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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
Kona Carmack hopes to strike gold in California
in 2001. She wears a gown designed by Takeo.

Kona Gold

'The Playboy Thing' was a life lesson
worth its weight in gold for isle beauty
Kona Carmack, home for the holidays

By Nadine Kam

KONA Carmack arrives first for an interview at Indigo. Her manager walks past her twice before she chases after him.

You'd think she'd be noticed in an instant, but Carmack doesn't have the flashy, whiplash beauty that makes heads turn in a crowded room. If her name sounds like a certain macadamia nut candy, well, with her tawny skin and golden hair she does look like a honeyed, caramel confection, impossibly sweet and radiant.

Through a snack of sashimi and shrimp, Carmack sips chardonnay and talks to the bartender, coaxing from her the story of her life before turning and asking about restaurants and favorite places to eat. After being away from home nearly four years, she wants to catch up, while incidentally managing to deflect focus on herself. At 24, she's already wary of the media.

"It's all in the editing," she says with resignation. "I can have a really good conversation with somebody, and when I read it -- well, it's all in the editing."

In a business in which it's easy to put on an act, Carmack doesn't have one, leaving her vulnerable and exposed, especially to the question that has to be asked: "So, what about the Playboy thing?"

"Oh you!" she squeals, "The very first question!"

Carmack has no regrets about posing for the magazine's February 1996 centerfold.

"It got me into the entertainment world and taught me so many lessons. I learned how to survive, how to be tough, how to be professional. I would not be the person I am today without having had that opportunity."

Yet, she wishes people would get over it.

"When people meet me, they always say, 'You're so nice. You're not at all like what I imagined.' So I'm like, 'Oh, thank you!,' " she says, with a huge, grateful grin and her arm extended in a pretend handshake.

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
"Everything in Hawaii is focused on getting out for some reason,
as if this is a second-rate place. It seems everybody pushes
you to go away," says Kona Carmack.

"Come on. If I haven't appeared in a B-movie yet. ... I'm not going to compromise myself, no way."

She's aware that being known for having good genes is a dubious achievement and eventually wants to become known for her acting ability. She looks toward other isle exports for inspiration. "Look at Tia Carrere. Look at Jason (Scott Lee), look at Kelly Preston and Kelly Hu. They've all been so good for Hawaii and I'm not going to be the one to bring it down."

Carmack was a premed student at the University of North Carolina when the Playboy offer came. She also had been taking courses in acting, and found herself drawn more to the stage and the creative side of her personality, rather than her analytical side.

"I was trying to follow in my dad's footsteps -- trying. Healing in general is interesting to me. I can still see myself practicing holistic medicine someday. Western medicine is too commercialized."

After her Playboy stint, she moved to Los Angeles where she studied acting for two years, appeared in music videos, including Aerosmith's "Hole in My Heart," and in the independent film "Next Time," about people who meet weekly in an L.A. laundromat. The film made it to the Sundance Film Festival.

Now, when one achieves momentum, staying on track is the easiest thing to do, but Carmack veered, pulling up roots again and moving to Europe to satisfy her curiosity after long having been fascinated by theology and world history.

She found work as a model in Milan, Rome and Tel Aviv, where she spent her free time studying Judaism and learning to speak Hebrew. During a photo session she chats in flawless Hebrew with an Israeli photographer who was surprised that she even knows the slang. He allowed a friend to tag along to gaze at Carmack, and such is her magnanimous nature that she graciously accommodated his friend's extraneous directions to lift her arms and flail about like a strange bird.

Such poses are no problem as Carmack has practiced yoga four to six hours a week for six years. "It's a good time to focus. Since I started doing yoga, my concentration has doubled," she said. "Plus, I feel good when guys can't do it and I can."

She said she found acting to be similar to meditation, a time to let go and release hidden aspects of one's persona. "Afterward, I'm always surprised, like, I can't believe she came out."

"Baywatch Hawaii" has brought her back home this fall. She's stayed three months to celebrate her first Christmas at home in four years and her face is aglow as she thinks of decorating the family tree the next day.

"I haven't celebrated Christmas for so long. In Tel Aviv, they take Hanukkah very seriously. You don't see any lights."

While at home, Carmack -- who is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Irish and Spanish ancestry -- has also taken time to reconnect with her Hawaiian heritage, studying dance and spirituality.

"There's so much to learn, a lot that we don't know. My grandmother (who is pure Hawaiian) has stories about how as a child she was beaten if she spoke Hawaiian. It's not like Israel where they have never forgotten their culture."

"Everything in Hawaii is focused on getting out for some reason, as if this is a second-rate place. It seems everybody pushes you to go away.

"When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what I wanted but I wasn't in Hawaii anymore and at UNC I thought, 'I'm out. Now what?' I was all alone on the East Coast, fending for myself."

Carmack did well in school, earning all As, except in an accounting class during her last semester when she quit school, realizing it made more sense to study acting in L.A.

She'll head back to Tinseltown after the holidays, planning simply not to plan, going with karmic and cosmic flow. "Wherever the universe takes me, I'm just going with it."

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