Previously Known For: Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World 2, General Hospital, and Lilo & Stitch
|Currently Known For: The Celebrity Apprentice, cameos on Family Guy and Blue Bloods|
“Doors open because you’re beautiful, but I wouldn’t cultivate beauty to the exclusion of brains.” Never imagining that she would find fame as an actress after dreaming of becoming a singer as a child, Tia Carrere is the first to admit that she stumbled into the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. Born as Althea Rae Janairo on January 2, 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Carrere attended the all-girls Sacred Heart Academy where she dreamed of one day taking the stage as a singer. Determined to see those dreams come true, she was 17 years old when she tried out for Star Search only to see her dreams shattered when she was eliminated during the first round.
Fortunately, Star Search wasn’t the end of the line for Carrere whose beauty landed her bit parts in Cover Up and Airwolf before she snagged a recurring role as Jade Soong Chung on the popular daytime soap opera, General Hospital, in 1985. Spending the next two seasons on the show, she made appearances in The A-Team, Tour of Duty and Noble House before she ventured over to film after she was discovered by a producer’s parents at a local grocery store. “I was shopping in the Food Pantry in Waikiki and a producer’s mother and father approached me and said, ‘Darling, you’re gorgeous. My son’s doing a movie here. You’d be perfect for the female lead,’” Carrere recalled. “I thought, ‘I’ve never acted before. I don’t know… What do I do?’ They told me, ‘You just go in and read the words and make pretend.’” That’s exactly what Carrere did when she snagged the part of Lani Kepoo in the 1988 comedy drama, Aloha Summer.
Although Aloha Summer was a flop, Carrere continued to hone her talents with films like Fine Gold, Fatal Mission and Little Sister while building her reputation on television with credits in MacGyver, Quantum Leap and Married… with Children. Then, in 1992, her life and career forever changed when she turned down a role in Baywatch to accept the role of a rock singer named Cassandra in Mike Myers’ 1992 classic, Wayne’s World. Not yet knowing the film would become a hit but instantly falling in love with the script, Carrere took a huge leap of faith on the project. “It was a snippet on Saturday Night Live,” she said of the idea behind Wayne’s World. “And when it came out, we didn’t even have a premiere. It was the lowest budget picture at Paramount that year.”
Having a blast on set and even launching her music career after performing her own songs in the film, Carrere didn’t think twice when she was asked to reprise her role in Wayne’s World 2 in 1993 as she skyrocketed to fame as one of the sexiest women alive. “It was so fast,” she said of her fame and the process of filming. “It seems like fun, but most of the fun and games were really on screen. Comedy’s tough business, you know! There are writes, rewrites, and the script itself—with scripts there’ll usually be white revisions, green revisions, pink revisions and so on. With this script, there were double golden, double fuchsia, double chartreuse! They’re so brilliant and kept coming up with better and better gags. Like, ‘Hey! Let’s go just a little bit further with this.’”
On the heels of her success with Wayne’s World 2, Carrere released her debut album—Dream—and watched as it climbed to the top of the charts in the Philippines. She then lent her voice to the Batman: Mask of the Phantasm soundtrack as she snagged roles in 1990s flicks like True Lies, My Teacher’s Wife, Hollow Point and High School High. She had a starring role in the Indiana Jones-inspired series, Relic Hunter, which suited her perfectly. “I play a female Indiana Jones, a professor who hunts down precious objects, like a bowl that belonged to the Buddha” Carrere said of the part. “They tailored the role to me: I wanted to be smart, funny and to kick some ass.” Carrere brought everything she had to the show and found even more staying power in the new millennium when she lent her voice to Lilo’s sister, Nani, in Lilo & Stitch in 2002. Reprising her role in Stitch! The Movie in 2003, Lilo & Stich 2: Stitch Has a Glitch in 2005, and Leroy & Stitch in 2006, she also took the character to television where she voiced Nani on Lilo & Stitch: The Series from 2003 to 2006.
Over the last decade, Carrere hasn’t found another blockbuster or Disney franchise like Wayne’s World or Lilo & Stitch, but she’s managed to stay busy with credits in popular television series like Nip/Tuck and CSI: Miami. She put on her dancing shoes for the second season of Dancing with the Stars and, in 2012, sat across from Donald Trump on the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice where he surprised her with his kindness. “You think you’re going to be intimidated by him because he’s such a big shot, but I met him and his kids and they just couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming,” Carrere said of her experience. “Donald’s a big fan of a lot of people on the show and will let them know that he likes their work. He’s much more pleasant than a lot of people think.”
Carrere’s opinion on reality television, however, was just the opposite as she tapped into her own strengths only to discover that reality television isn’t reality at all. “I think reality shows are honestly the furthest thing from reality,” she said after leaving the show. “They’re so often skewed in different directions. While reality TV isn’t exactly scripted, it’s certainly led by its nose and edited to present a certain view to the world. Dancing with the Stars was a little snippet of reality but, wow, Celebrity Apprentice was another level. You’re working so hard, with such long hours, and in such close quarters, that people’s real personalities come through. I think that’s what’s so interesting, seeing the psychology of people. It was really eye-opening. You see some wonderful things and some very disheartening things.”
Since then, the 50-year-old Carrere has made cameos on shows like Family Guy and Blue Bloods but has focused more attention on her singing career especially after winning Grammy Awards for her last two albums—‘Ikena and Huana Ke Aloha. She’s also incredibly focused on her life at home with her daughter, Bianca, after ending her eight-year marriage to photojournalist Simon Wakelin in 2010. Beyond that, Carrere says she chooses projects based on her interests and brushes aside any criticism of her career, even when reporters bring up the time she posed nude for Playboy in January 2003. “I zig, I zag,” she says. “I always said that my motto was, ‘Years from now, I never want to look back and wonder, What if?’”