Five-0 Redux: Hawaiian actors show real Hawaii
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.