Kelly Hu: Ready for prime time

Local girl Kelly Hu’s Hollywood legend grows with a new starring role on an ABC drama, while she works to save Hawaii reefs

Susan Sunderland
Friday - January 26, 2007
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Kelly Hu today (above) and with mom Juanita on MW’s 2/27/85 cover
Kelly Hu today (above) and with mom
Juanita on MW’s 2/27/85 cover

This story is about Kelly Hu. Kelly who? Don’t get us started on that “Hu’s on first” comedy routine. You know who we’re talking about. Or whom.

Kelly Hu is the beautiful local girl who gained modeling and movie fame after being named Miss Teen USA in 1985.You also know her as the sultry sorceress Cassandra in The Scorpion King and the villainess in X-Men 2.More recently, she wore No. 10 in the Honolulu Marathon.

This month, Hu takes on another identity as Kelly Lee in the new ABC-TV series In Case of Emergency. The sitcom is about an adult-stage coming of age among four high school friends played by Hu, David Arquette, Jonathan Silverman and Greg Germann.

The series follows a band of misfits who after a night of calamities start their lives over with the realization that they’ve only got each other “in case of emergency.” Harry, played by Silverman, goes for a relaxing “massage"only to discover that his scantily clad “therapist"is Kelly, his high school class valedictorian who had her own fall from grace.

It’s fun to watch Hu in a role that stretches her acting abilities to comedy where timing, intonation and chemistry with viewers are paramount.

Coming off a season shoot of 13 shows, Hu took a breather at home in the Islands and got her rejuvenating shot of paradise before returning to Los Angeles.

We caught up with her at the recent Honolulu Marathon Expo, where she was taking photos with fans and signing autographs. She was here to run in the marathon as a fundraiser for Reef Check, one of her favorite environmental causes.

She is perky in a short black dress and boots, with sunglasses atop her straight black hair. Each time she smiles, the attractive features of her Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian-and-English face shine through. Movie producers love her exotic blend and persona.

It’s a look and demeanor that took Hu from a local beauty pageant (Miss Hawaii Teen USA) to a national visibility in 1985. And, well, the rest is history.

She entered the Miss Hawaii Teen USA pageant to help launch a modeling career. Her self-identity and confidence, she claims, were cultivated at Kamehameha Schools.


School Daze

“If I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Kamehameha School, I would not have entered the pageant and had the opportunities that I have,“Hu says.“I’d be a completely different person. I know that for a fact. Kamehameha School helps native Hawaiians become productive citizens.

“Being raised by a single mother, we did not have the financial means for me to go to another private school. Princess (Bernice) Pauahi’s gift of education gave me the skills and experience to become Miss Teen USA and a successful working actor.

“Winning the (1985) Miss Teen USA title changed the course of my life dramatically,” she says.

That landed her on the cover of MidWeek, but was significant for bigger reasons. Hu broke through racial barriers at a time when skeptics didn’t think America was ready for an Asian as a prominent role model. Hu became the first Asian American to win the Miss Teen USA title.

Hu went on to win the title of Miss Hawaii USA in 1993 and was a finalist at the 1993 Miss USA pageant.

She parlayed those beauty titles into lucrative modeling and acting opportunities. She beat out more than 1,000 actresses for the part opposite Kirk Cameron in the TV sitcom Growing Pains. At age 18, she showed up in Hollywood, put an ad in Variety that basically heralded, “OK, here I am, I’m now available for you.”

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