On the 150th episode of the CBS series Hawaii Five-0, entitled “Ka makuahine a me ke keikikane” (which is Hawaiian for “Mother and Son”), Five-0 must team up to free Steve McGarrett’s (Alex O’Loughlin) mother, Doris (Christine Lahti), when Catherine (Michelle Borth) informs them that she’s been captured. But even though she’s about to be executed after attempting to free Wo Fat’s imprisoned father, that doesn’t stop Doris from wanting to complete her very dangerous mission.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Aussie actor Alex O’Loughlin talked about why he thinks Hawaii Five-0 has had such tremendous success, when Hawaii really started to feel like home for him, the return of the two most important women in Steve McGarrett’s life, whether he gets any closure for either relationship, why the dynamic between Steve and Danno (Scott Caan) is so important to the show, why he’s made the decision to leave the show after eight seasons (if they get that far), and how he’s hoping to direct an episode in Season 8. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Congrats on 150 episodes!
ALEX O’LOUGHLIN: Thank you!
That’s a big milestone that very few TV series ever get to anymore.
O’LOUGHLIN: It’s quite extraordinary, in this climate of television, I have to say.
As an actor in a profession where you never know what the next job will be, is it cool to know that people still want to tune in and that they keep coming back?
O’LOUGHLIN: Yeah, it is cool. It’s also reassuring, in a number of different ways. I’ve seen how hard everyone works, that I work with on this show. It makes me really happy for everyone, and for all the hard work we all put in.
Very few reboots, remakes and reimaginings have actually done well. Most of them don’t make it, but this show has beaten all the odds. What do you think the secret to the success of Hawaii Five-0 has been?
O’LOUGHLIN: Well, I think it’s a number of different things. Let me preface by saying I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s my disclaimer. What do I know? But, I think one of the reasons that reboots don’t work is that they try to emulate what’s been done before. What we’ve done with this is quite different to what came before. My McGarrett is so different from Jack Lord’s McGarrett, and Scott’s Danno is very different from the old Danno. But I also think that with every successful show, there’s an element of alchemy somewhere. The alchemy, in this instance, has something to do with the chemistry between the cast, what Peter Lenkov brings with his plot-driven writing, and the beautiful scenery that plays the character of Hawaii. It all just works.
You’ve been doing this show for a few years now and it seems like you’re pretty embedded in Hawaii and the Hawaiian way of life. When did Hawaii really start to feel like home for you?
O’LOUGHLIN: I can settle pretty well and pretty quickly, pretty much anywhere. I’m an actor and, as an actor, you’re kind of like a traveling salesman. It’s pretty easy to hang your hat and get comfortable [in Hawaii]. I got very comfortable here very quickly, but after I’d been here about a year and a half or two years, I knew that this place was in my heart, forever.
It can’t hurt to work in paradise, on a regular basis.
O’LOUGHLIN: People come here for a week at a time, but there are aspects of living on an island in the middle of the ocean that are difficult, too. Any place has its pros and cons. I do need to leave, once a year. I take my family and we go away to other places. Otherwise, you start to take it for granted and it can lose its charm. I don’t ever want that to happen, so we travel.
This is a very big episode, being the 150th, with the return of Catherine and having to rescue McGarrett’s mom. What can you say to tease the return of what are arguably the two most important women in his life, both of whom seem to keep eluding him?
O’LOUGHLIN: I think it’s a really important episode for Steve, in the sense that these women have meant the most to him in his life, but have also caused the most grief and pain. They’re both a pain in the ass, but they also both mean more to him than anyone else. There’s closure with one, and then kind of closure with the other. The closure he gets with Catherine is really important. It answers a couple of questions for him. Whenever anyone is left in the situation that he was in, it forces that person to look at themselves and question whether or not they were the problem, and I think that’s finally done for him. And then, with his mom, it’s tricky. I don’t think he’ll ever get to a place where he’s just at peace with it, but I think he’s getting closer and he’s becoming less emotionally volatile. She has less power over him, emotionally. It’s been a long road for him, with her.
It’s nice to get to see a bit of what life was like for McGarrett growing up, and what his relationship was like with his mother when he was a kid. How do you think the relationship they have know reflects the one that they had then?
O’LOUGHLIN: I don’t think it does. You’re talking about the vulnerability and trust of a child and its mother. When the parent loves the child the way she did him and his sister, and then proceeds to do the things that she did, that trust no longer exists and the relationship changes. Since we’ve known McGarrett, he’s been searching for what that relationship is now and how that relationship is now, and I think that’s becoming more clear for him.
Knowing that Steve was going to propose to Catherine before she left, do you think he’ll ever consider marriage again, or has that opportunity passed?
O’LOUGHLIN: (SPOILERS) I don’t know. I don’t write the show, and I don’t know what’s around the corner. But from the character’s standpoint, I don’t think he would consider marriage with Catherine, at all. What’s become clear is that Catherine is not the correct candidate, regardless of how they feel about each other. The life choices that she’s clearly committed to are not going to work. Even though he hasn’t been married before, he’s smart enough to understand what the institution of marriage requires and what it would mean. She took that off the table when she made the decisions that she made. He respects and admires the decisions that she’s made, but she’s removed herself as a candidate for any kind of long term. Through Catherine doing what she needs to do for herself, following the path that she needs to take, he has been able to empathize with Doris on a level that he couldn’t before. In a way, she has humanized his mother for him. That’s what she has facilitated for him, more than anything else. That’s the greatest gift anyone could have given this guy.
One of the best parts of this show is watching the dynamic between Steve and Danno because it’s so fun and so funny, and they’ve been through a lot together, since it all started. What do you still enjoy about playing that dynamic and working with Scott Caan?
O’LOUGHLIN: First of all, he’s a mate of mine. We’ve become mates, over the years, and it’s nice to work with your mate. When you’re friends with the people that you’re working with – and that goes for all of my other cast members – it’s fun. Work becomes less painful. It’s all about the long, long, long hours, and what the show requires of us. So, to do all of that, day after day, and to produce this show the way that we do, with friends, makes it worth doing. If we weren’t friends, I wouldn’t have signed on for a couple more years. Specifically, I think that our dynamic together is really important. It’s part of what makes this show appealing and it’s part of what makes this show enjoyable to watch. I love seeing what our dynamic brings out because sometimes it’s a surprise to us, as well.
Seven seasons into this show, you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning, at this point. Have you made a definite decision that eight seasons is it for you?
O’LOUGHLIN: I’ve decided. Beyond anything else, I don’t want to do any more because I don’t want to kill it. It’s still got some magic left in it. It’s hard to keep it alive and fresh. It’s hard to keep it fun and new, each day. I’m worried that I won’t even be able to do that until the end of Season 8, but I’m going to keep swinging until I’m in the box. The other thing is that physically, I’ve had a lot of injuries. I’ve been hurt really badly on this show. I’ve now got some serious back issues, which I’m going back and forth to California to deal with. I don’t want to fuck my body up anymore. I’m getting stem cell treatments in my spine, so that I can pick my kids up. At a certain point, it’s television. Film and TV is not as important as my life. I don’t think I can physically do any more than eight years. We might not even do an eighth year. That’s a little presumptuous of us to even be speaking like this. But, if they want us to do an eighth year, that will be it for me.
Have you thought about where you’d like to see Steve McGarrett end up and have you had any discussions with the writers about that?
O’LOUGHLIN: I don’t really speak to the writers because it’s frustrating for me when we see things differently. I just try to do my best with what they give me. They have their own ideas, and I have my own ideas. Frankly, I think that if my ideas were written down, we probably wouldn’t still be on the air. I don’t know how to make a successful TV show. So, I’m open to it. As long as it’s smart, thought-out, creative and interesting, I’m down with it.
A lot of actors who are thinking about trying their hand at directing seem to do so with an episode of their own TV series. Over the course of seven seasons, have you ever thought about taking on an episode of the show, as a director?
O’LOUGHLIN: I will be directing an episode in Season 8, if we make it that far. I’m here, every day, and I think all of us have a say in the way that it’s going to go, on that day. We all know how the show is shot and how to tell the story. It won’t be that foreign for me to sit in that chair. After this is all over, I hope directing is a part of my career. I don’t think I’m that good at the acting part. I think I’m fine at it, but I think I’m probably a little better at directing. But then again, maybe I’m horrible at it. If they don’t put my episode on the air, than we’ll know that that won’t be a part of my future.
Hawaii 5-0 airs on Friday nights on CBS.