About Kala: I am one of his followers myself because I love his awesome photos of sunsets, surfers etc. Whenever he posts his photos he adds “Mahalo ke Akua” to thank God for his beautiful home Hawai`i. I think these words say a lot about him. While Kala might sometimes look “tough” on the outside (especially in his role as Kawika), he is a truly warm-hearted and wonderful person inside, which also becomes obvious in his strong personal involvement with the “Mauli Ola Foundation”, a great charity that helps kids with special health problems (www.mauliola.org).

    Mahalo to you, Wendie, for this great blog and for the interesting information about the different definitions of locals.

  • Linda M. Stein

    Wendie….what a great idea for an article this week! When I was in Oahu last year our tour guide also gave us a run down on what it means to be Hawaiian vs what it means to be kamaʻāina. It really is fascinating because of all the diverse nationalities which combine to form the Hawaiian makeup. Isn’t there even a school where your kids can’t attend unless they have some Hawaiian ancestry?

    We like to think of the entire United States as a melting pot and Hawaii is the epitome of that. As the only state in the Union to have once been it’s own Sovereign Nation it really is wonderful Hawaii has kept it’s cultural heritage while being a true melting pot.

    How wonderful it would be to go back and stay long enough to be considered kamaʻāina myself. Ahhhhhhh to dream……

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Linda- the school you are talking about is Kamehameha Schools- all children of Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian ancestry are given preference for admission. Dennis, Kala, and myself all attended Kamehameha- I believe Kala and I attended around the same time, and Dennis attended at the same time as my mother. It’s a very very special school and we are all proud to have been chosen to attend. Thanks for reading! Aloha, Wendie

    • edmattes763

      This isn’t history class, but just to set the record straight, Texas was recognized as a sovereign republic by the US and about 3 other countries for just short of 10 years. And altho no government was formed, there was also something called “the California Republic”

      • Wendie Joy

        Let me set the record straight- we were the only state that had a sitting monarchy and was a Kingdom when we were annexed by the US. I think that was what Linda meant. While other states may have been ruled from afar by kings and therefore considered sovereign, we were ruled by a Queen who was forced to abdicate her throne. So we really were our own sovereign nation because no other country ruled over us.

  • edmattes763

    This is a very interesting article Wendie. I’d have thought that Taylor Wily was indeed from Hawaii rather than Samoa. Did he do his sumo in Japan?
    I’m also wondering if you forgot Al Harrington who played in Hawaii Five-O classic as well as the show we all love so much?

    • Wendie Joy

      Hi Ed, no, didn’t forget Al Harrington- he is actually Samoan, not Hawaiian. I was focusing on kānaka maoli actors. I only included Taylor because he was born in Hawai‘i and he plays a major recurring character. Taylor is from Hawai‘i- but his ancestry is Samoan. He is not Hawaiian- but he certainly is kama‘āina. Sumo is only done in Japan, but many Samoan and Hawaiian men have been recruited to go to Japan and train in Sumo wrestling. Hope that answers your questions. Aloha, Wendie

  • Dina

    As great as your blog is- sometimes the “comments” are even MORE interesting hehehe – mini history lessons!! I love it!!!

  • alavenia

    Great article Wendie and very interesting! Thank you! ♥