Acting Naturally

Island movie star Jason Scott Lee rejected the bright lights and big city life of Tinseltown a decade ago for a farm in rural Volcano, where he grows his own

Rasa Fournier
Friday - October 19, 2007
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Jason Scott Lee
Jason Scott Lee with Girlie at his farm, Pu Mu, where he also has chickens, cats, fish and an occasional wild pig

When the phone rings for Jason Scott Lee these days, it’s more often about his Big Island farm than about Hollywood movies. But the star of hit films like Jungle Book and Map of the Human Heart doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he kind of likes it that way. He enjoys making movies, but his real passion is his farm.

About nine years ago Lee sought refuge from the glamour and frenetic pace of city life on a plot of undeveloped land in Volcano. He began growing his own food and living a natural lifestyle before organic was a mainstream craze and before the word “green” was popular as an environmental trend.

“I was 31 or 32 when I moved to the Big Island,” Lee recounts. “People were like ‘Wow, here’s this young man on this 25-acre parcel living by himself in a cabin with no electricity,with an outhouse,‘and you know, people tended to think ‘Maybe he’s lost his crackers.’”

For bathing, Lee put together a system where he uses a 500-gallon cistern to collect rainwater that runs off his roof. A solar panel operating on one 12-volt battery pumps the water from the cistern into the cabin.

“My bath is a horse trough with some PVC (piping) and a recycled shower head,“Lee elaborates.“And I got some recycled windows from old glass sliding doors, and we (Lee and his friends) just started piecing together this thing,and it’s funky and it’s cool and it’s right in the forest.It was my sanctuary all this time, just a simple life.”

For warmth, Lee makes use of a fire box, and he uses oil lamps and candles for light.

“I call my place Pu Mu - Pu is the kanji for ‘simplicity’ and Mu means ‘nothingness.‘“His face fills with purpose as he describes his life’s work and his vision for the world, and his eyes deepen with the intensity that makes him so compelling on the big screen.

“As an actor, I have traveled the world and lived in many different cultures. The happiest people I’ve run into were people with nothing. When you have nothing,your energy,your heart,your mind,your spirit are not entwined in material things - you’re entwined in life and enjoyment of it.I realized living with less was a big goal of mine.” (Learn more about Pu Mu at

Though Lee started his farm with little gardening experience, he now grows taro, bananas and all kinds of fruits and vegetables in the tradition of revered sensei of natural farming Masanobu Fukuoka. Lee even spent a summer studying under him in Japan.

“Natural farming is very different than organic farming. Farming and organic farming take a scientific approach to growing food. A natural farm leaves the insects and and vegetables to themselves. My teacher from Japan said that people used to go into the forest to collect cabbages, radishes and herbs because they took on a bitter flavor that would build up your immune system, which is not there when you do things so man-made.As soon as you apply a chemical fertilizer, the spirit of the plant no longer remains.”

But acting is never far from Lee’s mind. He built a black box theater, Ulua Theatre, on his property.

“It was originally meant for martial arts training and theatrical performances,” says Lee. “It’s now become somewhat of a musical venue and a center for gatherings. We have all types of workshops and community meetings for creating a sustainable community in Volcano.”

Lee, now 40, has followed an acting career for the past 21 years.Some who achieve fame and money at a young age succumb to the pitfall of drugs and destructive behavior, but Lee was always interested in a cleaner high.

The Young Soul-searcher

“When you’re (a celebrity) and you have money and time on your hands, if you don’t have a purpose in life it can be very confusing,“Lee says with the maturity of an old soul offering timeless words of wisdom. “In acting workshops back in the ‘80s, our big goal was to be working actors. When you fulfilled that, what was left? I was a soul-searcher - looking for truth.


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