“Finding ‘Ohana” Interview: Alex Aiono & Lindsay Watson talk about Hawaiian representation and shooting on location

Premiering exclusively on Netflix this Friday, January 28, 2021, Finding ‘Ohana is a new family-friendly adventure that follows Pili (Kea Peahu) and her brother Ioane (Alex Aiono) as they embark on an unexpected treasure hunt through rural O‘ahu. The film, directed by Jude Weng, is one of the first feature films to include a predominately Hawaiian cast. I recently had the opportunity to interview two of the film’s stars Alex Aiono and Lindsay Watson who shared with me their views on why Hawaiian representation matters and what it was like for them to shoot on-location in Hawaii.

Scott Menzel: Hello Lindsay. Hello Alex. Nice to see you.

Lindsay Watson: Hello.

Alex Aiono: Nice to see you as well.

Scott Menzel: So, congratulations on the film. It is nice to see some fresh new faces on screen, and I want to start with that because I couldn’t help but notice when I was watching this movie, it was in a category on Netflix called “Representation matters.” How do you feel about that in this day and age, and do you feel like we’re finally getting movies that represent the world as a whole?

Lindsay Watson: Yeah. I think we’re finally slowly getting over to that, and this project for me was such an eye-opener. I was like, “We’ve never had the Hawaiian culture on the big screen ever,” so when the script landed on my hands, and I was reading it, there was this feeling inside of me that I was so excited that it was like, “This is going to be on Netflix for the world to see, and I get to be that character that teaches our culture.” It’s small, but it’s beautiful, and it’s something that I feel if the world learned about it, they would be interested to learn more about it.

Everyone has kind of the surface level of what… With the grass skirts and such like that, but there’s such a deeper meaning to it, and I feel a movie like this opens the door that we get to start exploring that deeper, and it’s so nice that it’s my face that gets to be the opening door that represents [inaudible 00:01:36] for now, and I can’t wait to see the next projects that start to explore the Hawaiian culture and other cultures. It’s such a beautiful thing. I love seeing other cultures and what’s important to them because we don’t really get to see that as you say on the screen. So, if this is the turning point that it’s starting to happen, I’m so glad that we might be leading the march.

Scott Menzel: Yeah, absolutely. How about you, Alex? What do you think about that?

Alex Aiono: Yeah, I mean, we’re definitely in the era of representation, and I think that it’s a perfect time for not just the Hawaiian culture, but it often is joined in with the Polynesian culture in general, and when most people think of Polynesian culture, they think of football players or athletes, or just huge people without knowing that we’ve been represented softly in the entertainment business for a while, whether it be The Rock or Cliff Curtis or Taika Waititi or Jason Momoa, and now I think thanks to trailblazers like those, who have started the path of Polynesian representation. We can now start expanding on what we want to really share with people, so it’s not just like, “Hey, we’re here.” We already did that. Now we get to say, “Now that we’re here, let us show you that, specifically, in this case, Hawaiian culture isn’t just about Luaus and what you see with love on Adam Sandler movies or that, which is amazing but it’s just so much deeper than that.”

Scott Menzel: Absolutely. One of the things that I loved about the movie is that you can tell it was shot on location, which I think makes a big difference when you tell this type of story. Can each of you maybe share a little bit of a story about what it was like actually to shoot on location and what was your favorite scene to shoot?

Lindsay Watson: Yeah, shooting on location, as an actor it makes life so easy. There was no imagination involved. We were there. In Thailand, I think what’s my personal fave, we were in real caves, massive caves with bats flying over us. We’ve talked about before, there is safety… Because there’re snakes in there and there are bats, and there are falling pieces, so it was so crazy to be in that environment, but the fear came naturally. Hannah, as strong as she is, there’s a lot of fear, the surface for her… So, it didn’t take much acting when we’re in these beautiful locations, but beautiful but scary. We had snake wranglers on set that were like, “We caught a cobra yesterday,” and I’m like, “That’s fine, it’s okay.” So it was such a crazy experience to know that this is going to be shown on the big screen, and I’m like, “You guys couldn’t tell the real sets from the fake sets because everything was just so beautiful watching the movie,” I’d like to see who can actually tell.

Scott Menzel: Yeah.

Alex Aiono: I think building on top of that, just as much as the scary scenes or the scarier locations made it easier to be scared, it’s hard to be in Hawaii. We’re filming these end credit scenes where we’re eating malasadas at Leonard’s, or we’re dancing around on the beach, it’s hard not to have that natural happiness come out of you and share that big smile on your face. In fact, it’s quite hard at the beginning of the movie. I had to pretend I didn’t want to be there that I’d rather be in New York city than be in Hawaii, and that to me was probably the hardest part of acting because the rest of the time we’re laughing, we’re getting paid to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Scott Menzel: Well, thank you very much. Loved your answers, seriously. They were so really well thought out and to the point too. Thank you so very much.

Lindsay Watson: Thank you.

Scott Menzel: I hope this movie does open doors for more people, and we get to see more stories like this. Thank you.

Lindsay Watson: Thank you so much.

Alex Aiono: Thank you, Scott.

Finding ‘Ohana will be streaming exclusively on Netflix beginning January 29, 2021

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott D. Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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