Don Ho, above, plays a slumlord named Alberto Bianco, below, in "Joe's Apartment." Photo by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

Don Ho
goes to the show

He's everything else in showbiz;
he makes his film debut in
"Joe's Apartment"

By Tim Ryan

DON Ho's show at the Waikiki Beachcomber had been over for 30 minutes, but the ageless entertainer was still signing autographs and having his picture taken with a long line of fans.

And yes, he was also doling out kisses to the women like he's done for most of his 30-plus years in show business.

All this on the eve of Ho's motion picture debut in "Joe's Apartment." That's right, debut.

Though Ho has been in numerous television shows, specials, and movies, "Joe's Apartment" is his first motion picture.

"Imagine that," Ho said after signing another autograph. "After all these years I still have a first in something."

"Joe's Apartment" is the full-length, live-action and animated feature based on MTV's 1992 original short film by John Payson. The movie is about Joe - played by Jerry O'Connell - fresh off the bus from Iowa, who has hopes of making it in New York. He has no job, no girl and, worst of all, no place to live.

Joe finally finds an apartment, a slummy, squalid little box, but it's his home ... or so he thinks. Joe soon finds that piles of his clothes move on their own, food disappears and a falsetto Brooklynese chorus jabbers away day and night.

He finally meets his roommates: 50,000 cockroaches who not only think and talk, they dance and sing. Joe finds that they're not his nemesis but his guardians, who help foil the attempt by Joe's evil landlord Alberto Bianco (enter Ho) to evict him and make a fortune by selling and converting his apartment.

So how did the 65-year-old Ho get picked to portray a sleazy bad guy?

"Well, yeah," he says, laughing. "I am a sleazy bad guy some of the time. Oh yeah."

Actually, it was a bit more complex. And some of Ho's 10 children took a major part in Dad's decision.

"Joe's Apartment" director Payson called Ho, asking if he could send a clip of the animated cartoon and have Ho consider a role.

"So they send me this short clip of all these cockroach stunts. Needless to say I was kinda amused by it."

Ho asked his youngest children to watch the clip then tell them if they thought "Daddy" should do it.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah" was their answer, so Ho took the role. But there also was an audition of sorts.

Director Payson also asked Ho to have a video taken of him performing his part.

"I produced the damn thing in my house in the middle of the night after working. One of my girls held the camera and another read me lines I could react to."

In January Ho traveled to New York for two weeks of filming, living at the plush Plaza Hotel across from Central Park. The first thing Ho did on arrival was go to a book store where he purchased $185 worth of books on acting.

"Movies, now this is important stuff and I had no idea how to do it. I must have read one book a hundred times."

Ho wasn't nervous but he wanted to make sure there was no re-occurrence of an experience from a television movie he had acted in several years ago.

"I had to kiss (producer) Hal Wallis' wife. And you know me, I'm used to kissing everybody full on so I give her a big one right on the lips. Gosh, she jumped back so surprised and I felt so embarrassed.

"I didn't know that something like kissing you don't really do for real when acting. Tell you this, I never forget that."

While Ho does no kissing - or singing for that matter - in "Joe's Apartment" he did have to be a bad guy.

"I played a Marlon-Brando-sort-of-'Godfather'-in-attitude thing where I speak softly but real mean," Ho says, laughing again. "Hey, really, my part is nothing. But it will be humorous for local people to see what happens to me in the end. They'll laugh like hell."

Ho won't give away any secrets like if the ending has anything to do with the roaches.

"You know all the roach scenes were shot after me. They did a lot of that computer stuff. I don't even want to see myself, but I gotta see those cockroaches."

And Ho's not looking forward to any reviews either.

"I don't even want to think about people reviewing me," he said. "I've had good and bad reviews and usually the bad is about the way I dress and not what we do. You know the kind of thing where I'm always the worst dresser, or the the worst guy to be with at a party. Hey, it's probably true. But a funny thing is that grunge came in too, right?

"You know on this film I was just having a lot of fun."

Don't expect Ho to be leaving Hawaii for Hollywood anytime soon, though he has had several offers, including a cameo on a Ramones video where he would sing "Tiny Bubbles."

"No, no, no. I'm planning nothing more than this. I have no ambition for it. Let's be realistic, at my age I'm not movie or television material. And I've been there.

"I just enjoy doing what I do. And what I do here every night beats working. But everybody, go see those roaches."

The facts

What: "Joe's Apartment," premieres tonight at the Varsity Theatre by invitation only. Opens tomorrow at Keolu, Varsity and Pearlridge West theaters

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