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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

B-Movie Actress Feature Spotlight: Tia Carrere

Current Net Worth: over $6.5 million

Born Althea Rae Janairo on January 2, 1967, Tia Carrere, as she is known professionally, is an actress and singer who originally hails from Honolulu, Hawaii. The daughter of a banker and a computer supervisor, she is of Filipino, Chinese and Spanish ancestry. Carrere, who also began working as a model, harboured ambitions in becoming a singer and in 1985, she made her appearance on U.S talent show, Star Search aged 17. But it turned out to be a shortlived experience, as she was eliminated during the first round. She didn't let that deter her from following her dreams, however. 

She made her feature film debut in the 1987 horror, Zombie Nightmare. After being spotted in a supermarket by a local producer, Carrere landed a role in the teen comedy-drama, Aloha Summer a year later as a shy Hawaiian girl. After that came daytime soap, General Hospital and for 2 years, Carrere played a student nurse, Jade. She became entangled in a messy legal battle as she tried to get out of her contract so she could star in The A-Team TV series. However, she lost out and eventually saw out her General Hospital contract. Carrere made further appearances as bit-part roles in shows Airwolf, Macguyer, Quantum Leap and Married With Children as a modelling rival of Kelly Bundy's, played by Christina Applegate. 

Her debut and transition to film roles came in 1991 in martial arts actioner, Showdown In Little Tokyo with Brandon Lee and Dolph Lundgren (and the film where she used a body double for her love scene), and Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man with Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke as Japanese characters, Minako in the former and Kimiko as the latter.

1992 came the breakthrough moment for Tia Carrere when she was cast as rocker chick and love interest, Cassandra Wong opposite stars and writers, Mike Myers as Wayne and Dana Carvey as Garth in Wayne's World, which has become a '90s comedy classic. She even turned down the chance to star in the syndicated Baywatch as a marine biologist love interest to accept the role in the movie. Carrere even performed all of her own songs in the first Wayne's World movie. The success of the film worldwide was massive, as it grossed over $180 million in box office receipts and she didn't hesitate in saying 'yes' to reprising her character in the follow-up sequel, a year later. For a while, Carrere was set to become a bona fide breakout film star, and I'd add first major Asian American movie star too before the likes of Lucy Liu, Ming-Na Wen emerged. Anita Li, writer of The Cut cites Cassandra as, ''one of the more multidimensional Asian female characters in mainstream American comedy and that she's special because she bucks the reductive stereotypes of Asian women in popular culture''. 

''I'm from Hawaii, where everyone is mixed with different ethnicities, especially Asian. So when I came to L.A and people tried to put me in a box, like someone who needs to do accents, be subservient, wear long wigs - I had short hair at the time - it was strange to me. They hadn't seen faces like mine onscreen''. - Tia Carrere, 2017
Carriere tried her hand at more action-orientated roles, first being the crime thriller, Rising Sun by playing a computer expert alongside Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes and secondly, as Juno Skinner as the femme fatale-like antagonist opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in James Cameron's 1994 action comedy blockbuster, True Lies, based on the French film, La Totale!

But right after True Lies, her film career pretty much stalled with flops in the little- known Jury Duty, High School High the Dangerous Minds parody, actioner Hollow Point, The Immortals alongside B-movie actor, Eric Roberts as a robber and these all headed straight- to- video. Carrere mentioned that she was asked to audition for Disney's Mulan, yet her agent didn't notify her of this until she arrived home. As a result, she fired him. 

Afterwards, Carrere turned her attention to being a pop star. She released her first album in 1993 titled 'Dream' and she recorded 5 studio albums in total, as well as turned to voiceover work for the Lilo and Snitch animated feature film and TV series as the character, big sister, Nani. As time went on, she starred in the Canadian TV series, Relic Hunter as professor Sydney Fox who is in search of ancient artefacts, with a plot that was akin to the Indiana Jones movies. The show lasted for 3 seasons from 1999 to 2002. 

She made further guest TV appearances on the short-lived sitcom, Back To You, as well as Nip/Tuck. Tia also made her film comeback somewhat in 2016's Showdown in Manila: a low- rent version of The Expendables with B-movie stars Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), martial arts actors Cynthia Rothrock, Don ''The Dragon'' Wilson and Mark Dacascos. The film received less than satisfactory reviews and ratings. 

The Waikiki native had her taste of fame and success over 20 years ago when she was still young, vibrant and was one of the rarest instances where for a considerable period of the 1990s, she achieved the level of attention and stardom that quite honestly, many other Asian-American actors and actresses have never really maintained. Yes, there was Ming-Na-Wen of ER and The Joy Luck Club, Mulan, and Lucy Liu, who along with Na-Wen, have become two of the prominent Asian American stars of the last 20 years, who these days dabble in TV, but I don't think there has been any other Asian- American actress who has appeared in a considerable number of American films with predominately White casts. At the same time, as the years rolled by, the quality of those movies dwindled as they were straight-to-DVD and video efforts with low ratings and negative reviews. 

For a brief while, Carrere bucked the trend for Asian-American actresses and film stars in multi-racial films: plus, not only could she act, she could sing, she learned to play the guitar for Wayne's World, she has bags of talent all right. But like many other actresses, who never went onto greater success, the big name projects never came in spades as the worst those movies became later on, though also like many other Asian-American film stars, success was also difficult to maintain as she didn't get more of those big name Hollywood projects.

Thankfully, however, she is still active and present in the Asian-American community today and continues to be an advocate for more positive Asian-American representation and talents for people of colour on both the big and small screens. 

Notable Favourites: 

Wayne's World 1 and 2, True Lies, Lilo & Snitch, Rising Sun

Notable Non-Favourites:

Showdown In Little Tokyo, High School High, Collision Course, Jury Duty, Showdown In Manilla


25 Years later, Tia Carrere is still Inspiring ''Schwing!'' - The Inquirer 

Tia Carrere - Wikipedia

What Happened To Wayne's World's Tia Carrere? - Digital Spy

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