Melissa Puana-Martin is one of those women who disarms you with her smile and beauty, but can be all business and smooth professionalism. Definitely traits that could have possibly swayed casting director Rachel Sutton to cast Puana-Martin in seasons one and two of “Hawaii Five-0.” Puana-Martin was one of the lucky local Hawai‘i actors who had the opportunity to play the same role as the unnamed “Governor’s Assistant” for Governor Jameson (played by Jean Smart) and “Governor’s Receptionist” for Governor Denning (played by Richard T. Jones).
Puana-Martin’s role, albeit unnamed, was pretty memorable, as she was in two pivotal scenes with McGarrett. In season one’s tsunami episode “Kai e‘e,” when McGarrett is called to see Governor Jameson regarding the supposed “missing” money in the asset forfeiture locker, she tells Danno, Chin Ho, and Kono, “the Governor only wants McGarrett.” In season two she watches McG and Lori Weston (Lauren German) get acquainted in the Governor Denning’s outer office in “Ua Lawe Wale.”
She definitely was all business in her scenes, and while we may remember her seemingly brusque nature, in person she is nothing but sweet, charming, and completely genuine.
Puana-Martin was born in Colorado and moved back to her father’s Hawai‘i home when she was nine years old. As a child, the acting bug first bit her at age five when she first saw “The Wizard of OZ.” She said her family is amazingly supportive and even threw her a little premiere party when her first “Hawaii Five-0” episode, “Kai e‘e,” aired after the Super Bowl. Her mom should be her PR agent, as she will tell complete strangers, “This is my daughter, she was on “Hawaii Five-0.”
Puana-Martin graduated from Pearl City High School, and the University of Phoenix with a degree in Psychology, and has acted in many Hawai‘i commercials. She also had a part in the short film “Mea Domina,” and in the feature film “Knots,” all produced in Hawai‘i. Since 2006 she has studied acting at Scott Rodgers Studios and is represented locally by ADR Agency. She most recently was in a scene from the movie “The Wrestler,” with fellow “Hawaii Five-0” actor Dennis Chun, for the Scott Rodgers Studios Showcase 2012. She explained the actors from Rodgers’s classes put the Showcase together, and they produce scenes for area professionals, casting directors, and agents. Daniel Dae Kim attended the 2010 Showcase, when Puana-Martin was in a scene from the film “Bound.”
Playing an assistant/receptionist on “Hawaii Five-0” is her most recent television role, and like many of the Hawai‘i actors I’ve talked to, she spent some time telling me about her amazing experience working on the ‘Five-0’ set.
One thing that really stood out about Puana-Martin’s stories has to be her story of how she broke the ice with the cast and crew during season one. She told me about having to wear a mic strapped to her leg under the floral dress she wore for the scene, and how during her first shot “rolling,” it fell off and hit the ground.
“It completely broke the ice,” she said, and as the cast and crew laughed, she began to feel less anxious. I suppose if your first scene in a hit television show is with all the major stars and your character has to act a bit demanding, your nerves might be a bit stressed — so a bit of laughter would put even the most seasoned actor at ease. Puana-Martin is nothing but professional, but like all Hawai‘i actors who are called to work on the “Five-0” set, she too felt the need to be absolutely on task and focused. The laughter made her realize, “Okay, they are all just people who are here to work.” Even though it was “intimidating” to have to talk to all four of the main characters who were in the scene, she found they really tried to make her feel “comfy and in a friendly space.”
Alex O’Loughlin was very friendly and even “knuckle-bumped” her after they rehearsed the scene when she had to stop the other characters from following him into the Governor’s inner office. She said everyone was so nice, and open to her interpretation of her character, who was “not swayed my McGarrett’s charms” or by the fact that “he didn’t always play by the rules.”
She found it very interesting how Alex O’Loughlin was very loose and joked around when the cameras weren’t rolling, but once he heard “action,” he was completely focused and “all McGarrett — serious and straight.” Even in her short scene, Puana-Martin was very observant of how the actors worked together, played off each other, and became their roles almost instantly in front of the camera. Not that she was surprised, but it was something that she was glad she got to experience.
For the second season, Puana-Martin had to audition again, but since Duane Clark directed both of her episodes, she felt like they knew of her ability, and so they brought her back to play Governor Denning’s receptionist. In her scene in “Ua Lawe Wale” the second episode of season two, she basically speaks to McGarrett and Lori Weston, and shows them into Denning’s office. She wore her hair down this time and you only see her in a wide shot, and she is more welcoming and less protective than she was as Governor Jameson’s Assistant.
Puana-Martin said she very much enjoyed working with Richard T. Jones, who she said, “was very down to earth and inviting.” She was thrilled when he asked her what she had named her character, and even used the name when he pantomimed calling for his next appointment.
During the down time in her second season spot on “Five-0,” she said she got a chance to chitchat with Alex and Lauren German. Alex said she reminded him of a good friend he had and they had a laugh when he said his friend “was a girl.” And since German had just arrived in Hawai‘i, she talked to Puana-Martin about the availability of acting roles for locals in Hawai‘i. This time around, Puana-Martin said she tried to stay in the moment, as she had several lines of dialogue with both actors, but again everyone tried to make her feel at home on set.
Puana-Martin definitely had a good experience on the “Hawaii Five-0” set, and when you meet her she is as down-to-earth as the actors. Everyone I have met who has played small parts or recurring parts, have said the same. But for Puana-Martin, she seemed to have had the same experience as the villains, bodyguards, TSA agents, and a certain Sgt. Duke Lukela, who have all said the same things about working on set. The ‘ohana feeling is there on set and within the characters.
Coming from a young woman who grew up in a similar ‘ohana, whose parents are her biggest fans and supporters, who loves acting as well as her family, this really confirms our thoughts about what happens behind the scenes on “Five-0.” As for Melissa Puana-Martin, I for one hope she gets a chance to return to that ‘ohana. She most assuredly would fit right back in.
Redux Side Note:
Special thanks to Dennis Chun for getting me in contact with Melissa — I hope to one day get to see both actors in a scene together in “Five-0.” If you want to know more about Melissa and find out about her up and coming parts, or watch her acting reel, visit her website MelissaPuanaMartin.com.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher who lives and works in Honolulu. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.