One of the stronger elements of the rebooted version of “Magnum P.I.” is the introduction of a new main character who helps to represent the heart of Hawaii. Actress Amy Hill, best known to Hawaii audiences for her portrayal of Sue in “50 First Dates,” brings to life Teuila “Kumu” Tuileta, the cultural curator of Robin Masters’ estate, Pahonu. Hill plays Kumu like a Hawaiian family matriarch, who is always maʻa — accustomed, familiar and experienced — about the ways of Hawaii.
Magnum (Jay Hernandez) introduces her in the episode, “The Woman Who Never Died,” and explains that “when Robin Masters bought (the estate), Kumu came with it,” as her family has “lived in the area since the 1700s.” Kumu means “teacher” and “source or origin” in Hawaiian, and as such, she helps Magnum and Higgins (Perdita Weeks), as well as Rick (Zachary Knighton) and TC (Stephen Hill, no relation), adapt to their new island home.
EMBRACED BY HAWAII
While Hill is not originally from Hawaii, she portrays Kumu like everyone’s favorite auntie, resplendent in designer alohawear and jewelry, a fresh plumeria behind her ear. Yet don’t question her knowledge or her connections. She knows everyone and can find anything. She either has first-hand knowledge about whatever it is you need done or help with, or she knows a handful of people who could do it for her.
She is not only the cultural curator of Robin’s Nest, but she also can help you with your golf swing, find a lost piece of jewelry in an ocean of sand, and get you the best legal advice in town. She is an expert on the island and life in general.
I spoke to Hill in 2014 when she guest-starred on “Hawaii Five-0” and was visiting Hawaii, and what she shared with me over the phone still rings true as we watch her as Kumu on “Magnum P.I.” She said she believes in creating authentic characters, which definitely comes through in how she creates Kumu in the show. Her character could have been played as a complete caricature of the kind of women who are a mainstay in our culture, but Hill does not ever let that happen as Kumu.
She also talked about how she often bases her characters on family members — her character from the short-lived Margaret Cho series “All-American Girl,” Grandma Kim, was based on her own mother. And Sue, the local girl who owned the Hukilau Cafe in Adam Sandler’s “50 First Dates,” Hill said came from her many years of visiting Hawaii and hanging out with her sidekick, Hawaii actor Pomaikaʻi Brown, who also portrayed Nick, or Tattoo Face, in the same movie.
“I’m not from here, but I’ve been coming to Hawaii for many years and I have a lot of friends who are here,” she said. “But I always feel embraced when I’m in Hawaii.” It would seem the same can be said about Hill. Her ability to embrace the people and culture of Hawaii truly comes through in Kumu.
TAKING CARE OF HER OHANA
Kumu is all about taking care of Higgins, as she is Robin Masters’ major-domo. She is the cultural heart of Robin’s Nest — and she also is a major support system for both Magnum and Higgins. She gives them both good-natured grief and certainly keeps them honest. She also adds warmth, aloha and a good bit of humor to the storylines.
She is not afraid to get involved, even if she has to use a gun or her connections to protect her friends. She tries to save Higgins by shooting a warning shot over her head to stop a Russian assassin in “Nowhere to Hide,” and is the first to come to Magnum’s defense when Katsumoto (Tim Kang) comes to arrest him for murder and the theft of several art paintings in “Six Paintings, One Frame.” Her killer stink-eye and threats of “calling my cousin, Captain Gary Kawena at Major Crimes, then my sister-in-law in the City Council, then my late tutu’s neighbor at the D.A.’s office,” is what we all would do in Kumu’s situation.
While Hill plays Kumu as both funny and endearing, she helps keeps the show grounded in Hawaii. While we can relate and recognize Hill’s character, for those who live outside of Hawaii, Kumu is the aloha connection between the non-Hawaiian characters and the setting of our island home. It is what sets the reboot apart from the original. While John Hillerman’s version of Higgins was very knowledgeable in Hawaiian history and respected Hawaiian culture, he was not from Hawaii and could only honor it from his position as the major-domo of Robin Masters’ estate. But Kumu is from Hawaii and rooted in our past and present. That connection is quite clear through Hill’s ability to bring her to life in an authentic manner.