Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Moment to shine on screen with Clooney thrills actress

By Lee Cataluna


Though she had dreamed of this moment from childhood, when the big day came she wore a dress she bought from Ross and told everybody that that's where she got the outfit. While others would brag about what she's accomplished, Karen Kuioka Hironaga is more comfortable making jokes about the clearance rack. She has that old-fashioned ethic about being humble and self-deprecating.

It's been an amazing year for her. She was in the UH Kennedy Theater production of Lisa Matsumoto's "Once Upon One Noddah Time," where she played Da Wicked Queen, the role originated by the beloved late playwright. Hironaga even wore Matsumoto's original costume and carried the emotional responsibility of living up to Lisa's memory.

Then she got to see herself in a scene with George Clooney in a movie that is getting Oscar buzz. For the past year and a half, Hironaga has wondered if her role in "The Descendants," the film based on Kaui Hart Hemmings' wonderful novel, would wind up on the cutting room floor. It seemed too perfect to be real.

But then, on the last day of the HIFF, she got to see herself on the big screen.

"I cut my hair, did my nails," she said. "I even paid the extra $5 for a flower with the rhinestone center painted on the big toe."

At the theater, her husband, Denny, bought popcorn but they were too nervous to eat. The lights went down, the trumpet fanfare and 20th Century Fox searchlights filled the screen and it was exactly like she had always dreamed.

Her scene with Clooney is near the beginning, so she didn't have to hold her breath for long.

"So in the movie, the phone rings, and I hear the familiar line, 'Matt King.' I can hear my voice on the telephone talking to George Clooney about his daughter! And he's talking back to me! Pretty soon, he's driving up to my house, and Denny keeps nudging me and whispering, 'Here we go, here we go!' and I can't stop smiling. I feel like my face is going to fall off! I can't believe that's me up there on the screen!"

When the movie ended, they sat perfectly still and scanned the credits. Her name was there.

"Denny and I both said out loud together, 'There it is! You saw it? You saw it?' What a bunch of dorks!"

Later that evening, Hironaga got yet another golden moment. During the Q&A after the show, director Alexander Payne singled her out and shared the story of "discovering" her after seeing her onstage at Diamond Head Theatre's production of "Joy Luck Club."

Though Clooney was not at the HIFF premiere, there was a life-size cardboard cutout of him that Hironaga and all her friends posed with for pictures. (She didn't get pictures with him on the day they worked together because of publicity rules.)

Then, as has become tradition in local theater -- especially shows where Hironaga is in the cast -- she and her friends ended up at Vineyard Zippy's and had salmon with chazuke rice and talked into the early hours of morning.

But there's more.

Hironaga just found out that she is invited to the film's L.A. premiere in two weeks. She hopes to come back with a photo of herself next to the real George Clooney. Her friends are begging her to reconsider the Ross dress.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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