Blessing in disguise

Aloha: McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin, left) goes toe-to-toe with SWAT Commander Grover (Chi McBride) on the fourth season premiere of Hawaii Five-0.

Aloha: McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin, left) goes toe-to-toe with SWAT Commander Grover (Chi McBride) on the fourth season premiere of Hawaii Five-0.

Running around and ‘fighting’ in action dramas has helped Chi McBride open up a new career path.

American actor Chi (pronounced “shy”) McBride lost 28kg over the past five years partly because he took on a string of action-heavy TV roles. Best known as the imposing high school principal in TV drama Boston Public (2000 to 2004), he played a detective in action series Human Target (2010) and Golden Boy (2013).

Now, the 52-year-old joins the fourth and latest season of hit series Hawaii Five-0 as SWAT captain Lou Grover, a role that requires plenty of running around, gun shoot-outs and fist fights.

Speaking over the telephone recently from his home in Los Angeles, he says: “I’ve dropped 62lbs (28kg) in the last five years and that’s amazing. I did it to stay alive. I was 48 years old and my doctors asked me, ‘Didn’t you have enough pizza?’

“So I decided I was going to change the way I live my life. Then I got to do action roles and that has just been so great.”

This has opened a whole new career path for him. “Doing action lengthens your career a bit. Action is something that people haven’t normally seen me do, I’m really grateful for it,” he says.

McBride, who is married with three sons aged six to 33, started out in music, releasing a single in 1989, He’s The Champ, which spoofed the marriage between boxer Mike Tyson and his then-wife actress Robin Givens. He also released an album as part of R&B group Covert but it failed to take off.

He then turned to acting at age 30, doing a guest role in hit TV series The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (1992) and a supporting bit in the movie Revenge Of The Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992).

He has since acted in more than 30 films and 28 TV series, including the film Mercury Rising (1998) starring Bruce Willis and TV dramas Pushing Daisies (2007 to 2009) and The Nine (2006 to 2007).

But it was his part as school principal Steven Harper in Boston Public, about a fictional public high school, that earned him a nomination for Individual Achievement In Drama at the Television Critics Association Awards in 2001.

While he enjoyed all his roles, he says there are none that he wishes could have lasted longer. “I’m not really sentimental like that. If you don’t understand the concept that things end, you are going to be doing a lot of drinking. You know what I mean?”

Were you a fan of the original Hawaii Five-O series that aired from 1968 to 1980?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up watching it and loved it. I was working on other shows when the new Hawaii Five-0 came out, so I didn’t have a chance to watch it. But after I was approached about joining it, I watched the older episodes on DVD. They were full of action, and very interesting and exciting.

What was it like being the new guy on an established show?

I love working with the cast. I’ve known (actor) Scott Caan for many years and he’s really fun to be around. Alex O’Loughlin and Scott and I also have a lot in common, and we’ll smoke cigars and tell stories. I play golf with a lot of the production guys. And getting to shoot in Hawaii, that’s been a blessing because there’re so many things to do, whether it’s golf or hiking or whatever. It’s a balance of vocational life and private life as well.

Your character Lou Grover was featured on the original Hawaii Five-O and was played by Scott Brady. Did you feel any burden in keeping old and new fans of the show happy?

Not really, because oftentimes when you start worrying about things like that, you end up doing a caricature of a performance. All I can do is use whatever small talent I have and depend on the writing – and it’s been really great. My job is to interpret what they write down on the page and I don’t let anything else creep into my head.

Hawaii Five-0 features a multi-ethnic cast that includes Asian-American stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. Do you think the film and TV industry is more welcoming of diversity these days?

That depends on your definition of diversity. I think Hollywood is a business that cares only about one colour: green. If you can make money, they don’t care what colour you are.

I never approached my job from the standpoint of my race because I’ve always had a lot of confidence in what I’m able to do as an actor, so I’ve never dealt with the diversity issue. Anyway, diversity is more than just a bunch of people who look different. If you put people who look different in the same place, all you have is a Benetton ad which is great if you want to sell a lot of sweaters. But diversity is much deeper than how people look or what their races are.

You have three sons in real life but in Hawaii Five-0, your character is the father of a little girl. Have you ever wished for a daughter?

I’ve been busting out Y chromosomes since 1980 and I’m glad I don’t have any daughters because I have enough grey hairs as it is. The problem would be that she’d try to wrap me around her little finger and I’d pretty much let her, and it would just be a mess.

Bruce Willis told me that the first time somebody came over to take his daughter out on a date, he was sitting on the porch, cleaning his gun and he asked the guy, ‘Hey kid, did you see Die Hard?’ The kid goes ‘Yeah’ and he’s like ‘Alright then’ and lets him walk away. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that kind of business.

You started out in music before going into acting. Would you ever consider going back into music?

Hell, no. My record didn’t go gold nor platinum – my record went plastic. I actually don’t know anyone other than my family who even owns the record. I don’t even have a copy of it.

If you work in the movie or TV business, your movie or TV show can be a hit or a flop, but you are still going to get paid. But you can make an album for a record company and if it is never coming out, then at the end of the day, they’ll hand you a bill saying you owe them US$100,000. So, no thanks.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don’t think about stuff like this because in 100 years, nothing will matter. But if I’m going to be remembered, I hope it’s by the people who truly love and care for me. To be remembered for what kind of man I’ve been to my wife and what kind of father I’ve been to my children – that’s what really matters. Everything else is bulls***.

I know plenty of people whom everyone loves and sends them fan mail, but their kids hate them. I’d rather have it the other way around. — The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Hawaii Five-0 Season 4 airs every Monday at 10pm on AXN (Astro Ch 701/HD Ch 721).