Kristen Nemoto would never be mistaken in real life for a Wiccan priestess. She is a lovely young woman with a sparkle of energy that makes her face light up whenever she flashes her beautiful smile.
So to play the tattooed-covered Occult shop owner “Ilani” in the Halloween episode of “Hawaii Five-0” was quite a stretch for the Waimanalo native and Kailua High School graduate. Lucky for us, we got to see her flex her natural talent in a small, yet memorable role.
Nemoto comes from strong acting stock — her father is veteran Hawaii actor Eric Nemoto, who played DPA James Chen in “Loa Aloha” and is also a Po‘okela Award-winning actor, as well as a director and teacher.
Kristen seems to naturally be following in his footsteps; though not as experienced as other guest actors who have been on “Hawaii Five-0” in the last three seasons, she seemed to have really held her own when she enveloped herself in her character’s aura — and her seemingly real tattoos.
“Mōhai” was a fun episode for “Five-0” fans. After a much-appreciated push back because of the sad events of Hurricane Sandy, fans got an extra week of hype and several CBS previews from the episode. So it was an extra treat to see a Hawaii actress get a nice solid scene with two of the major stars, and it was special for me, as she agreed to tell me the backstory about her experience on the “Hawaii Five-0” set.
Nemoto was excited about her part and said it was “surreal” being on set. From the moment she arrived, none of her time was wasted; she was taken to makeup, where crew members spent several hours putting on the intricate tattoos that helped define her character. After her hair and makeup were done, Nemoto had a bite to eat and was ready to go.
Once she was on set with Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim, Jerry Levine expertly directed her during her scene.
“I felt that he expected a lot from me, and he had faith that I could do it … but I had better get it right!” she said with a laugh. Nemoto said she had to be very specific on how she said the name of the knife she showed Kono and Chin (“Remember now, it’s pronounced a-tha-may.”). And she was directed to “actually draw out the Hebrew letter tav,” so they could capture that moment on camera, as it was a major clue for the procedural.
“The reminders, to them it seemed, were no big deal and overall I felt a strong sense of faith from the entire cast and crew that I would get it right,” said Nemoto. “And I actually did each time.”
Nemoto had a great experience meeting Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who she described as “by far the sweetest and most down to earth people you’ll ever meet.”
“Since we don’t have as much time rehearsing and adapting to the other’s acting styles as the rest of the cast does on a regular basis, they showed me such genuine patience and care,” she added.
Nemoto said her father told her, “they don’t have to be that way, you know,” and she completely understood what he meant.
“They are professionals,” said Nemoto. “So you better have your script down and memorized from front to back.
“My dad pointed out that as professional actors, they don’t have to be ‘nice,’ but they are! They are totally such nice people.”
Nemoto said that during the blocking and rehearsal of her scene, she felt that she really messed up because she was so nervous.
“Just the whole atmosphere of the lights in my face, and beautiful Grace and Daniel standing across from me waiting to hear my lines, and all the crew members cramped in the tiny ‘shop’ all looking at me — I got nervous,” she said. “So after the script manager fed me almost all of my lines, I looked at Grace and Daniel and mouthed, ‘I’m so sorry.’
“And Daniel shook his head that I was even sorry at all, and Grace said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re probably gonna mess up way more once the camera is rolling.'”
That took a lot of pressure off Nemoto, who said it was nice “to know that they had my back.”
Nemoto auditioned during season one and two, and so when she was chosen to play “Ilani” it was a delightful surprise. I think they were just trying to find the right role for her — and her exotic looks were perfect for the part. Plus, she sure looked good covered in tattoos. Not too many women can pull off Occult-style tats and still look pretty. And I for one, loved the smug way she treated Kono and Chin with an aura of “Oh, you Wiccan amateurs, let me educate you.” I never saw a nervous Kristen on my television screen, only a talented actress playing a very intriguing role.
Right now, Nemoto would consider herself more of “hard-core studier” as she is finishing up a masters degree in Journalism from DePaul University. She returned to Hawaii this summer from Chicago to take the rest of her classes at the University of Hawai’i so she can graduate this month. She loves to write, paint, act, and do almost anything “creative and outdoorsy.”
Nemoto said she caught the acting bug in 2009, when her father needed more people to join his small acting class at ADR. Now she has “Hawaii Five-0” to add to her resume, and I’m sure we can all agree she has a bright future ahead of her — in whatever she decides to do with her great smarts, killer smile, and amazing energy. I have complete faith in her ability to continue to develop all her natural born talent.
Redux Side Note:
This week’s “Hawaii Five-0” was a repeat of the season two episode, “Ua Hopu.” Next week’s offering, “Kapu” should be a fun one with fans getting to choose the ending by voting at CBS.com or on Twitter. The mystery involves the Five-0 team investigating the death of an O‘ahu State University professor. His boss, his teaching assistant and a student who he busted for cheating are all viable suspects.
According to CBS: “To vote, after each of the suspect’s motives is revealed, viewers will be directed to CBS.com or Twitter to select either #theBoss, #theTA or #theStudent as the culprit, any of whom could have committed the crime. The votes will be tallied immediately and the most popular ending will become part of the broadcast. Separate voting will occur for East/Central and Pacific time zone broadcasts. The three different endings will all be available at CBS.com after the broadcasts.”
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher who lives and works in Honolulu. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.