Tia Carrere, Hawaii’s Greatest Representative


Tia Carrere

There are two things that Hollywood and Hawaii have in common. The first is that they both start with the letter H, and, the second is that no matter how hard you try, you will never find a better representative, of either place, than Tia Carrere.

Regardless of how high her rise to celebrity takes her, her love of the Pacific Islands and their people has never altered. For no other reason than this, she was gracious enough to take time from her busy schedule to share lunch with me at Benvenuto’s, the restaurant that she co-ownd on La Cienega, in Hollywood. An avid dog lover, Ms. Carrere arrived from the veterinarian, where she’d taken one dog (an Akita called Dante) for an operation. Another puppy, Kai (named after the Hawaiian word for beach) came with her and listened in.

Tia’s heritage is a mix of part Hawaiian, mostly Chinese, Filipino and a few other things. With a teasing smile, she broke into a forced pigeon accent, and declared herself, “Brought up in the Filipino housing area, Kalihi Valley. “

She was a local wahine who went to the Sacred Hearts Academy under her given name, Althea Janairo. Her two sisters, her mother, and her father all have names that begin with the letter ‘A’ (Audra, Alesaundra, Audrey, Alexander). But, her younger sister could never pronounce Althea and it came out A-Tee-ya, which later was shortened to Tia.

Living in Hawaii, she had the usual aspirations of becoming a model and actress. Tia got her first real break when a low budget island picture entitled, Aloha Summer found her in a local market and cast her in a minor role. Since then, she has definitely left her mark on the Hollywood scene, having starred in such memorable films as True Lies (with Arnold Swartzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis) and Rising Sun (with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes).

Anyone who knows her has learned to expect great things. After all, she basically redefined the meaning of the phrase, “what a babe!” with her portrayal of Mike Meyers’ girlfriend in Wayne’s World I and Wayne’s World II. These roles helped her launch her first major CD, DREAM where she demonstrated her skill and great passion for music.

While we talked, she admitted, playing opposite great characters such as Sean Connery or Arnold Swartzenegger, has made it a lot of fun to be Tia Carrere. However, it’s impossible to choose her favorite leading man. “I’ve been really fortunate, and every one has their own strength. Of course, I was absolutely impressed that I could call Sean Connery by his first name. ‘Hi, Sean!’ That was a kick. Arnold Swartzenegger was just a complete sweetheart and a joy to work with. He was very sweet. My sister, when she was living here, came to visit the set of True Lies. I told him, ‘my sister is just in Awe of you and she’s very jealous that I take Tango lessons with you. And, he called her over, ‘Audra, would you like to practice some Tango with me?’ So, he did some tango thing with her and dipped her and she was so in heaven! It’s one of the stories she still tells. It was really sweet of him. “

Tia Carrere in True Lies

Although it’s been fun, she lamented that the harsh realities of Hollywood and stardom have changed her. “I’m not as trusting as I used to be,” she said. “Definitely, living in Los Angeles for 13 years…that’s got to change you a little bit. It makes you a little bit more protective, a little bit edgier. I used to think, ‘Oh, everything’s O.K.’ But, now I realize, when people come here from Hawaii, it’s easy to take advantage of them because by nature we’re trusting people. There’s nothing to be afraid of in our neighborhood, in our surroundings. It’s not a very hostile environment. I mean, it’s more citified now, and that’s my biggest regret whenever I go back home.”

When I spoke to Tia about stardom and her incredible popularity with almost every group of people, at first she joked, as she might have when she appeared in the movie Wayne’s World, “I’m not worthy!”

Then however, she addressed the issue in a more thoughtful manner, “Well, I feel like I’m still a work in progress because there’s always more. You can drive yourself nuts with all the worries. At a certain point you sit back and look at where you came from and go, ‘Yeah, I’m doing good. I’m happy. I’ve achieved all I’ve ever wanted to achieve and more.’ And, then going back home sort of takes you back down to ground zero, and you go ‘O.k., this is not so bad.’”

I asked if she ever thought about retiring. She laughed and said,” I like what I do. I get paid to play. Why would I want to retire? I mean, I’m concentrating more on my music right now. That’s what I started out doing. It’s what I really love. I hope, someday I will receive the same notoriety for my music, as I have for my acting.”

Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho He Nani Cover

Is there any new music coming up? Should we expect a new CD soon? Any concerts? “No, concerts yet. I’m writing for another record. I’ll do that (concert) eventually, but that first record was like slick, cool, pop. On this one I want to do more organic, more …very simple arrangements just voice, bass, drums guitar or just guitar or piano. I’m actually working with a guy from Hawaii who I worked with when I was fourteen. His name is Daniel Ho. He has a contemporary jazz, fusion group called Kiluaea (like the volcano). And, someone had sent me a CD of his. It sat around from October to March and then I opened it up, finally. I realized that this was a guy I had worked with when I was fourteen and he’s a brilliant musician so we’ve been writing some stuff together. It’s really cool, cool stuff. I’m very happy. It’s going to be a total departure from what I’ve done before. After I put all my material together, I’ll record it. Just as it’s getting ready to be sold, I’ll go out a do performances. I did tour, when I did Wayne’s World One. I toured all through Europe. And, when my record came out, I did a whole thing through the United States, New York, Boston, all the way to Salt Lake City.”

As if the acting, song writing and running of restaurants were not enough, Tia and her husband now own two production companies. She schooled me on the difference between one, HULA GIRL PRODUCTIONS and her other company PHONETIAN FILMS. “You know, when you incorporate, when you write songs, everything must be done according to the rules,” Tia explained. “HULA GIRL is the banner that my work goes out under. But, PHONETIAN FILMS is the production company that my husband and I started about three years ago. My husband had never produced before, but he’s taken to it amazingly. We’ve done ten films, Lesser Prophets, Hollow Point with Donald Sutherland, John Lithgow and myself. We did, The Last Days of Frankie The Fly, which was just on HBO, with Dennis Hopper, Michael Madsen, Keefer Sutherland and Darryl Hannah. We’ve got another movie that’s just wrapping this week in Boston with Dennis Leary.

Many of you probably remember her character on General Hospital. She was not definite about her objectives in television. “Do a series again? Depends. I’m pretty closed off to it, just because I have so much freedom in the feature world. Producing our own stuff I can have it exactly the way I want it, but, I did do a TV pilot about a year ago. And, it’s too bad it didn’t go, because it was a really, really interesting little short. I think it was a little too quirky for television. It took place in Vegas and I was a lounge singer. I got to sing in it. I think it would have made a better movie than a television show. You know, if something really good comes up [then I’d do television] but it’s a grind doing the same thing day in, day out.”

What about Talk shows and sitcoms? She said “NO!” to both. “It’s not for me. I think it’s unnerving having the live audience and the laugh tracks. Half the time, the jokes are really lame. But, you know what it really is? I like the schedule of movies. You work really hard for six months, or two months or one month, whatever it is, depending upon the budget, and then you’re done with it. You go onto something new and exciting. If you’re doing a TV series you have to make a three to five year commitment. I wish I could live in Hawaii and do what I do.”

Is your family still in Hawaii?

“My mom, my two younger sisters and grandma. My dad and his second wife and my two half sisters, they all live in Samoa. So, I have a real love affair with the South Pacific Islands.”

What other islands have you been to?

“Just American Samoa, Western Samoa, all of the Hawaiian Islands. I just recently went to the Caribbean in January. That was a mistake. I did all this traveling and Hawaii is just so much more beautiful, anyway. I won’t make that mistake again. We were going to go to Bora Bora, but I heard that it wasn’t as hot or humid, there’s like a prime time to go to Bora Bora, but it wasn’t this time of year. So, I went to the Caribbean, but you know, you take it for granted what you have. We always go to Hawaii, but I would have had more fun if I had gone to Hawaii.”

When you go back, do you have a favorite spot in Hawaii?

“Gosh! It’s so beautiful everywhere. But, one time, on Maui, we took a nature hike. A couple of years ago, we went there on vacation and they took us on a nature hike on the Hana side. We walked up, for a good hour through streams and over rocks and everything and ended up at this big pool of water at this waterfall, where you could swim under the waterfall and all that kind of stuff. That was pretty magical. And, then they unpacked the lunch that they put together, vegetarian burger, mangoes, papayas…that was something special. I don’t know exactly where it is…All I know it’s a nature hike. Up the hills in the back country near Hana.”

Genuine feelings for the islands is what prompted Ms. Carrere to do the PACIFIC ISLANDER interview, in the first place. When our time was about up, she decided to make one more emotional plea for sanity in the Pacific. “The Pacific Islands contain the most beautiful places on Earth. The most beautiful and wonderful people on Earth, and I hope this magazine helps get that information out there to people. Because the more people who come to visit and fall in love with these places, the better it will be for the people who live there. Then, maybe France won’t be doing nuclear testing in the South Pacific. They’ll realize that it’s ridiculous and irresponsible. I think it’s unconscionable for a country, halfway around the world to arbitrarily say, ‘O.K., we don’t care about you people on this little pebble in the Pacific Ocean. We’re going to set off charges and we’re not going to do tests on how it affects you and the local marine life, what kind of birth defects it causes in your children…we don’t care, because you’re just some small Polynesian island that has no political clout behind you. It makes you wonder what kind of legacy we’re leaving to the children of the world. If people would get out there and see the beautiful islands, and rally about, then others wouldn’t take advantage of these natives in that way. But, it’s all education and it’s all empathizing and putting oneself in our fellow human being’s shoes.”

“Not going to run for any public offices, are you?” I asked one final question.

“Maybe I should,” she said, flashing one more million-dollar grin. I reached to turn off the tape recorder. “But maybe I shouldn’t,” she amended. “I really don’t have the stomach for that.”

Gordon Richiusa About Gordon Richiusa

Gordon Richiusa is an Italian American who has been a martial artist for some 50 years. He teaches the Five Bird System. Gordon earned a Master of Arts degree in English and has written numerous articles, stories, books and scripts under his own name and his pen-name, Gordon Rich. He has been a teacher of English Composition, Film as Literature, Creative Writing, and Scriptwriting and He holds two teaching credentials.