By Wendie Burbridge / Special to the Star-Advertiser
For Hawaii actor Dennis Chun, aloha is at the heart and soul of “Hawaii Five-0.” He speaks of it often, always referring to the connection the cast and crew have between each other and with their fans. To Chun— it’s the love and respect that flows within the Five-0 ʻohana that really makes the show work on so many levels.
So when the producers asked his long-time partner Laura Mellow to play his wife in an upcoming scene, he saw another element of his life come full circle.
Chun has a legacy with “Hawaii Five-0” that is deeper than just his recurring role as Sgt. Duke Lukela. As many fans know, his father, renowned actor Kam Fong, originated the role of Chin Ho Kelly and played the role from 1968 to 1978.
For Chun to now work on the rebooted version of Leonard Freeman’s creation, along side Daniel Dae Kim who now portrays the character Chun’s father made into a household name, seems to make his “Hawaii Five-0” life more complete.
In the same sense, next week’s Valentine’s episode “Hoa ʻīnea” (“Misery Loves Company”), brings a sweet story of love and deep aloha to the surface. It’s a story that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in person, as well as one that has inspired me to celebrate the theme of aloha in this week’s Valentine post.
The Feb. 12 episode involves Five-0 investigating a double homicide involving marital infidelity, and from the promos and photos released this week, also shows McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), Danno (Scott Caan), Chin (Daniel Dae Kim), and Lou (Chi McBride) and their disastrous Valentine’s Day experiences.
For Chin— it seems his Valentine’s Day experience involves him running into his HPD colleague and friend, Duke and his wife, Nalani, all while he is a very awkward position. In the promo pics we see Chin standing in the lobby of the Kahala Hotel and Resort, clad only in a very small towel– and while many will not complain of the view, he is surrounded by fully dressed people and seems uncomfortably out of place. And to make matters even worse, Chin happens to know two of the people staring at him— the Lukelas.
When Hawaii casting director Rachel Sutton called Chun to tell him that he was going to have a wife in the next episode. It wasn’t a speaking part, but they wanted Mellow to play the role of Nalani Lukela. Chun felt “honored” that they considered using his real-life partner to play his on-screen wife.
While fans are quite familiar with Chun, who is very generous with his time and very connected to the Five-0 fans in Hawaii, as well as around the world, many may not know Mellow, his partner of almost six years. They met close to the start of “Hawaii Five-0” and Mellow is often seen at Five-0 fan events, and on Chun’s arm on the red carpet at Sunset on the Beach.
So for Valentine’s Day, I asked if they would share not only their story about working together on the set of “Hoa ʻīnea,” but if they would also share their love story. It’s one that made me realize not only how much of a connection Chun has to the show, but how much love and aloha is deeply rooted within the Five-0 ʻohana.
Mellow, an accomplished arts and business woman, has been involved in art “since diapers.”
She grew up in Honolulu and is a graduate of Punahou School. It was at Punahou where she took a figure drawing class that really solidified her desire to study and pursue art. She attended Washington University in St Louis, majoring in Fine Arts with an emphasis on figurative drawing, painting, and sculpture, and she also studied classical figurative art at the American Institute for Foreign Study in Florence, Italy.
At Washington University, she really honed her skills— learning bone structure and anatomy in order to draw and portray the human figure. Her inspiration and art hero is Michelangelo. “His art really moved me. He spoke to me through his story and his characters. There’s a real power in his art,” said Mellow. Both Chun and Mellow spoke to me over the phone earlier this week from their home in Hawaii.
After she returned from her studies in Italy she learned casting, which led her to her jewelry making, and eventually led her to running her own antique jewelry shop in Downtown Honolulu for 22 years.
“That’s how I met Dennis. He would often walk by the shop and say hello, and then one day we were waiting to cross the street. We started talking and that’s how things got going. And then Dennis asked me out and I was so excited and giddy, I ran to the show and told everyone, “Dennis just asked me out!” shared Mellow. It was so sweet to still hear the excitement in her voice. Chun and Mellow started dating shortly before “Hawaii Five-0” started shooting in 2010.
“We went to Gordon Biersch and talked for five hours. They had to ask us to leave because they were closed— but we kept talking. What was really neat, was how that date came full circle. We always attend the Five-0 wrap parties, and last year the season five wrap party— was at Gordon Biersch. It felt really special because we didn’t know if the series was going to continue, so having the “last” wrap party at the place where we had our first date made it even more special,” said Mellow.
When the fifth season of shooting wrapped in March 2015 for the Five-0 cast and crew, they did not know if they had been renewed for a sixth season. CBS did not announce Five-0’s renewal a few days after the season finale aired in May.
Mellow also talked about working with Chun on her very first episode of “Hawaii Five-0,” and how comfortable she felt.
“I felt so at home there— everyone is so creative. I didn’t have a speaking part, so normally I was supposed to go with the Extras, but Dennis asked if I could come with him to his trailer. They had my dress hanging next to the aloha shirt he was going to wear in the scene, and they fussed over my hair, and worried about the rain and how they were going to get us to set without us getting wet. It was amazing to watch them deal with the minutiae, yet still be so happy and ready to play.”
“It’s a real ‘ohana, they always talk about that, but it is really so so special. Many people I knew from different Five-0 events and I was familiar with them, but to see them all working together— they create a synergy that is just magic. I can see how special it is. Dennis would always come home and talk about that, but I finally got to experience it for myself. They just love it. They are passionate about what they do,” said Mellow.
“We filmed over at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, and Daniel (Dae Kim) was there in his bath robe, and everyone was so amazing. Even Peter Weller (who directs “Hoa ʻīnea”) — he is such an amazing person.”
“There’s about 50 people on the set, and the cameras are everywhere, but the whole time I was there I was just calm and taking it all in. We didn’t really rehearse it, I was just supposed to react, and Dennis and Daniel have the dialogue. It was very natural, I just reacted to what was going on in the scene. It was amazing, everyone on set are fantastic pros,” said Mellow.
At first Mellow turned down the role, wanting to allow a seasoned actor to play the part. “I know how much Dennis trains and prepares, so I didn’t want to take that away from another actor,” said Mellow, who has never acted or done anything in front of the camera before.
But after talking with Chun and realizing that it would be okay for her to play the small part, Mellow agreed. “I told her Daniel is a professional and he’ll have your back. We didn’t rehearse because I wanted her to react naturally and be in the moment. Acting is being truthful. And that really worked. She did very very well, and we did about three takes and it was perfect,” said Chun.
Of course, Mellow would be a natural fit to play Chun’s on-screen wife. After shooting Mellow and Chun went across the street from the Five-0 Studios to Diamond Head Memorial Park to visit his parents’ graves.
“It was as if Dennis’s parents were there with us. We were at the original Five-0 Studios where his dad filmed, and then we were in a scene with Daniel, who now plays his dad’s part. It was really special,” said Mellow.
“I was glad I could share the scene with her so she could understand it. And it was a sense of pride that she did so well. I have a lot of tremendous pride and respect for Laura because of all the things she has overcome to be successful and continue with her art,” said Chun.
I asked both Chun and Mellow who inspired their tremendous love and aloha, and Chun talked about his parents, but also he talked about Mellow, who has epilepsy, and struggled with daily seizures. Ten years ago she had an intricate brain surgery which stopped her seizures entirely. “It gave me a life,” said Mellow.
This led her to create EpiBears, which is a multi-faceted project “which offers comfort, understanding, and reassurance to children that are dealing with the challenge of epilepsy as well as to educate, reassure, and support those who love and care for these children.”
Mellow talked about the challenge of epilepsy, as she knows about being afraid and feeling lonely, as someone who has suffered from a chronic disease. She very much wants to reach out to others to help them deal with epilepsy. Especially children.
“You asked us who inspired us to share our aloha. Well, my parents really inspire me, but so does Laura. She has overcome so much. She’s really an inspiration to others who struggle with illnesses like epilepsy,” said Chun.
For Chun and Mellow a deep sense of aloha not only flows between them, but for anyone else who comes within their presence. I always say I am blessed to know them and to have them in my life. And I think fans around the world feel the same.
You can follow Chun’s Facebook page to see his updates from the Five-0 set. You can follow Mellow on Facebook and see her art at her website MakaliiArts.com. She will show her latest pieces Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Punahou Carnival.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.