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Actor Taylor Wily is a true Hawaiian super star. As soon as he pulled up to the Kaimuki municipal lot in his Lincoln Navigator, people started to notice. A guy waiting at a traffic light rolled down his window to congratulate Taylor on his continued success in Hawaii Five-0, while others gawked and pointed from behind a building’s (not so) tinted windows. I could see them mouth the name, KAH-me-KO-na.
Taylor Wily as Kamekona on “Five-0.” He sells shave ice and recently added shrimp to his menu, a favorite Hawaii food.
Yes, Kamekona! The jolly guy on Five-0 that sells Waiola shave ice. Whether he’s wearing that bright yellow Waiola shirt or giving advice to funny man Jason Segel on Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), this North Shore native can be easily recognized by his charm – both on screen and off – and his ridiculously contagious smile. It’s not just his mouth that smiles, but every part of his face smiles, particularly his squinting eyes.
I managed to snag a quick interview with him yesterday before his “appearance,” as he called it, at the Paul Mitchell Beauty School. When I jokingly asked if he had been planning to get his “hair did,” Taylor played along, revealing that contagiously smiling face while rubbing his smooth bald head.
Surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of Paul Mitchell models and the sweet aroma of hair products, we laughed about his five-minute walk of fame in the parking lot.
“That’s a lot of stardom for our small island,” I remarked. “How do you get used to that?”
He chuckled, his shoulders shrugging up and down with each high-pitched he he he, “It’s definitely been life-changing. I mean, everywhere I go now, people recognize me, but it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”
He thanked his fans and wanted to make sure they knew one important thing: “If anyone wants to take a picture…HOLLAH!” He confirmed this with, not one, but two wiggling shakas, so you know he’s fo’ real.
VIDEO: An exclusive Hawaii Vacation interview with Taylor Wily.
Taylor, whose real name is Teila Tuli, embraced the celeb lifestyle long before his Five-0 days. After graduating from Kahuku High School, he traveled to Japan and made a career out of sumo wrestling. He was good at it, too, winning 14 official bouts and two tournament championships. I was most surprised when I learned he mentored the soon-to-be yokozuna (highest sumo rank) Akebono, also from Hawaii.
Taylor eventually retired from sumo in 1989 but still made cameos in commercials, even scoring a few roles in pilot shows for network television. He eventually made his big debut in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and then Five-0. All this, and he’s only 43? Though, you wouldn’t know it by his baby face complexion.
His Five-0 character is an ex-criminal informant who has ties to Hawaii’s “underworld.” He frequently helps McGarret (Alex O’Loughlin) and Detective Danno (Scott Caan) to solve cases.
“I love the character that I’m playing,” he said. “It’s so close to who I am, and I’m grateful that the writers take a lot of my personal stuff and write it to my character.”
By “personal stuff,” he means the language, and I have to admit, he authentically dishes out the Pidgin on Five-0. None of those awkwardly placed emphasis on syllables or those words that come out sounding totally wrong. Can I just say, on behalf of myself and Hawaii: Thank you, Taylor!
“That’s really what the character of Kamekona is. (It’s) Hawaii,” he revealed. “I take that as a responsibility that…I’m not only representing myself, but I’m also representing the state.”
Taylor gets his wardrobe approved by the Five-0 cast behind the scenes.
I’m pretty certain this part of my story isn’t true for Taylor, but when most people are in the same room as Alex O’Loughlin, they can’t function. Fans melt over his chiseled face (and abs), his dark mysterious eyes, the cute look he has when he furrows his eyebrows together…I might even take one for the team and admit to being a star-struck fan myself. You get this uncontrollable giggling giddiness, and just by making the slightest bit of eye contact with the celeb, your body freezes up and you lose the ability to speak. Of course, Taylor’s much more professional than that and remarks on it being a privilege to work with these big Hollywood honchos.
“Talent wise, working with Alex and Scot and Grace and Masa…they’re so talented. All I got to do is sit there and watch them, and I learn heaps. I learn a lot!” he explained. “This is one of the greatest productions I’ve worked on.”
So why were we sitting in the realm of Hawaii’s fashionistas at Paul Mitchell’s? Turns out, Taylor’s promoting his “Hawaii Five-0 Wrap’Um Party” this Saturday at Aloha Tower. It’s a night specifically for Five-0 fans to revel in the spirit of another successful season.
“I was born into the Hawaii Five-0 ohana! It’s just a chance for me to party with everybody, especially the fans who never get to be on set or get to know anything about the production, but their heart is fully into Five-0,” Taylor said, lighting up at the thought of it. Pointing to the camera, his face begins to smile, “Thank YOU! YOU make the show.”
TAYLOR WILY’S WRAP’UM PARTY • Saturday, April 21, 2012 9pm • Nectar Ultra Lounge (above Gordon Biersch) 1 Aloha Tower Dr., Honolulu, HI 96813 • Get tickets at www.alohataylorwily.com, $25
Photo Credit: CBS Productions