Unlike previous roles, Mapuana Makia infused her experiences of growing up on Maui to her character on the new Disney+ TV series “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.”
“The Disney+ series premiered Sept. 8, with new episodes to follow every Wednesday. The show is inspired by the hit medical series “Doogie Howser, M.D.” that ran from 1989 to 1993 and starred Neil Patrick Harris.
Set in modern-day Hawaiʻi, the new series follows 16-year-old genius Lahela “Doogie” Kamealoha, as she navigates a promising medical career and the trials of being a teenager. At the hospital where Lahela works, she is affectionately nicknamed “Doogie” in reference to the original show.
Makia, 38, stars as Noelani Nakayama, Lahela’s colleague at the hospital. Makia described Noeleani as “a vivacious, kolohe, niele, smart, local Hawaiian girl that is just doing her best and respects Doogie a hell of a lot.”
There is a deep sense of pride for Makia, representing Hawaiʻi on a popular streaming service like Disney+. “When I really deeply think about it, it’s very exciting to be at the forefront of getting more of our indigenous stories out there,” she shared.
Growing up, Makia watched the original “Doogie Howser, M.D.” She knew all of the show’s details, from “Doogie” journaling on his chunky, desktop computer, to his best friend jumping through the window.
Although Makia found inspiration from actors in the entertainment industry, many were not from Hawaiʻi. The absence of actors was indicative of the lack of TV shows and films thoughtfully depicting the people and culture of the Aloha state at the time.
“What I think is so great about this show and how it portrays Hawaiʻi is it’s not just the backdrop or the environment. For a long time, that was how anything you watched on TV was,” Makia said. “Now, for instance, you’re seeing Benny pull up an octopus from the water, and you’re seeing your uncles and aunties and everything they do.”
The series creator and showrunner, Kourtney Kang, was also born in Hawaiʻi but raised in Philadelphia. She took great care in depicting the culture, customs, and aloha spirit in the islands. From a crowd of aunties taking photos before a school dance, to the students proceeding to Zippy’s afterwards, many familiar traditions and idiosyncrasies of growing up in Hawaiʻi can be spotted in the show.
“It’s fun to let people see our culture,” Makia said. “Maybe the whole world will know what a Spam musubi is by next season.”
While reading the script for “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,” Makia could instantly tell the voice of Noelani was that of a local girl. “It felt like home—like I immediately knew this person,” she said. “She’s the big extroverted version of me but a bit more of a troublemaker.”
Makia’s uncle joked that after acting in L.A. and Vancouver, she came home just to play herself.
Raised in Kihei, Makia was only in kindergarten at Kihei Elementary when she saw a performance and knew she wanted to be on stage. At Baldwin High School, she fell in love with acting and completely immersed herself in theater. Makia credited Baldwin High School for helping her develop a strong work ethic both on and off the stage.
After graduating high school in 2001, Makia continued to strengthen her craft, studying theater at Hawaiʻi Pacific University. After college, she moved to L.A. to pursue acting in both theater productions and films.
Makia is most known for “Aloha,” “Emma Approved,” and “Finding Ohana,” but has also made brief appearances in an impressive list of shows including “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Castle,” and “Criminal Minds.”
Now residing in British Columbia, it was both strange and dreamlike for Makia to shoot “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” on Oahu. Unlike her appearances in previous productions, one day Makia would be on set, and the next she would be sitting with her grandmother and grandfather.
Along with Makia, the series includes local actors like Jason Scott Lee who plays Benny, Lahela’s father, and Matthew Sato, Lahela’s older brother.
“Working with Jason Scott Lee was of course so much fun,” Makia said. “His range is incredible. Watching him in ‘Mulan,’ he’s this super scary, intimidating, ultra villain, and then he’s this sweet, kind dad in the series.”
More than ever, Makia witnesses a growing need for local talent as the film and TV industry expands in the state. “I foresee it being a big industry and I hope so,” Makia shared. “Beyond the hospitality industry, which we’ve been known for, we’re now opening a new venue for more income and opportunities for local people in Hawaiʻi.”
Photo Credit: Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution