For someone who grew up wanting to join Doctor’s Without Borders rather than dreaming of television stardom, actress Keiko Elizabeth seems to have definitely found a bit of limelight in her life.
Many “Hawaii Five-0” fans were introduced to Elizabeth when she guest-starred as Principal Ann Fiske in “Nā hala a ka makua” (“Sins of the Father”). Her scene with Scott Caan and Teilor Grubbs let Elizabeth show off her former life as a tough teacher — her character had to inform protective Daddy Danno (Caan) that his sweet Gracie (Grubbs) punched another student — and she was spot-on as an effective, yet nurturing administrator.
Elizabeth is no stranger to troubled kids — she taught middle school students in San Francisco as they transitioned out of juvenile hall.
For several years, Elizabeth lived in Hawaii, where she worked at the University of Hawaii at Hilo as well as the locally famous Two Ladies Kitchen. It was there she started acting, with her first role at Palace Theatre in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“From the moment of the first rehearsal I knew I wanted to pursue acting professionally,” said Elizabeth. After receiving a MFA in Acting from California State University-Fullerton, she has been fortunate to have worked on “Days of our Lives” and guest-starred on TV Land comedy “Hot in Cleveland” alongside Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli. She also is a member of Theatre of NOTE, a theatre company in Los Angeles where she is producing “Disassembly,” which opened this week.
Elizabeth was kind enough to share her experiences on the ‘Five-0’ set, as well as her reaction to working with Caan and Grubbs and director Peter Weller.
“My scene was the first scene of the day to be shot, which meant that I was in hair and makeup super early,” she said. “We shot at Sacred Hearts Academy. The students were in school that day, so we wanted to shoot in the morning while all the girls were in class.
“We used the actual headmaster’s office, wood paneling and everything. I thought it was a great location. The desk was very big; they actually had to give me an apple box to put my feet on so (they) could reach the ground!
“They were shooting so many location shots that day, so at the school location it was just me, Scott, Teilor, and the woman playing the secretary, Jackie Tufa-Marques.
“In between takes we talked story a lot; Scott is pretty funny and loves to joke around. He and Teilor have a great relationship and are so cute together.
“Between camera set-ups they would bring in our stand-ins and had us wait in a music room. I brought spam musubis and Teilor and I tried to get Scott to eat one.
“Scott brought his dog, Dot, to set and had her do tricks for us while we were waiting. I’ve never seen a dog jump so high! We had a good time,” she said.
Elizabeth also talked a lot about working with director Peter Weller.
“Going into the shoot, I was a big fan of Peter Weller, who is a fantastic actor in his own right,” she said.“He was ‘RoboCop!’ I was such a fan girl when I met him, but I was trying to be cool. He was so kind, and even though they were on a very tight schedule he made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room.”
The Stanford University graduate was definitely a pro when it came to her performance on “Hawaii Five-0.” I thought it was funny how she scolded Danny for trying to “excuse” violence. Elizabeth is definitely a class act, on screen and off. I asked how she was cast and she shared a bit about her experience in Los Angeles.
“I got a call from my agent the evening before to go in and read for (casting director) Jennifer Cooper,” Elizabeth said. “I was actually running from another audition to their office, so I was a little late. And you know, as an actor you just never know what the audition will be like, what the waiting room will be like.
“For this particular role, producers clearly wanted to see a bunch of different types — there was a 50-year-old African-American man in the waiting room, an older Asian man, an Indian woman, and me, all … at the same time! I found out I was ‘on avail’ for the part the next day (i.e. you are on the short list for the role), but didn’t hear officially until the following week that they wanted to book me.”
If nothing else, it was a good choice to pick Elizabeth, since she looked like an educator — and definitely like someone from Hawaii.
While Elizabeth may have looked and acted the part of Principal Fiske perfectly, she has had some great experiences on other productions. She has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2011 and her first TV gig was a small — but very educational — role on “Days of our Lives.”
“It was a really great first experience,” she said. “Daytime television actors work their tails off. They shoot so many pages a day, sometimes very emotionally grueling scenes, and they are so focused and hard working. I learned a lot from watching them.”
Elizabeth said working with Betty White on “Hot in Cleveland” was “a fantastic experience as well.”
“It was my first time doing a show that is taped in front of a live studio audience, so it was like the best of television and the best of theatre rolled up into one fun experience. Betty White was charming, welcoming, and so hilarious. The writers actually had to cut her from most of the scenes in that episode because she got very sick at the beginning of the week. But she was there for the taping and of course the audience just loved her.
“It was really interesting throughout the week to see how the script would change. The writers would gather together after each run through and add lines, remove bits and hone the funny until Friday night (when) the script was just crackling! I was getting rewrites of my lines until a few hours before taping, and it really kept me fresh and on my toes,” Elizabeth said.
Right now, Elizabeth is working on a 10-episode webseries called “Manny in Real Life” with award-winning filmmaker Salvador Paniagua.
“I’m producing the series with (Paniagua) and I have a guest appearance in one of the episodes as well,” she said. “We’ll begin releasing episodes in mid-March.”
REDUX SIDE NOTE
While there was no “Hawaii Five-0” replay this week on CBS, there is a new episode on Feb. 28. “Pale ʻia” will feature Melanie Griffith as Danny’s mother, Clara Williams.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.