Relative newcomer Taylor Wily has become a familiar face on Hawaii Five-0, even if that face has been superimposed on the body of a shrimp.
The former sumo wrestler and Hawaii native plays Kamekona, an island local who sometimes acts as an informant for Five-0 when he's not pursuing his own entrepreneurial endeavors. His latest venture is running a shrimp truck, which is adorned with graphics of disconcerting Kamekona-shrimp hybrids. Using his own image has been one of Kamekona's marketing ploys since the beginning of the series when he printed his face on t-shirts to advertise his shave ice business.
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"That's what I think blew me up in the premiere, having Alex [O'Loughlin] and Scott [Caan] wear a t-shirt with my face on it," Wily, 42, told TVGuide.com during an Oahu set visit in August. "I didn't even have time to think about it. It just exploded. All of sudden, people from all over America were calling me and telling me, 'Man, that was awesome!'"
On the show, Kamekona's has become a hangout for Five-0. Signs propped up by the truck provide additional local flavor and attitude. "Brah, No Substitutions," reads one, while another reads, "No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem." Cast member Daniel Dae Kim's character Chin Ho Kelly recently enjoyed a shrimp truck date with ex-fiancee Malia (Reiko Aylesworth). "I think Taylor is a walking success story for the islands," said Kim. "When we first started, there was concern among the locals that we weren't hiring enough people from here. He's living proof that not only do we hire people from Hawaii, we put them in positions that if they do well, they can succeed. They can become an integral part of the show, as Taylor is. I'm really thrilled that he's part of the cast."
Wily's only other significant credit is Kemo, the hotel worker who befriended Jason Segel's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The actor claimed that he "crashed the audition" for Hawaii Five-0, and once executive producer Peter M. Lenkov took a liking to him, the recurring role was his. "To tell you the truth, comedy is a new thing for me," admitted Wily. "Even to this day, I've got to pinch myself to tell myself that this is really happening."
Although landing a role in a prime-time network show would be many an actor's dream, a part on Hawaii Five-0 has special significance for locals. One source close to production cited that locals comprise approximately 60 percent of the talent on the show. "Ever since the original Five-0, there's never been anything really that is so island, so Hawaii," said Wily. "They had a lot of locals and islanders in it. That was something we had pride in. I didn't know at first that America grew up on it. I thought it was just us islanders. When the new show came out I realized, 'Man, everybody was raised on Hawaii Five-0.' I got goosebumps."
Grace Park, who plays Kono, added, "I'm learning that Hawaii Five-0 means a lot to the people of Hawaii. I had no idea. I really do enjoy that they're keeping the show as authentic as they can. There's certainly nowhere close to this many violent crimes on the island, but I think that people know that."
Authenticity extends beyond just casting. The colorfully painted shrimp truck is a signature business for Hawaii that offers the shellfish cooked in various spices. Locals and visitors alike hotly defend their favorite trucks and debate the best flavor. Even Kim has weighed in: "I have two favorites: Macky's is amazing, and of course the tried and true is Giovanni's. So depending on which side of the North Shore you're on, give one of those a try. I order the butter garlic. I like it light on the butter and heavy on the garlic."
For Wily, the shrimp truck is a televised realization of another of his personal goals. "Kamekona is really close to my real-life character," he said. "I've been dreaming about starting a business and serving food. I cook food for the village all the time for free, so it's been on my mind also. My specialties are barbeque chicken, laulau... a lot of authentic food."
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Like his character, Wily isn't content with his current level of success and is hopeful that Kamekona can take on additional duties on the show. "I gotta get in better shape, but I would like to get into some stunts later," he revealed. "I need a badge! They need to make me part of the team. I don't want to just be the informant. Can you just talk me up as a good guy?"
Hawaii Five-0 airs on Mondays at 10/9c on CBS.
Do you enjoy Kamekona on the show? How well do you think the show portrays Hawaiian culture?
Photos courtesy of E-PR