Monday, September 27, 2004

Aya Sumika's character, Lihn Tomiya, faces her share of drama in NBC's "Hawaii."

Reel life &
real life cops

‘Hawaii’ star proves she can
hold her own in a world
of macho men

Aya Sumika seems to glide across the floor of the cluttered Mapunapuna warehouse where NBC has created the Honolulu Municipal Police precinct for its cop drama "Hawaii."

She hops onto a high chair with her name painted on its back. The Juilliard graduate -- she's been dancing for 17 years -- smiles, lost in a Cinderella moment, remembering that in her first screen role she's one of the stars in a network prime-time series.


Airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on KHON/Fox

Then Sumika catches herself and apologizes for the brief lapse and an interview interrupted a few days earlier.

"I think you asked me when I thought a woman is most beautiful," she recalls. "Here's what I call my ode to the morning hours."

She whispers: "A woman is most beautiful when she is completely off guard and natural."

Then pragmatism kicks in.

"But that natural, youthful glow will fade, and all women will have to endure their greatest enemy, time," she says.

It's difficult to imagine that the 24-year-old actress, the only female among seven main cast members, has any enemies. Sumika plays the strong-willed but flawed cop Lihn Tamiya.

"She's a delight to be around," says Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who plays her boss, Capt. Terry Tagawa. "There's no pretense, no ego, just energy, enthusiasm and natural talent."

"You want to help her, protect her," says co-star Eric Balfour, who already has given Sumika surfing lessons. "She's a real professional, great work ethic, always observing."

SUMIKA, a Seattle native, had an early love for both the dramatic and performing arts. She focused primarily on dance and, after years of study in high school, was accepted into the Juilliard School, where she honed her skills in ballet.

Dancing has kept her in excellent condition, so she was ready for "Hawaii's" action scenes.

"I weigh 120, baby, all muscle weight," she says, raising her arm to show a taut biceps. "I love being physical. I swim, go to the gym and pump weights, walk, dance, and now I'm learning hula.

"It's so much harder than it looks -- and I've been dancing my whole life," Sumika says.

Like other cast members, Sumika went on a ride-along with a police officer -- a 23-year-old woman nicknamed Jack -- in researching her role.

"We had a lot of scares during that ride, and my gut dropped several times," she said. "I learned that you never know what to expect."

Sumika also learned how to handcuff and tackle a suspect, then spent part of a day at the Koko Head gun range firing a police-issue 9 mm revolver. She'd never fired a weapon before.

"I'm a really good aim, especially when the object was flying toward me," she said, smiling. "What really surprised me, though, is how police consider their weapon to be like a best friend. I hear some cops talk about their guns like they're talking about a woman."

Being the only female among the stars allows Sumika to get into her character more easily.

"Lihn has to hold her own in a man's field, constantly having to prove herself," she says. "She's beautiful, talented, smart, independent and flawed. She has a pained history but gets up every morning and puts on her Superman, uh Superwoman, suit. That's a wall, a guard, that says, 'I'm here for business.'"

ART IS IMITATING a bit of Sumika's real life, which has included working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan.

"Oh yes, I know what it's like to be surrounded by men," she says. "Drunk men spitting on you or asking the most inane questions: 'What's a pretty lady like you working in a place like this?'

"'How about trying to earn a living?' I would tell them."

Sumika's father, a classical guitar player, lives in Upcountry Maui with her brother, so she's been a frequent Hawaii visitor over the years.

Tagawa, whom Sumika calls a father figure, has reminded her of her Japanese heritage. "I want to pay respect to Hawaii by learning as much as I can about the culture. And I do play a local girl."

Sumika does pass for local; even her pidgin is acceptable, although she hasn't used it on the series.

"I tried to sneak it in one scene, and they stopped shooting to remind me that the writers haven't established that part of Lihn's character," she said.

The writers also have tried to play down Sumika's beauty, keeping her wrapped in police blues and her hair tied up under a cap. But in the first episode, Sumika is found by other officers in her Jacuzzi with Sharif Atkins' character.

"First off, Mom and Dad, I was wearing a body stocking!" she says. "The scene wasn't difficult for me because I'm very comfortable with my body."

Sumika received notice that she had gotten the part the same day she auditioned for the role.

"I feel like I'm Cinderella and 'Hawaii' is my glass slipper," she said.

As Sumika's star rises, Lihn will likely get a promotion as well.

"Oh yes, I'm getting out of those navy blues, which were fun for about two weeks," she said. "Now it's in my trailer, and I scowl at it every day."

One fantasy that hasn't yet come true is getting recognized.

"Boo hoo for me," Sumika says, laughing. "I've been waiting for the attention my whole life, so bring it on!"


HPD consultants see that
actors respect proper
police procedure

Lt. Kevin Katamoto and Detective Mike Cho are sitting in a cafeteria eating lunch when Cho, who works out of HPD's main station, reminds his co-worker that there's "gonna be a shooting in a couple of hours."

Katamoto, a watch commander at the Kalihi precinct and a 20-year police veteran, nods but continues eating the last of a salad.

"It's a pretty routine shooting," Katamoto says between bites. "No need to get in their way while they're setting up."

Cho, a 25-year veteran of the force, leans back, rubs his eyes, then yawns as if he's seen this sort of crime many times.

He has, both on and off the job.

Cho, a large, intimidating man with a gracious smile, also served as a police consultant on the Oahu-based television show "One West Waikiki." But this is Katamoto's first go-round with a Hollywood cop drama.

The two officers have been hired by NBC to ensure the accuracy of police procedure. They screen scripts, train the actors who portray cops and take production executives' questions about the right way to set up an arrest scene.

"I answer more of the questions about legal police procedures," says Cho, an instructor at the police training academy. "I make sure that their actors' actions are legal, especially in the use of force.

"The producers want 'Hawaii's' cops to use as close to HPD tactics as possible."

Cho, a detective in HPD's narcotics division, teaches actors correct methods for breaking into buildings, the psychology in arresting suspects and avoiding using a gun, intimidation and the use of a weapon in critical situations.

"The Hollywood perception of what police do is a lot different from reality," Katamoto says. "Hollywood has to have everything sped up from the time the evidence is recovered, investigation completed and the arrest made.

"It's more exciting to have the actor rush into a house or building and break down the door, when real police take time to do it methodically because it's safer for everyone. But real police work is often boring to the point of tears, so the audience would be sleeping if we did it the real way."

Another thing the actors do is make humorous, sarcastic or even disparaging remarks at a crime scene when the victim's family is close by.

"The producers and writers know (HPD) wouldn't do that," Katamoto says. "But we know this show is supposed to be entertaining and not a class on how to do police work."

LATE LAST YEAR, when "Hawaii" creator/writer Jeff Eastin visited Oahu to scout for the pilot, Cho was selected to give him an island tour.

"We first talked about criminal activity here and how HPD works compared, say, to mainland departments," Cho says. "He had a story line in mind. I drove him around, including Chinatown and Waikiki, then in the early evening to Tantalus to see the city at night, get the size of Honolulu."

When the show was given the green light for nine episodes in January, the producers requested Cho as a consultant. As for Katamoto's participation, he jokes that he "chose the short straw."

The two men work on the show on their days off, about two days a week, at the production's Mapunapuna sound stage or on location.

"NBC has been very good about our real job schedule," Cho says. "They understand that we both work full time and HPD has to be our priority."

One scene that made Cho wince occurred in the pilot, in which officers entered a building with guns drawn.

"It only happened for a second, but one of actors had his gun pointed toward the back of the officer in front of him," Cho says. "That would never happen because we're taught that you must always be aware if someone is in front of you. You must know where the muzzle is pointing."

Guns used on the show range from plastic fakes to real firearms that have been adjusted so they can't be fired.

INTERESTINGLY, neither Cho nor Katamoto, in their combined 45 years in police work, have ever fired their weapons.

"I consider guns a necessary evil," Katamoto says. "When I vacation on the mainland and don't have to carry a weapon, I'm happy as a lark."

Cho recalls a scene in which Balfour and Sergei had to enter a shack with the possibility of confronting someone with a gun. "I walked them through what to do and how to do it, and they totally nailed it," he says. "If we did it that well in real life, we would always be OK."

Cho has emphasized to the cast that pulling a gun on a suspect is only one part of the arrest package.

"It's your whole demeanor, voice, command, body language," he says. "When you point a gun at the suspect, he has to know you mean business ... know he may get shot."

Another part of Hollywood police drama is the large number of homicides.

"In Honolulu all of last year, we had 15 homicides," Katamoto says. "Now we're just on Episode 7, and we've already surpassed that."

There may have been a nugget of truth, however, in the pilot episode when Balfour and Sergei commandeered a fishing boat to catch another boat.

"Well, in my 25 years at HPD, I've never heard of that, but I did commandeer a mountain bike," Cho says, grinning.

The officer was at Ala Moana Center finishing his shift when he heard a radio call about two juvenile shoplifters.

"I was in uniform," he says. "I saw them way ahead of me, but I couldn't get to my car in time.

"I saw this guy on a bike and asked if I could use it. He said, 'Yeah,' and I pedaled like a madman to catch them, and I did."

Cho and Katamoto say their biggest problem isn't dealing with Hollywood, but with fellow officers.

"They're relentless in their teasing, especially the females," says Cho.

"Everything that goes against procedure is our fault," Katamoto says.

After the pilot showed Atkins get shot after pursuing a suspect without backup, some of Cho's female co-workers were nearly gleeful.

"They were saying (Sharif) deserved to get shot because he didn't call for backup," Cho says. "My mantra is 'It's Hollywood; it's TV.'"

The two men are reluctant to make story line suggestions, although Katamoto believes that one important character is missing from the cast: "a real jerk," he says. "Someone in the mix of the bullpen of detectives that everyone hates, because every station's got 'em. This whole cast is likable, and that's never happened in a precinct."

The duo have received what some consider the ultimate compliment from the "Hawaii" production. They both have the status symbol of importance on any set: director-style chairs bearing their names. That honor is normally reserved for stars, directors, writers and producers.

"Yeah, I gotta admit that's pretty nice," Katamoto says. "But no way does this go to the station, ever."

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