*Pacific Media Group, Maui Now’s parent company is a shareholder in the film Kuleana
EXCLUSIVE: Lāna‘i’s Hensley Celebrates KULEANA in Isle’s Newly Renovated Theater
The Maui-made film KULEANA opened for a week-long run on Lānaʻi, with showings each day through Thursday (April 19) this week.
Maui Now’s Wendy Osher spoke with Lānaʻi resident Bill Hensley who was among the list of some 150 actors and actresses, primarily Maui County residents, who had parts in the film.
Hensley, who is an accomplished actor, singer and entertainer, has been part of Hawaiʻi’s theater and entertainment scene since the 1970s. He started a convention show business–Broadway A La Carte–and was an entertainer at Mānele Bay for many years.
A former 30-year resident of Lahaina, Hensley is now retired to Lānaʻi, but still pops over to Maui to perform and play. Here’s what we learned about his long-time involvement in island theater and his experience on the set of the film, KULEANA.
Wendy: Tell us what’s going on with KULEANA on Lānaʻi.
Bill: “Yes, It opened on Maui and also on the Big Island and Oʻahu and Kauaʻi and Guam (on March 30th)… and now it’s showing on the island of Lānaʻi where I live. We’re going to do the regular one week run–two shows on Friday (April 13), two shows on Saturday and Sunday (April 14-15), and then one show each day all the way through Thursday (April 19, 2018). I believe that the attendance is going to be good. They might even hold it over. We’re going our best to try to drum up some business to get people out there.”
Wendy: So where is it showing on island. Is there a specific location?
Bill: “We have a beautiful theater here. It was the old theater. It was kind of like a legitimate theater back in the 20s and 30s, and then it became a movie theater later on. Then just this last year, Larry Ellison who bought the island has redone the entire theater. It’s gorgeous. There’s two 99-seat theaters in there. It’s 100% renovated. It’s beautiful with leather seats and air conditioning and African wood floors. They re-did the bathrooms–they look like Star Wars bathrooms. Everybody’s enjoying the movies that they bring–two new ones each week. Hopefully people jump on the KULEANA movie and we just have a good showing.”
Wendy: Tell me a little bit about Bill Hensley.
Bill: “I actually moved to Hawaiʻi in 1977. I went to Oʻahu first and I was a tennis pro at the Diamond Head Tennis Center and I did some theater in the evenings under the direction of Jim Hutchison who died in 2009. We did lots of theater, and then I moved to Maui and got involved in theater there. Instead of going to California like I had planned, I just cashed my ticket in and stayed on Maui. I was on Maui for 30 years, and now I’ve lived on Lānaʻi for 11 years. So I’ve been in Hawaiʻi for 41 years. I can’t believe it… It’s gone by too fast.
“I was born and raised in Detroit and got out of there right out of high school. I went to college in Nashville, Tennessee. I got drafted and was in the Army for a couple of years. Then I went to California and tried to become a movie star and that didn’t work out too well. I’ve always been involved in music even through college, and that’s kind of what I did. I got involved in musical theater and I just loved it.”
Wendy: What brought you to the islands?
Bill: “You know it’s really funny. I was a tennis pro in Tuscon, Arizona and a buddy of mine came up to me and goes ‘Hey, you want to go to Hawaiʻi?’ (It was so hot. It was during the summer time. It was 120 degrees and you couldn’t even play tennis because it was so hot that the rubber on your shoes would be smoking.) I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ So we dropped everything. I was a single guy. We moved to Hawaiʻi–him, his girlfriend and myself. He had a job at Hawaii Five-0 and did the one year there.. before they decided to go back to California. He wanted to be a writer and so did she.
“I said–I’m going to go to Maui first and check it out. I’m not going to come this far and not go to Maui. Everybody tells me it’s beautiful. That was before all the hotels were in Kāʻanapali. I did, and I just fell in love with it right away. My first show on Maui was Macbeth, of all things. Then I did Tommy the rock opera, Brigadoon (and) Sweeney Todd… It was just a wonderful experience. The people were fantastic, and I just decided to stay.
“I lived in Lahaina the entire time for 30 years. I went on a couple of national tours from the mainland. I did The Music Man for a year and 42nd Street for two years. We traveled all over Japan, Canada and every state in the union and just had a ball doing that. When that was over in 2007, I thought ‘What do I want to do,’ ‘Where do I want to go.’
“I had always gone to Lānaʻi for convention shows. That was my company–the convention show business–Broadway A La Carte. We would do vignettes of Broadway show tunes in full costume with a 40 piece orchestra. It was really a magical time in the 80s and 90s in Maui (County) for conventions.
“I got involved with meeting other people and playing golf here and I decided to move. They were building a new apartment complex. Before then, you had to be an employee of the company in order to get any kind of residency. Unless you were a millionaire and bought one of those one million dollar houses, but that wasn’t my option. I applied for the apartment and I’ve been here ever since–11 years.”
Wendy: Tell me about your role. You have a lot of experience in theater. What was it like working on this particular film–kind of a different avenue for you?
Bill: “It really is. Brian Khone (KULEANA director/writer)–he’s an amazing man. I’ve known him since he was like 13 years old. He was a Baldwin High School graduate and he always did a lot behind the scenes. If something went wrong, he’d make things happen. I could tell, even at that early age, that he had that organizational skill to put things together. I didn’t know much about his writing ability until a little bit later when he wrote ‘Get A Job,’ which was his first movie that he did, and I had a part in that.
“I called him up when I heard about this movie–a Hawaiian movie that he was making–almost tongue-in-cheek and said, ‘You got a part for me? I’m a haole guy but I can be in a Hawaiian movie. I’m an actor.’ He goes, ‘No, it’s not that… I don’t think I have anything for you.’
“I said ‘Okay, keep me posted. I’ll work behind the scenes. I’ll carry the cord for the cinematographer. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. I just want to be a part of this movie.’ It sounded so good. He allowed me to read the script as he was developing it. Then a few weeks later, he calls me up and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got a part for you.’ …I went, ‘Oh my God. Okay. Great.’
“I play a disgruntled haole neighbor who bought a house from a haole real estate agent on Maui. Come to find out, the house was built on Hawaiian graves. I was digging around in my garden and came up with a femur bone. I go back to this guy who lived down the street from me and show him the bone. (I’m a WWII veteran in my part.) I say, ‘This is not a pig bone. This is a human bone. What are you doing here?’
“They finally reveal that he built a lot of houses on this Hawaiian grave site and kind of revealed his true identity and how evil he really was. I also heard screams coming from his house and he kept saying they were goats, but I know there were females screaming… My part was basically just to reveal his personality.”
Wendy: What can you say about working on a film made in Hawaiʻi, by Hawaiʻi film-makers, involving an all-Hawaiʻi cast.
Bill: “My first experience was ‘Get A Job’ that Brian Kohne wrote a few years ago, where I played an Irish-Catholic priest. It was just a knuckle-head comedy that Hawaiʻi people loved. We showed it on Oʻahu and throughout Hawaiʻi, and they just loved it; but it wasn’t something that I think the mainland people really necessarily could associate with.
“But the actors in the production–that really surprised me, because I’ve done a lot of theater and it was hard to get the local population behind some of the things that we were doing… Now I find that these actors that we have in KULEANA are kind of like a product of accelerating in their interests and their abilities. They bring their ‘A’ game to this show.
“The cinematography is wonderful. The costumes were authentic. Brian did everything authentic and paid attention to detail.
I’m looking so forward to the next project.”
KULEANA was set on Maui in two time periods (1959 and 1971) and features an all-Hawaii cast. In the film, a disabled Vietnam veteran rediscovers the Hawaiian warrior within to protect his family, defend their land, and clear his father’s name.
The film, whose title explores the topic: “Protect Our Family, Defend This Land,” was put together by Maui filmmakers Brian Kohne, Writer/Director, and Stefan Schaefer, Producer.
KULEANA stars Kristina Anapau, Moronai Kanekoa, Sonya Balmores and features Augie T, Branscombe Richmond and Kainoa Horcajo in supporting roles.