Branscombe Richmond on His Legendary Cinematic Career and Latest for Hawaii Film

Branscombe Richmond, a longtime Maui resident and one of the busiest character actors in film and television for decades, has an amazing body of work. His most recent efforts, the made-on-Maui indie comedy, “Aloha Surf Hotel,” and the Netflix hit, “Finding Ohana,” are two major…...

Brancombe Richmond with John Travolta and Maui Film CommissionerBranscombe Richmond…even if you don’t know the name, you will instantly recognize his face. Richmond, a longtime Maui resident and one of the busiest character actors in film and television for decades, has an amazing body of work. He’s probably best known as Bobby Sixkiller, riding alongside bounty hunter Lorenzo Lamas on the long running “Renegade” TV series, but that’s barely scratching the surface. 

Richmond, who has been acting his entire life, has played Jesup, the brother of “The Scorpion King” (yes, he played Dwayne Johnson’s brother), an overzealous cop in “Grand Canyon,” a Klingon in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” and gave a soulful, gritty turn in the Maui-made “Kuleana.” Richmond even played an iconic homicidal clown, who nearly murders Selina Kyle as Catwoman, at the start of “Batman Returns.”

Richmond also had a major role in the Cameron Crowe TV series, “Roadies” and has appeared in every single Hawaiʻi-set TV series you can think of. He’s shared scenes with fictional leading men like Thomas Magnum, Mitch Buchannon, and even Dr. Daniel Kulani. 

Richmond, who recently received a congressional award from the Hawaiʻi State legislature for his contribution to the film arts, as well as his representation of an indigenous Hawaiian in “Finding Ohana,” has been in the entertainment industry his entire life and shows no signs of slowing down. 

His most recent efforts, the made-on-Maui indie comedy, “Aloha Surf Hotel,” and the surprise Netflix hit, “Finding Ohana,” are two major home runs. His latest project is a romantic comedy called “Aloha with Love,” which he serves as producer and co-star. 

Richmond’s conversation with MauiTimes covers his unusual method for his role in “Finding Ohana” and the joy and hard work he puts into his craft.

MauiTimes: It must feel pretty good, seeing how successfully both “Aloha Surf Hotel” and “Finding Ohana” have turned out.

Branscombe Richmond: Wow, what a blessing.

 [With “Finding Ohana,”] I got a call from my agent, who knows the assistant director. She told me, “The job starts Monday but you’re unavailable, so you start on Tuesday. You’re taking the red eye out on Monday if this comes to fruition.

I get another call, I find out I have the job. I haven’t even read the “Finding Ohana” script yet, and I’m told, “You’re flying out at 7 p.m. Monday. You’re gonna land, you’re gonna check into your hotel in Honolulu, they’re picking you up at 6 a.m., you’re going through the works and here’s your scenes for that day!”

The first scene I shot on “Finding Ohana” is me on the ladder. Coming down the ladder, yelling at my grandkids. 

When I read the script, it’s a fun script. It’s a kid’s movie, but when we were doing it, the director—a wonderful lady named Jude Wang, said, “Can you Hawaiian this up?” I said, “Sure. Is anyone else doing that?” She says, “Well, no, your grandkids are from New York. Your daughter is [played by] Kelly Hu, who’s been over there. So basically, they’re going to learn how to be Hawaiian and you’re going to be the barometer.” 

In the script, they didn’t write it like that, they left it up to the actor, which is beautiful to do. So, I got to stick my hand in my bag of tricks and throw all kinds of stuff out. Some things she kept and some things she said, “Ah, too much!” 

MT: It’s amazing how quickly you were thrown into that and how good your performance turned out. Considering that, how did you find the character?

BR: To get ready to play this part, I’m playing my mother. Think about that. Older Hawaiian women don’t take no slack, man. I thought, how am I gonna play this guy? I’m gonna play my mom. 

I was at Costco and a lady came up to me and goes, “I really love the movie. You were terrific, but I’m bothered by something. Can I talk to you about it? You haven’t seen your kids in 10 to 11 years, and the first thing you do, you come off so hard. I wouldn’t have done anything like that.” The lady’s from Kansas, she’s not from here. I go, “Well, you didn’t know my mother. Let me tell you about kapuna, our people as elders. They will love you no matter what but you’re gonna get dirty lickins. It’s called positioning. It’s Hawaiian guilt—you’re gonna get the Hawaiian guilt, then the love comes.

MT: “Finding Ohana” reunited you with Kelly Hu. What has it been like working with her repeatedly after all these years?

BR: I married a former Miss Hawaiʻi and my wife knew Kelly Hu when she was 16. My wife went to Kamehameha, is a former Miss Hawaiʻi, like Kelly Hu. My wife was kind of a mentor for her. When you’re in L.A. going after an acting career, you keep a tight niche with those who are like-minded and like you. I did “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” so did Kelly Hu and so did Tia Carrere. Teresa San Nicolas, who’s from Hawaiʻi, is in it, too. I got a part in “Night Court” and Kelly Hu plays my sister—and Amy Hill, who’s now on “Magnum P.I.,” plays our mother! We’ve had a chance to work together a lot. I have a wonderful relationship with Kelly.

When Kelly and I came to that hospital scene in “Finding Ohana,” it was originally all in Hawaiian. If we do the whole scene in Hawaiian, the audience is going to watch the subtitles and not the performance. So, we came to an agreement. We did the scene, and the emotion came because we carry the mana of our ancestors.”

My conversation with Richmond showed his capabilities as a great storyteller, with lots of highlights along the way. When I ask about the possibility of a “Renegade” reboot, his eyes light up but he carefully explains that Disney now owns the franchise and that a return is unlikely. Regarding his scene-stealing turn in Stefan Schaefer’s “Aloha Surf Hotel,” Richmond explains that a key to the character is the size of his hair.

Richmond, meanwhile, has already wrapped a supporting turn in “One Million Dolla,” a new filmed-on-Maui comedy that reunited him with Schaefer. 

Whether Richmond ever dons that leather jacket and appears on our flatscreens as Jimmy Sixkiller again or not, there’s no shortage of projects in his future. 

More importantly, Richmond’s ongoing efforts to support and launch both studio-funded and locally made independent films is why he’s among Maui’s most important film artists. His congressional award is well deserved for a career that is far from over. 

Photo Credit: Maui Film Office

Barry Wurst

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