From the beginning, “Hawaii Five-0” has always worked hard to pay homage to the original version of the series that was created by Leonard Freeman. Executive producer Peter M. Lenkov, who rebooted the series in 2010, refashioned many elements of the original to reflect the modern age and new cast — yet still kept many aspects true to the original. One of the many connections Lenkov made between the old and the new was to cast Hawaii actor Dennis Chun as Sgt. Duke Lukela.
Both Chun and his character helped to continue to honor the past while updating the series. Chun’s father, Kam Fong, played Chin Ho Kelly for 10 seasons from 1968 to 1979, and Chun’s character, Duke, who was played by Herman Wedemeyer in the original series, was another way to reflect Freeman’s version of the series. Sgt. Duke represented the uniformed police officers of the Honolulu Police Department who worked alongside the Five-0 task force.
After years of playing roles on “Hawaii Five-O”, “Magnum P.I.” and “Jake and the Fatman,” as well as in Hawaii theater, Chun guest-starred in “Hana ‘a’a Makehewa” (Desperate Measures), an episode in the first season of the reboot. Over the course of the next six years, Chun turned Duke into a beloved recurring character. In season seven, we were introduced to Duke’s wife, Nalani, who is played by his real-life partner, artist Laura Mellow. Then in season eight, he became the only Native Hawaiian actor to join the main cast.
Soon after it was announced that the series would end after 10 seasons, Chun gave an interview via phone about his initial reaction to the news. But there were several questions that had more to do with Chun’s tenure on “Hawaii Five-0” which are worth revisiting before the last two episodes of the series air.
QUESTION: What do you think your dad might feel about the rebooted version of the show if he had had a chance to see you on it? Can you put into words for us how you think your dad might feel?
ANSWER: Knowing my dad, he would point out everything I did wrong in a scene (laughs), but I think overall the old gang is watching and they’re looking down with pride. I think we send them honor. I know that people have taken characters from the original show and brought them to life for today, but I think they respected the original actors and didn’t let their efforts overshadow the original cast.
Q: What do you think is the lasting impact of the show? It was 12 seasons for the first and it’s 10 for this one. That’s 22 total years on the air of “Hawaii Five-0.” Did you ever think it would come back like this?
A: No, it was never in my farthest imagination that “Hawaii Five-O” would come back. But who knows, maybe 20 years from now another version of “Hawaii Five-0” will come back. I think first of all the beauty of Hawaii’s people and its culture is eternal and it always needs to be shared with the world. And secondly, it’s going to be a different time, a different place and Hawaii may be playing a leading role but I always think it’s the stories of the people here that need to be told.
Q: Can you tell us some favorite moments that you’ve had on set with either another actor or with fans?
A: Well like with fans, there have been several times, especially with Veterans. There was one Veteran I met at “Sunset on the Beach” who I thanked for his service and he said, “No, thank you because there were times when we were out there when all we had was ‘Five-0.’ You got us through a lot of tough times.” That really touched me to my soul because you know, I’m just pretending — these guys are the real heroes. I’ve had police officers around the country tell me “Thank you for being so honest in the portrayal of Duke because you capture something about being an officer that is really who we are.” I just feel very honored by that.
My favorite scene of all time is the scene with me and Laura with Daniel (Dae Kim) in the towel.. I’ll always love that one (from the season seven Valentine’s Day episode). It’s one of the iconic scenes from 10 years of the show.
Q: How is Laura feeling about the ending of the show? Does she share your sentiment about it ending”
A: Well, she’s sad, because she knows how much it meant to all of us. But she’s also proud of what it’s done for us. Like I told her, an actor’s life is things come to an end and you have to keep going. We were just very fortunate for 10 wonderful years with “Hawaii Five-0.” For that, I’m so grateful to Peter Lenkov, and all the cast and crew, because, man, it’s been one hell of a ride. It’s been a lot of fun.
Q: Have you talked to anyone? Can you say how anyone else in the cast and crew is feeling?
A: Just a few, they’re doing the same, there’s a sense of closure, and also a sense of excitement about other possibilities. But there’s a certain sadness because we’ve become more than just actors, we’ve become family and friends, and to have to say goodbye is never easy.
Q: What kind of message do you have for the fans? All the fans are posting how they are not happy about the show ending. Many were hoping that it would continue. So what would you want to tell them?
A: All I want to tell them is how much I love them and how much I appreciate them. How special the last 10 years have been because of them. Both Laura and I treasure their aloha and their support. We appreciate their words on social media and their kindness when we meet with them. They will always be in our hearts and they’ll always be part of our journey. Because even though the show ends all of our love and ohana will not end. They are very special.
THIS WEEK, as fans around the world began to deal with major life changes because of the coronavirus, Chun sent a message from himself and his partner, Laura Mellow.
“I am so grateful to CBS and Peter Lenkov for the privilege to be part of ‘Hawaii Five-0.’ It was such an honor to work with such a great and caring cast and crew. Most of all, Laura and I am so grateful for all the wonderful fans. Their aloha and support mean the world to us. We are truly an H50 ohana. Laura and I are also concerned with everyone staying healthy. We have to face the coronavirus as the ohana of mankind. And we express our gratitude to all our medical personnel. You are heroes. Stay safe and healthy. Aloha and a hui hou,” he said via text.