By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
If Amy Hill seems to be on all of your favorite TV shows, it’s not your imagination.
In the past couple of years, she has had recurring roles on “Just Add Magic,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Preacher,” “UnREAL,” “Mom,” “The Great Outdoors” and “Black-ish,” not to mention the animated “Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny.”
But those shows will have to take a back seat as Hill takes on the role of Kumu in CBS’ reboot of “Magnum, P.I.,” which airs Mondays at 9 p.m.
“It’s hard to make these decisions for me, but as they say, for actors it’s always feast or famine,” Hill said about cutting back on the other shows. “I LOVED working on those shows, so I’m hoping those opportunities will still happen in the future.”
The new “Magnum” stars Jay Hernandez in the role made famous by Tom Selleck in the original series (1980-88) about a private investigator in Hawaii. The cast also includes Perdita Weeks as Higgins (John Hillerman in the original), Zachary Knighton as Rick, Stephen Hill as TC, and Tim Kang (“The Mentalist”) as Detective Katsumoto.
Hill, who did not watch the original series, said it didn’t take long to get the role. “It was a meeting with Peter Lenkov (producer of ‘Magnum’ and the reboot of ‘Hawaii Five-O’), who offered me the role at the end of the meeting. A week later, I was on set.”
She lives in L.A. but is no stranger to Hawaii, having appeared in the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy “50 First Dates,” some independent films, the TV series “North Shore” as Jason Momoa’s mother, and a 2014 episode of “Hawaii Five-O” as a tour guide.
Along with Magnum and Higgins, Kumu lives at Robin’s Nest, the Oahu beachfront estate of author Robin Masters, where she is the cultural curator and “house mom.”
“Kumu offers a bit of local flavor and grounds the show in Hawaii,” Hill explained. “She also provides important clues to helping solve crimes that only a local person could provide.”
Kumu has dozens of cousins, tutus (aunties) and neighbors all over Oahu that she can call on for information.
Though she is of Japanese and Finnish descent and grew up on the mainland, Hill strives for an accurate portrayal. “I have several ‘aunties’ that I go to for inspiration as well as being involved in cultural activities. I try to incorporate as much as I can in terms of character, speech and authenticity.”
She offered a glimpse of coming attractions: “The episode I’m shooting next involves a bit of romance for Kumu, so it focuses more on my character. It’s very sweet. The last episode, I held a gun to break up a fight!”
Since “Magnum” and “Hawaii Five-O” are sister shows, the cast and crew all know each other. “We spend a lot of time together outside of the set. Great people. I think it reflects onscreen how much we enjoy each other.”
Taylor Wily, who plays Kamekona on “Five-O,” has already appeared as the same character on “Magnum,” and Kimee Balmilero has appeared as her “Five-0” character, medical examiner Dr. Noelani Cunha, three times. But Hill doesn’t know if she will do the same. “There are going to be opportunities for crossovers, but I’m not sure what it will involve.”
There have been complaints from Media Action Network for Asian Americans and others that Asian Pacific Islander representation on the two shows is insufficient considering that APIs make up more than half of the state’s population. Hill commented, “I believe the intentions are good on behalf of the producers. I do my best as I know others in each cast do.”
An added benefit of the job is that Hill is near her daughter Penelope, who is attending University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I get to see my daughter about once a week. She’s very ensconced with school and friends and school activities. It’s great to see her moving into adulthood so seamlessly.
Though Hill doesn’t know what she will be doing after “Magnum” wraps, there’s little doubt that she will have several projects to choose from.
Summing up her career, which includes over 170 acting credits on IMDb going back to 1984, she said, “I work hard. Maybe not harder than anyone else, but I love what I do so it doesn’t feel like work.”
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