Reporter gets own scoop on ‘Hawaii Five-O’

Photo: Kelly Campbell

By Andrea Stephanie McPherson

On a whim and a prayer, I decided to go out on a limb and take my friend up on his offer to couchsurf in Hawaii. Never would I have imagined going from couchsurfing to having my own apartment and working regularly as a background actor on “Hawaii Five-O.”

It’s always been a dream of mine to spend at least a few years in Hawaii. My stepmother, who had an integral part in raising me, grew up in the Wilhelmina Heights area of Honolulu, and I had been there a few times in my elementary school days to visit her family. I’d always loved being there. I knew one day I would end up living there, for at least a while.

On July 4, 2010 I set foot on my new home of Oahu. But a few weeks later, after sending my headshot and resume to the casting office of the soon-to-be popular TV series, I was cast as a “market patron” for the second episode of “Hawaii Five-O.”

It was quite simple: They liked my look; I look local enough. For the past eight months they’ve called me every two weeks or so to film. Every time, I am filming a different episode and subsequently a different character. To clarify, these are not speaking roles. Sometimes they’ll edit out or blur my face altogether so that the attention is solely on the lead actors Grace Park, Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin.

On my first day of filming, it was easy stuff. We were in Waikiki’s International Marketplace. It was almost completely shaded, and I’m certain we worked only for about eight hours. Easy as pie, and I was already hooked. Tourists would pass by and get such a kick out of watching us. The thrill of knowing we were on set with some well-known and influential stars, and the possibility of our friends and family seeing us on a major network was worth walking back and forth and doing the same repetitive actions for hours on end. Plus, I’ll admit I had a huge crush on Scott Caan.

Five-O stars Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan, Alex O’Loughlin and Grace Park. Photo: CBS

Some of my other shoots for Five-O have been a little more challenging. I was cast as a reporter for one episode, which meant I had to wear a suit in the blazing heat of Oahu’s afternoon sun. After hour six, I was completely spent. Even though I was only standing there, pretending to speak into a microphone, my energy was so depleted. It was awesome seeing Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin drive past in a black SUV about 15 times in the scene and being able to catch a glimpse of them. Thankfully, there was plenty of water snacks and shade for background actors to stand in.

While being a background extra means that you’re the lowest on the totem pole, the crew treated us well and were very respectful. But truthfully, you’re just there to fill space. You’re not the star, and most people will find that the menial pay isn’t worth coming back a second time. Thankfully, I finally have my SAG membership and can make pretty good money if I’m filming for even a few hours.

Being on set is a different world in and of itself. Every crew member has his/her own specific task, each playing his part to make sure transitions are smooth, time is being utilized, camera angles are right and the director gets what he wants. I find myself being fascinated by the PAs running around like super-efficient ants, breaking equipment down and putting it back together in a matter of seconds, then the fact that Grace Park’s rear end is three inches away from my right shoulder as I sit in a diner in Chinatown, while filming a chase scene.

One anecdote in particular. While waiting to use the port-a-potty on a shoot downtown, I look to my right and suddenly Daniel Dae Kim is also waiting to use the facilities and is standing mere feet away from me. The best thing to always do is to give the actors their space. The last thing you want is piss them off and it get back to the director that you’re a nuisance. So, I stepped out of his way. Daniel’s handler also requested that I let Daniel use the facilities first, as he needed to get back to set in a few minutes. I willingly obliged.

When the port-a-potty became available, Daniel gestured for me to go before him. His handler informed him that it was alright with me if he needed to go first, but Daniel insisted that I go first saying, “She’s been waiting here longer than I have.” I’ve heard stories about Daniel being a happy, positive and particularly kind individual, but this very much solidified my opinion of him.

One of the more humorous things to watch on set are all the starry-eyed women who show up in skimpy outfits and doused in perfume, hoping to get the attention of one of the good-looking male leads. More often than not, they get the attention of crew members.

Equally as funny are the background actors who think they’re the stars of the show. They walk around with their chests puffed out and showing off. We all know that we’re all extras, and there is no guarantee that what we’re filming will even make it past the cutting room floor.

The fact that I moved to Honolulu, expecting to focus on my writing career is quite ironic because I had no clue that anything was being filmed out here. “Off the Map,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth 2” and even “Cougar Town” are a few of the productions that have filmed here. I was lucky enough to appear in an episode of “Animal Planet.” It was cheaper for the production company to fly to Oahu from Los Angeles and make their film location look like South Africa, instead going all the way to South Africa.

As someone who is trying to make it in acting, I know this is not the “end all, be all” of my career. But I do know that I am gaining valuable experience: how to behave on set so that I’ll be called back, how to blend in so that I’m able to keep working, how to keep quiet and follow directions. So, when I hopefully do land a lead role, I’ll know exactly what I’m doing and I can say that I was a part of bringing back one of the most popular television series of all time.

Caught between the worlds of art and literature, Manhattan native and freelance journalist Andrea Stephanie McPherson is of Filipino, black and Chinese descent. A Hawaii resident, she works behind the scenes for the CBS series “Hawaii Five-O.” She has a special interest in the positive effects that the arts can have on youths in urban communities.

One Comment

  1. Daisey wrote:

    Added, I really like your site! 🙂

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