Kono Kalakaua, Grace Park's gorgeous, rough-and-tumble character on the CBS drama Hawaii Five-0, is already a super athlete, and in a new story arc starting Friday, a solo catamaran trip around the Hawaiian Islands turns into a nightmare that forces her to fight for her life.
Park, who performed most of the high-water athletics in the episodes herself, is no stranger to physical feats. Before her five years as Officer Kalakaua, she did double duty as Sharon 'Boomer" Valerii and Sharon "Athena" Agathon on Syfy's Battlestar Galactica, which often involved stunt work.
ETonline talked to Park about how she adjusted to big fame on a small island, her surprising training routine, and whether the series might have had a supernatural curse on it before it even started shooting.
ETonline: The original Hawaii Five-0 aired on CBS from 1968 to 1980, and your character back then was male. Did you know anything about the show when you took this job?
Grace Park: Very little. We did a little bit of research, but I couldn't find much, so it was more like what people told me. The biggest surprise was finding out what Hawaii Five-0 meant to Hawaii, to the people of Hawaii. I had no idea what I was in store for. It was a major life change.
Because people recognized you?
I love people being excited, but it was the way people were coming up to me. Hawaiian people are very proud of all things Hawaii. It can get very, very personal. I am very private, and I'm also from Canada. We are polite, but we're more closed, more reserved than they are here in the U.S. When you add the Aloha factor, it's even more open and friendly. I have had people follow me to restrooms. They just waited outside. I felt like such prey. Now I say, 'Well, okay, they are just super excited.' I adapted.
You've been on the air for five years now. What's been the best thing about the show recently?
We've had the addition of a couple new actors. Their presence is really such a relief. We all breathe a little easier. It's different carrying a show with six people than it is with four people. It's like all these pieces go into this magnificent, living, moving puzzle. When it works, it's kind of magic, and when it doesn't, you realize there is no hard and set formula.
What wasn't working before that?
I don't know if you're aware of this, but every time a show or movie is done in Hawaii, there is a blessing by a Hawaiian priest before you start, before the first frame is taken. We did that the first season -- but we had [already] been filming on location and some things just went sideways. There were a lot of accidents. We'd try to film and the winds were insane and the rain was horizontal. I'm not strongly superstitious, but I almost wondered if someone associated with the old show put [a curse] on us. We had the blessing [later], and then it went a lot smoother. There weren't accidents. No one could piece it together. It was weird. But you learn to respect the customs.
Hawaii Five-O is unusual for network TV in that it has more lead actors who are non-white than white. Is it doubly hard to be an Asian female actor?
There are always acting challenges for any actor. You find that with every new audition, every new role. When I started to do a lot of press, I would always get questions about what's it like to be an Asian woman in Hollywood. I would always feel a little odd when people asked me that question. What has that got to do with anything? I don't really have the typical Asian-American experience. What I mean by that is that I wasn't made very aware of my race. It's not that I'm not Asian, but I don't recognize it. It is like people keep putting a coat on me and it keeps sliding off. My parents are from [Korea] but I am not. I faced almost no racism my entire life. I'm sure it's challenging [for many Asians who live in America].
You do a lot of your own stunts on the show. How does it feel to have a chance to use your athletic abilities in these roles?
I am not athletic -- I just look athletic. If you watch my posture, you see I don't have the core [strength]. I don’t do CrossFit. I'm not a crazy yogi. I'm pretty sedentary. I do want to be more physical. It feels great when you manage to get outside and do it. You feel like, 'This is the best thing ever. I could do this forever.' And then a month goes by and you haven't done anything.
Was it difficult to do all of these hard-core water scenes?
I was more focused on the acting, mostly because I had a previous water experience on the show that was so traumatizing. It was during the pilot. It is one of the most dangerous coasts in the world. I mean, we didn't have 30-foot waves, but it was bad. You don't realize how powerful the ocean is -- and growing up in Vancouver, where an island shelters the shoreline, I never even saw a wave half that high. If I had, it would have signaled the end of the world. Two years later, I was bound and gagged and pulled under the water with SCUBA guys. We had an amazing water woman who had showed me how to prepare. You're a lot safer than you realize. But the point was I wasn't ready to go under. I drank a bunch of water. Even though it looked like I was flailing as hard as I could, and I was, when I came up, I felt fine. I wasn't panicked and that was because of the training I had.
What's next for you?
I'm heading back to [acting] class. People say it will be tough and people are watching what you are doing and I'm like, bring it. I want to be humbled. I want people half my age trumping me and to be schooled by them.
Hawaii Five-O airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS. Watch an exclusive clip from the upcoming episode below: