Sky’s the Limit – Emmy Magazine 2011

 TV execs were sure that a show that went off the air more than thirty years ago still had plenty of potential – and they were right. The reboot of Hawaii Five-0 – with a hot, young foursome fighting crime in surf and sand – has been a huge hit for CBS. How long can it last? Well, how high is the sky?

Emmy Magazine

Issue 3, 2011

By Shawna Malcom

Emmy shoot

As a teen in his native Australia, Alex O’Loughlin nearly drowned trying to learn to surf. The experience proved so harrowing that, for twenty years, he refused to get back on a board. Then, in 2010, he landed a starring role on Hawaii Five-0 and, with it, a move to the Aloha state. Renting a house on one of Oahu’s picturesque beaches, the actor suddenly found himself drawn to the waves that have seduced thrill-seekers from around the globe. Ultimately he realized, “I’ve got to push through this fear,” he says. “If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.”

O’Loughlin recounts his story one Sunday in the lobby bar of Honolulu’s Waikiki Edition Hotel, shortly after wrapping his Emmy photo shoot in an upstairs suite. As he does, it becomes clear the actor – clad in jeans and a T-shirt that doesn’t quite cover the tattoos inked on both biceps – has come not only to appreciate, but enjoy, the sport. “I feel like I’m 80 percent through my fear,” he says, between sips of hot tea. “I go out now whenever I can. It’s changed my life. For the first time, I’m experiencing how truly therapeutic being in the ocean can be.”

Spend some time with O’Loughlin and a theme starts to emerge: At this point in his life, the thirty-four-year-old actor is all about confronting challenges that scare the daylights out of him. Like fronting another series for CBS after his first two – 2007′s Moonlight and 2009′s Three Rivers – swiftly got the ax. “I did think, ‘What if this one doesn’t work?’” O’Loughlin says of returning to the TV beat with Five-0. “‘Where does that leave me? Will I be able to get another job?’”

Fortunately, he doesn’t need one. Five-0 – an adrenaline-fueled reboot of the classic 1968-80 series that revolves around an elite crimefighting task force led by the stoic Steve McGarrett (O’Loughlin, taking over for Jack Lord) – is a hit. In its freshman season, the show’s mix of high-stakes cases, flawed (and, yes, hot) heroes, breathtaking scenery and hard-hitting action packed a Hawaiian punch, averaging some 12 million viewers and becoming the number-one new drama in the coveted demo of adults eighteen-to-forty-nine.

Along the way, Five-0 proved that – despite recent groan-worth remakes (RIP, Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, Melrose Place) – it’s possible to reinvent a treasured franchise in a way that feels fresh yet honors the spirit of the source material.

“It’s really well done,” says CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler. “The [producers] took the original series, deconstructed it and reassembled it in such a way that it’s an homage that resonates with older fans but has great appeal to a younger audience.”

Striking that balance wasn’t easy. The network had tried twice before to relaunch Five-0, first in the mid-’90s with a pilot produced by Stephen J. Cannell and starring Gary Busey, then again in 2008 with a pilot script by Criminal Minds mastermind Ed Bernero. Along the way, Warner Bros. also briefly flirted with plans for a big-screen adaptation.

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Still, execs had faith in the potential of the property. “Any time you said the title, you always got a positive response,” says David Stapf, president of CBS Studios. “It also felt like an easy show to understand and wrap your arms around. But we weren’t going to do it unless we got it right.”

Alex O'Loughlin

One of the pros who ultimately cracked the case, executive producer and showrunner Peter Lenkov, had spent much of his life unwittingly preparing for the gig. Growing up in Montreal, he parked himself in front of the TV each week for the original Five-0, which helped forge the crime-procedural template and received a Primetime Emmy nomination for outstanding drama series in 1973.

“It was my dad’s favorite show,” Lenkov reports, “I remember sitting by his knee watching it and feeling how important it was to him.”

When approached about breathing new life into the brand, Lenkov – then showrunner on CSI: New York – didn’t hesitate. “I didn’t even think about the fact that I could kill the whole franchise,” he says with a laugh. “I just felt like I knew the original so well that I’d be doing it from the right place – because I was really passionate about it.”

That enthusiasm is evident as Lenkov sits in his office on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, surrounded by memorabilia he’s collected from the first Five-0 (“How cool is that?” he exclaims about a vintage View-Master.) His reverence helped persuade initially reluctant executive producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to join the project.

“We were ready to do original stuff,” explains Orci, who along with Kurtzman and Lost’s Damon Lindelof, had scripted 2009′s brand-resuscitating Star Trek prequel. “It was like, are we just going to become the reboot kings? But Peter got us excited about what the series could be.”

Together, the trio set about reimagining the world of Five-0, dialing up the action and humor for what Orci calls “a Lethal Weapon feel” and fleshing out an origin story for the core quartet of characters – McGarrett, Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park), whose gender was wisely changed to reflect the modern reality of women in the workplace.

Emmy

“In the twelve years I’d watched the original show,” Lenkov says, describing what he felt was a weakness, “I never knew who those people were. I never knew how they met, why they were working together or who they were outside of the job.”

Inspired by Lenkov’s personal connection to the material, the characters’ back stories are defined by family ties: Former Navy SEAL McGarrett returns to Hawaii and ultimately forms the specialized police unit when his father is murdered. Fish-out-of-water sidekick Danny is a by-the-book, if sarcastic, New Jersey cop who moves to Honolulu to be close to his beloved daughter. Chin Ho is a former HPD officer whose downfall was inadvertently caused by his uncle, and he recruits his cousin Kono, a former pro surfer-turned-rookie.

A few golden nuggets from the original, however, were considered too valuable to lose and were woven prominently throughout season one, including McGarrett’s “Book ‘em, Danno!” catchphrase; the character of Wo Fat, who remains the show’s “big bad” and McGarrett’s archnemesis; and, of course, that ironically catchy theme song.

“We did wonder, should we try and trick it out, or get a famous rock guitarist to re-record it?” admits Orci, who considered both Lenny Kravitz and Slash. “But everybody’s first question when they found out we were working on the show was, are you going to keep the theme song?’ Enough people asked that it seemed stupid to say no. I think we were smart enough to leave it alone.”

They were also savvy in casting. Lenkov had previously met O’Loughlin and remembered feeling at the time that the actor had been miscast in his previous TV roles as a sensitive vampire and dedicated surgeon. “In person, I thought, this guy’s an action hero,” Lenkov says. “He shouldn’t be playing anything but the guy who carries a gun, saves people and solves crimes. All this physical, heroic stuff that we needed for our McGarrett – that’s Al.”

O’Loughlin threw himself into preparing for the part, enduring rigorous training with real Navy SEALs and employing same single-minded determination that helped him conquer surfing. It’s obvious he’s relieved and thrilled to have finally found a role that fits.

“This character is a cool cat,” O’Loughlin says. “He’s got that Jason Bourne-Jack Bauer thing, where he has his own moral code. And I love the action stuff! I’m not a stuntman, but I’m athletic, and [as McGarrett] I like hanging people off buildings and tying them to the hoods of cars and then driving really fast.”

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Caan is happy to let his partner in crimefighting handle the action sequences. Early on in the show’s production, he tore a ligament in his knee doing jujitsu and had to have surgery. “I’ve hurt myself in my life so much doing stupid sports,” he says, “so I’m cool with just doing acting.”

Five-0 fans are cool with it, too. Caan – who exudes an easy charisma on screen, whether doting on Danny’s daughter or bickering bromantically with McGarrett in the show’s now-patented “cargument” scenes – quickly became a breakout star, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his performance earlier this year. Clearly, producers booked the right Danno.

Ironically, though, Caan came close to passing on the role. “I definitely struggled with whether I should do it,” the actor says during an interview on the Five-0 headquarters set, as his beloved Blue Heeler, an Australian cattle dog named Dot, lounges nearby. “My first instinct was no. I have no desire to do just a straight procedural.”

The character-rich pilot script eventually changed his mind. Even so, since the show became a hit, Caan – who’s also a writer and director – has openly struggled with the likelihood that he’ll spend the next several years of his life working pre-dominantly on the show, which shoots far from his Los Angeles hometown. “There have been times when I’ve been, like, there’s no way I’ll do anything twelve seasons,” he says, “because there are other things I want to do.”

At this point, though, he seems to have made peace with the idea. “This is my job and I’m doing it with full passion,” Caan says. “If it runs twelve seasons, I’ll be in my forties, and I can parlay it into whatever I want, you know? I’ll have a bajillion dollars from this show, and I can buy a block in Hollywood, set up a theater company and do nothing but write and direct plays and be completely fulfilled.”

The potential for fulfillment, both personal and creative, also persuaded Kim to join the TV team. The actor, who spent six seasons on the Oahu-based drama lost, was, unlike his character Jin, in no hurry to leave the island when the ABC hit wrapped last year. “My kids are in school here,” says the married father of two during a break at Emmy’s photo shoot, “and all their friends are here. As important as my career is to me, my family is as important.”

With Five-0, he’s hoped to showcase a different side of himself as an actor. “That people see that Jin was actually a character, and not who I was, is meaningful to me,” he says. “I loved my experience on Lost and I’ll make no bones about it. That said, it was a huge ensemble and I wanted to make sure that I was an integral part of [this] show.”

While the actor has infused the wounded Chin Ho with a poignant gravitas, his loyal (and very vocal) fan base has grumbled that the character isn’t quite integral enough. The actor himself admits he’s eager to spend more time on character development and less time downloading case-related exposition in season two. “Chin Ho started with a rich back story, and I think he has a lot to offer the group,” Kim says. “I look forward to seeing a diversity of experience for him. I understand that season one was about establishing the brand, so people knew what they were getting. But I think what makes a television show good in the long run is depth of character.”

Park, who was previously best known for the cable cult-favorite Battlestar Galactica, has wrestled with finding her footing off screen.

“This has been a really interesting journey,” admits the shy actress of the fame that comes with starring on a high-profile network series. “I’m really grateful [for the opportunity], but with that comes a lot of exposure. There’s an inordinate amount of attention put on actors. Some people want to make their lives public, but that doesn’t mean everybody does. It kind of feels like you landed in – well, not really Alice in Wonderland, because it’s not that fun.”

Park is looking forward to spending the summer hiatus with her husband, real-estate developer Phil Kim, who stayed in Vancouver while she filmed in Hawaii. (People were like, ‘Isn’t your husband moving with you?’ I’m like, ‘He’s got a life!’” she says with a laugh.)

But for the show’s producers, any R&R will be short-lived. After May’s explosive season finale, which threatened to dismantle the Five-0 team, Lenkov is already bubbling with ideas for the fall. There are certain emotional moments from the first season that I want on my life reel,” he says. “But season two is going to be even better.” Expect tighter plots, says the producer, and likely at least one new series regular: Larisa Oleynik, who appeared in a handful of episodes toward the end of season one as a CIA analyst who helps McGarrett in his ongoing quest to bring down Wo Fat.

Even now, though, the man who grew up worshipping the original series can’t quite believe he’s played a major role in introducing the brand to a whole new generation. “Nina Tassler said to me once, ‘You did it. You brought it back,’ Lenkov marvels. “But, really, as corny as it sounds, I just wanted to make my dad a fan.”

For the record, he’s succeeded. “He even watches the reruns,” Lenkov says with a hearty laugh. “My dad will call me up and say, ‘That was still pretty great, even the second time.”

The same might be said for the series as a whole.

The Five-0 team

My Thoughts

  • I do not agree with Peter Lenkov on his thoughts that the only thing Alex can be good at, is being an action hero cop. And I definitely disagree that he was ever miscast as either Mick St. John of Dr Andy Yablonski. Maybe I am just an ignorant fangirl for thinking that Alex is so much more than just McGarrett? 😕
  • When in doubt, don’t. – While I was reading this article, the quote from Benjamin Franklin crossed my mind. But then again, will we ever do anything if this was true?

Magazine scan

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20 Comments

Filed under Alex O´Loughlin, articles, Hawaii Five-0, Interviews

20 responses to “Sky’s the Limit – Emmy Magazine 2011

  1. gracenotpark

    Oh honey, PLenkov is soooooo wrong about Alex! He clearly didn’t watch much of Alex’s stuff, cos Alex can go in just about any direction and make it real, from Criminal Minds killer to Oyster Farmer. I’m guessing PLenkov just didn’t like those first 2 series, and that’s ok. But Alex MADE Moonlight, and Andy is my favorite of his characters. The characters were awesome, even if the shows were not everybody’s cup of tea! we are right, babe. He is just wrong. 😉

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    • I always thought Peter was maybe misquoted a bit here, until I heard him say it on the stage at one of the SOTB evenings as well. 😦
      To me it is kind of sad to think that that is what Peter thinks of Alex.

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  2. Leah

    I’m really kind of shocked that Peter actually made that statement about Alex being miscast in the prior roles! Wow! To me, that comes across as an insult to Alex’s acting abilities. Of course, we all know how wrong he is! 🙂

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  3. Well Peter is a dude…LOL so I think that was the first thing he thought of when meeting Alex. I agree with you all, he is perfect as MickyVampyD and Dr. Yarhottie…(especially where they were taking Three Rivers…darn 13 eppies…I need more still!!!)…but Alex can do a plethora of roles…not only action…and i’m sure we will see those roles once H50 sails into the sunset (after season 12). 😀

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    • That is fine if it was what he thought when he first met him – but then he said it again 3 years later before thousands of people, at SOTB 3 I think. Unfortunately I seem to have lost that video clip of where he said it – maybe because it made me sad that that was what he thought of his main star. 😦

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  4. lindae5o

    No, my dear, you are not just an ignorant fangirl !! We all know Alex is capable of anything. Lenkov’s comment shows lack of sensitivity, and the inability to recognize the enormous range of Alex’s talent !!

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    • serai1

      I don’t know if he’s capable of *anything*. I do know we haven’t had a chance to determine that yet because he’s spent half his career on one rather run-of-the-mill cop character. If Lenkov has managed to persuade Alex that he “belongs” in action, then that’s really sad, because neither he nor any of us will ever get a chance to see what he can really do as an actor, or what he can bring to diverse roles as he ages, which is something that bums me out, too. Old character actors are fascinating; old actions stars are just sad. I hope Alex doesn’t end up in that cul-de-sac.

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  5. I’m not surprised Peter said that about Moonlight & Three Rivers. When Alex accepted the role on H50 he stopped talking about Moonlight. Prior to that he talked about it in every interview. Not hard to figure out CBS wanted Moonlight hushed up. There was more that happened bts but I’ll leave that alone. I loved all of Alex’s roles except for Feed. Muck St John is my fave!

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  6. karen

    Well, Peter obviously hasn’t seen Oyster Farmer. Next to Mick, Jack is my favorite Alex character. Andy was extremely beautiful, but he never really had anything to DO…lol He just walked around in his doc lab coat all day and had amazing doc/patient talks. Noooo doctor on earth does that. (lol again). I don’t care what Peter says. Alex is a good action hero but it isn’t all he is capable of doing. I have been around Peter and he is definitely “self assured”. haha

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    • I think Alex played Dr Andy very much like he saw Dr Gonzo when he shadowed him – I kind of think he is a Dr like that (I have seen a few like that in my life) – of course not as pretty as Alex, but definitely as kind. 🙂
      And as you say – I also do not care what Peter says. It just makes me sad if that is how he feels about his main star. 😦

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    • serai1

      How much does any doctor character have to do on a doctor show? It’s too bad 3R failed, because I’d FAR rather see Alex saving lives and making people feel better than running roughshod over everyone and leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. We’ve got way too many RJDH cop shows already, why in the name of the gods do we need another one? But I guess it’s more “entertaining” to watch people getting murdered, beaten, and otherwise messed with than seeing them helped by people whose only job is to help them. *sigh*

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  7. [Maybe I am just an ignorant fangirl for thinking that Alex is so much more than just McGarrett?] Well then FOYEUR…”ignorant fan girls” UNIGHT!

    Alex has always been MORE then just McGarrett in my book.
    Every character he has taken on he has lifted off the page and breathed life in to them. I’m always in awe of how different each character is from one to another. Yes it’s Alex, but the only thing they have alike is Alex’s beautiful expressive face/body. My favorite of course being Mick, but to follow him up with Vincent was pure magic and talent personified.

    For PLinkov to pigeonhole Alex as an “action hero”, although flattering, is selling him waaaaay short on what he can really do.
    I’d love to someday see Alex take on a Villainous role and play the s*** out of it. ♥

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    • Colleen

      I agree with you! I would love to see Alex play a really scary villan. He could nail it and I’d love to see if he could scare me. And Foyeur, we are all fan girls who love and adore him. We have to stick together. 🙂

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      • As much as I would love to see Alex play a “scary” villain Alex is an admitted “method” actor. It frightens me what he might put himself through to bring a “vicious scary” villain to life enough to scare me. I do like scary movies that keep me on the edge of my seat or make me jump out of it. 😉
        But I know Alex could pull it off and make me shriek. 😆

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    • Very well said Kath.

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  8. alexnymph

    Well I’m not surprised @Plenkov said that about Alex because it seems to me that of the three original producers, he is the one who gets it wrong–the one most in control but with his characters all over the place. He seems rather “whimmy”–goes whichever way he wants to, with little regard for the plotlines or character development. He’d rather make a big bomb/shootout/giant claw rather than make plot lines that make sense. I have more faith in Orci and Kurtzman–they seem to know how to tell a story. I wish they had more influence.

    On a different note, anyone think it’s time Alex directed an episode?

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    • [On a different note, anyone think it’s time Alex directed an episode?]
      Oh that would be something to see. 😀 I’m sure Alex would love to direct an episode maybe even have some input on the “writing” of said episode. 😉
      He voiced an interest in directing an episode of Moonlight back in the day, but it got canceled before he got the chance. He also co-wrote Feed.

      So yeah alexnymph , I think it’s about time they let him take the reins.

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    • I kind of feel for Peter – I have read an interview in which Trevor Munson (The original creator of Moonlight), where talked about his frustrations about the restrictions that the Network (CBS) places on them as far as character development goes and what type of story they can do. I think that is also one of the reason why Moonlight had so many showrunners.
      The Network believes that people only want procedural – and maybe they are right. They have been doing shows for many years and have been running a successful business with it – it is just not my cup of tea, to watch action shows, without real people and characters behind it.
      Must be honest – I would rather have Alex in front of the camera than behind. But I think he would do a great job.

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  9. serai1

    I agree with you – I don’t think for a second that Action Guy is what Alex should be doing with his career. I hope he hasn’t swallowed Lenkov’s line about that, because it would be sad to see him disappear into Action Hell and spend his career going from one meathead role to another, a gun always pasted to his hand. He’s better than that, better than some rote show that occasionally tosses its actors a character bone now and then. There’s a reason it’s called ACTING, after all, and if Lenkov is too limited and small in his thinking to realize that actors can actually play more than one person, then the stagnation and boredom I’ve been sensing on the show the last half of this season doesn’t surprise me.

    I’ll admit a lot of my negative reaction has to do with my *intense* dislike of McGarrett. (Yeah, I’ll be polite and say “dislike”, because we’re in mixed company here.) I love watching Alex’s work and what he does with the character, but I really, REALLY do not like Steve as a person. I could think of at least 500 characters I’d rather have Alex spend half his career on than this guy, who basically sums up everything I dislike and find reprehensible in the action genre in one arrogant package. If Alex is going to spend the NEXT five years playing Arnold Jr., then I’ll very likely tune out and wait for him to try something else. It’s too painful to see the clock ticking away while he diddles around with schoolboy fantasies. There are actual good stories to be told, stories that could make a difference. This is cotton candy, and my taste for tooth-rotting sweets went by the wayside decades ago. 😉

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  10. I’m an ignorant fan too. Can i join the club, please?

    The first time i saw Alex was in a H50 episode. If i was curious about the actor behind the character Steve McGarrett, when i watched his previous works like the Criminal Minds episode, Oyster Farmer, The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant, Three Rivers and so on, i became a fan of his acting. He has the natural skill to make us feel that the character is real, no matter is a hero or a villain. He born to tell all of kind of stories, so action is just one of them.

    I’m sorry Peter, you are very wrong about your stellar actor. Watch 4.22 Criminal Minds episode or Feed, and then tell us what do you think about Alex’s performance.

    Like

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