Pili and Ione a.k.a. E Kawena reconnect with their Hawaiian roots by way of a treasure hunt of a lifetime in the latest Netflix film, Finding ‘Ohana. After finding themselves with their widowed mother in rural Honolulu to take care of their grandfather, the Brooklyn-raised siblings are initially skeptical about the arrangements. However, things change after Pili comes across a journal hinting at treasure hidden in the island’s caves and mountains. Together with E and their new friends and putting her geocaching skills to good use, they make their way onto forbidden and dangerous turf.
Both Kea Peahu and Owen Vaccaro, who play Pili and Casper in the film, were ecstatic for the opportunity presented before them when they first read the script. For Peahu in particular, she connected with her character through similar life experiences.
“From the moment I got the script, I already knew it was a role I really wanted to get,” she said. “First of all, it was in Hawaii and I was born and raised there until I was eight years old. So it was something I was really looking forward to if I were to get it.
“And I feel like we even have some similar backgrounds,” she added. “She’s from Oahu and she moved to Brooklyn and I’m from Oahu and I moved to LA. So when I got the script, I was already really excited to get her. And then I got the role, and that was crazy.”
As for Lindsay Watson (Hana) and Alex Aiono (E), they were both quick to realize the significance of having Hawaiian culture portrayed in such an authentic light and at such a large scale.
“My jaw dropped when I read it, that it was like, it’s a Hawaiian girl, in Hawaii, we’re talking about the Hawaiian culture,” Watson reflected. “I mean, I was born and raised in Hawaii with this culture, and I’ve never seen it on the big screen. And I’m like, ‘This is a Netflix film that’s going to tell my story to the world?’”
“Getting to come from [Arizona] and be in a film, not just a movie, but a Netflix movie and not just a Netflix movie, but a big, huge culturally important movie — sometimes I forget about that,” Aiono explained. “When I remember how important it is, it’s like getting hit by the positivity train. It’s amazing this opportunity that we had. There’s people all around the world who dreamed for an opportunity like this, and so I definitely want to make sure that I’m always honoring and respecting how incredible of an opportunity this movie has been for me.”
Finding ‘Ohana is Peahu’s film debut. Having shared a lot of scenes with Vaccaro, “He had a lot of experience, so it inspired me a lot when I watched him act,” she said.
Although this wasn’t Vaccaro’s first feature film, Finding ‘Ohana did mark his first time in Hawaii. “I literally knew nothing, and so all of the cast and crew were able to teach me these awesome things that I totally never learned before,” he remarked.
Filming in a location that Watson, who grew up on Maui, was otherwise very familiar with was a cherished experience — especially with how she got to share it with her own ‘ohana.
“It was some place I explored when I was younger, but little did I know that years ahead, I’d get to go there and film a movie,” she explained. “I only dreamed of things like that, and we get to be there and actually do that. So it was so cool. And my family was an island over, [so] they were able to come and visit set and have them around, and have them experience this first movie with me was such an honor.”
“[Being in Hawaii] definitely made acting easier, because 60 percent of it, we are just in awe of the life that we got to live,” Aiono said. “We were [in] awe of the beautiful locations, and awe/scared of being stuck in caves, and real caves, in Thailand. So across the board, it’s surreal. I couldn’t use another word that better describes that situation.”
All the cave scenes were shot in Thailand, due to the fact that the caves in Hawaii are forbidden. For Vaccaro, much like Aiono, he found the change in location help him to get into character.
“I mean, it was crazy shooting on location,” he explained. “It was really good because we were able to get better into character when we were in a real location. So I think it’s kind of cool that the location that we were in inspired the way we would kind of form our characters and we were acting as them.”
Along the way, the actors had their fair share of challenges. As Vaccaro elaborated, “I remember we would have snake wranglers on set, and every once in a while, they would find a king cobra, like just 100 feet away. And then they would just put it into a little bag and we would just all look at it.”
In the film, Pili speaks Spanish, whereas with Peahu, despite someone saying otherwise, she does not. “Someone told them that I’m fluent in Spanish, and I’ve actually never spoke Spanish in my life before. So people would expect me to say the hardest part was memorizing the dialogue or doing the action, but the hardest part was actually the Spanish part. Even though they were like a few words long, they were really hard for me to pronounce. So I had to have someone help me. But that’s definitely the hardest part I had to do.”
Ultimately, Finding ‘Ohana created bonds that have remained intact even after filming wrapped. Watson and Aiono play love interests in the film, but in real life, they’ve become close friends who help each other navigate the entertainment industry.
“Hana and I are Alex and Lindsay, so it was just seamless for us to jump right into this role,” Watson explained. “I mean, on-screen we were bickering, offscreen we were bickering. But it’s awful of love. I mean, it was such a joy to work with him and he was so talented. And it was fun to have this experience of our first movie together.”
“Once quarantine’s lifted, we’ve already talked about doing double dates with our significant others and hanging out,” Aiono said. “She’s given me help on auditions since then. I know that I can always call her for professional advice and always know that if I ever need a good energy for a party, she’s definitely the one that I can hit up and she’ll come, and she’ll definitely bring good energy.”
Finding ‘Ohana is now streaming on Netflix.