Hawaiʻi actor James “Jimmy” Koons is a man who not only believes in his dreams– he lives it. An actor, musician, artist, and animal lover, Koons has worked on “Hawaii Five-0” since its first season. Koons definitely has paid his dues on the Five-0 set, playing background parts and doing stand-in work, before he was cast as Mr. Layton, the father of one of the kidnapped girls, in the season one episode “Pōwā Ma Ka Moana” (“Pirate”). Most recently, he returned to “Five-0” in “Hoa ʻĪnea” (“Misery Loves Company”) as Michael Foxton, playing a cheating husband who escapes death– not once, but twice– during a Valentine’s Day weekend.
Believe me, Koons’ life is just as interesting as the roles he has played, on and off the Five-0 set, and he was kind enough to share his journey with me.
Koons, an Ewa Beach resident since 2005, actually came to Hawaiʻi because he “wanted to move to Hawaiʻi and get on (the television show) “Lost.” And while some may think wanting to move to a completely new place just to act is somewhat of a pipe dream– Koons was determined to make it happen.
He had always wanted to act, and after a few years of doing background work on various television and film sets, like “Homicide: Life on the Street,” as well as in the films “Species II,” “Private Parts,” and “Shadow Conspiracy,” he thought he had enough experience to get on “Lost.” Koons really wanted to focus on acting and making his dream come true. He saw the opportunity to work on “Lost,” as he said: “everything I should be doing.”
“Shadow Conspiracy” was my first experience on set, and I saw how it all works. I got to play a D.C. cop (which Koons actually was for five years), and got to hang out with Charlie Sheen for five days (Sheen was the star of the 1997 film). It was amazing to me and I thought, I really want to do this,” said Koons via telephone from his home earlier this week.
“Itʻs funny, I knew that I could do it if we moved to Los Angeles, but selling Hawaiʻi (to his wife, Cathy), was easier than selling L.A.”
So after his big move, and working to get settled into his new home, Koons made it happen. In 2009 he was cast in “Lost,” as a Widmore Scientist– one of the men who helped Charles Widmore, played by Alan Dale, in a five-episode arc.
“I really learned a lot, especially from Alan, who asked me, “How did you get here?” Because up until 2005 I had basically been doing everything I thought I should be doing according to everyone else. I finally got to a point that I thought I could get hit by a truck tomorrow, and I’d be really upset if I never got to do what I really wanted to do in life. I have this philosophy that life is too short, I know you hear it all of the time, but it is,” shared Koons.
Really, this is what made Koons put everything he had into making his dream come true. He poured himself into classes at Scott Rogers Studios, studied with acting coach Wayne Ward, as well as with fellow “Hawaii Five-0” actor, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who played Hiro Noshimuri, in season one and two.
Then in 2010 when “Hawaii Five-0” started filming, Koons began working background and doing stand-in work (he played James Marsters stand-in during the Victor Hesse prison scenes) and was eventually cast in “Pōwā Ma Ka Moana” (“Pirate”). He also was cast in the ABC series, “Off The Map” as Scott in the episode “There’s Nothing to Fix.” He also had background roles in the films “Battleship” and “The Descendants,” as well as in the Australian television show “Home and Away,” which filmed in Hawaiʻi in 2011.
While both of his “Hawaii Five-0” performances were quite different, they were great examples of his acting ability. As Mr. Layton, Koons played a concerned father, frightened by a ransom call, who heartbreakingly asks McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) to help find his daughter. As Michael Foxton, Koons played a wealthy businessman, who suffers from heart disease and serial cheating, and accidently shoots the woman sent by his wife to kill him. He has to explain to McGarrett and Danno (Scott Caan) that he may be terrible to his wife, but he is not a murderer.
Playing Foxton, which Koons had two significant scenes with O’Loughlin and Caan, as well as being able to be directed by Peter Weller was by far one of his favorite experiences.
“I kept pinching myself. (Weller) was the coolest and easiest director to understand and take direction from. He is incredibly clear and concise. And he’s just a really cool guy,” said Koons.
Koons shot the Valentine’s episode for five days, started with the “hedge scene” where McGarrett and Danno show up at his home to pick him up for shooting Launa Cruz (the initial victim in the episode). Weller asked him to climb a little ways up the hedge in the backyard of the Kahala home where they were shooting, and stop when he called “cut.”
“I ended up getting pretty far up the hedge before he called cut, and everyone clapped. At first I thought they were clapping at something that was happening somewhere else on the set, or perhaps an important guest star had arrived. But I didn’t realize they were clapping for me,” laughed Koons. “I’m just not used to getting that kind of reaction.”
I think they were clapping at Koons’ dedication and effort in the scene. Which paid off even further when he shot the interrogation scene on his third day of filming. In this scene Foxton was having a heart attack, and during the first rehearsal, Weller asked everyone on set if anyone knew the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.
“Well, I had looked it up before the scene so that I would know what to do to show what was happening. A heart attack is respiratory, and a cardiac arrest is when your body just “shuts off.” So Foxton was having a heart attack, and I had to show that I was having tightness in my chest and that my left arm was going out. But I have to give credit to Weller for directing me to start to do it earlier in the scene, and to the editing crew for putting in just enough of my actions to make it look believable,” shared Koons.
I thought it was neat how Koons did the scene, as I only noticed the arm tugging and massaging after I had rewatched the episode in order to prep my questions for our interview. I just thought he was coming across as a kind of player husband who was trying to explain his cheating ways to McG and Danno. I also asked Koons if he did the stunt scene where his character and Cruz fight over a gun before she is shot and dumped into a nearby bathtub.
“No, that wasn’t me. It looked like me though, I just thought that was amazing how close they got the stunt double. It looked so good,” shared Koons.
When I asked Koons about working with the main cast members, he only had great things to say about the series stars. “It was really comfortable working with Alex and Scott, very familiar and easy. Daniel is always so welcoming and super smart, friendly guy. Everyone really just have great attitudes. It’s just an amazing place to work,” said Koons.
Koons talked a lot about how much he is blown away by the “Five-0” crew, and how well they all work together. “They are a finely tuned machine. Most of them I knew from working on “Lost,” so it was really comfortable and familiar working with them again. It’s just amazing to watch them work, and see them being so upbeat after 18 hour days. It really is an ʻohana, you feel that within the first five minutes of being on set. It’s a different level of feeling than other sets I’ve been on in Baltimore, D.C., and New York. They just seem to love their work more,” said Koons.
Overall, I’m pretty blown away by anyone who follows their dreams and then works hard to make it happen. Koons is not only a great actor, but he writes and composes his own music and just released his first album of jazzy electronic rock. You can listen to a few of his tracks on his website as well as look at his art and other pictures of his time on the Five-0 set and other films and television shows. Koons and his 165-lb English Mastiff, Sophie, support the organization Mercy for Animals in between his time working to live out his dream.
And Koons is making it happen for himself. I suppose for him, living the dream is more than just a cool motto– it’s now a complete reality.
REDUX SIDE NOTE
This week’s “Hawaii Five-0” was a season six repeat, “Lehu a Lehu” (“Ashes to Ashes”). The episode continued the storyline of arsonist Jason Sinclair, played by Former UFC Champion Randy Couture.
Next Friday, March 11, a new episode, “Waiwai” (“Assets”), sends McGarrett and the Five-0 team on the trail of a Russian spy who has stolen a flash drive containing classified NSA information– which puts the life of a member of their ʻohana at risk. More intrigue is involved in the episode, as McGarrett will finally learn why Catherine left him, and Abby continues to conceal her actual mission from Chin and Five-0.