Actress Kea Ho Talks Indulgence, Hawaii and Following Your Heart
Summer is heating up, and sometimes it’s more enticing than ever to jump off the deep end and make a big splash — literally or metaphorically speaking. Just be careful, you never know when the man with the Cheshire cat grin will show up and change your life forever — or in this case, a sexy receptionist who happens to know said mystery man (Pierce Brosnan). Enter Kea Ho, who plays Xiomara, the gatekeeper of a one-way trip to a world of indulgence in the new thriller, Urge, which hit theaters earlier last month. Blurring the lines between good and evil in the nightclub she calls home, she introduces a few friends to the dark side. What ensues is a lesson in what happens to those who don’t heed warnings.
Ho took time from her dreams of moving to Paris and snuggling with her Maltese named Bleaker to speak exclusively with GALO. The sweet and sassy femme fatale of our generation gave insights into Urge, growing up with a famous father, and the proper way to hula dance.
GALO: This summer, you’re starring in director Aaron Kaufman’s thriller, Urge. When we enter the theater, what sort of feeling should we be prepared for? What thoughts should be going through our heads?
Kea Ho: I think you should have the feeling of like, ‘what [kind of] world is this an entrance to? What kind of ominous things are going to happen?’ You should definitely go in with an open mind as far as what the deeper meanings in the film are, [ones] that aren’t necessarily stated overtly but [that] you can read between the lines and pick up [on] — especially with Pierce [Brosnan’s] character, and all of the monologues and things that he is saying. Those really are indicative of what the bigger picture of the story is and what it’s trying to say. If you don’t do that, you’ll just see the surface stuff, which looks like a lot of shock. I hope people will watch it expecting to have a little fear and some kind of thrilling aspect, but [that they’ll] also have an open mind and try to see what this is really about, and what the writer is trying to say.
GALO: It almost gives off an aura as to what happens when indulgence takes over. Speaking of which, there is a lesson to be found in almost every movie. What is the lesson that Urge ultimately gives off?
KH: I think the lesson is about human nature. Think about the Garden of Eden, where they were given this paradise and they were told they could have it all — with only one rule to abide by. Well, with human nature, we want to break [that] rule. So it is about self-control, and I think it kind of parallels with that story. Like, with Urge, they have found this perfect drug, and they can have the perfect experience but were told they can only do it once. What happens when they break that rule? They can’t control themselves and destruction pretty much occurs.
GALO: Your character in the movie, Xiomara, is a performer. Was there a routine that you had to learn? Can you walk us through that process, like how it was fashioned, for instance?
KH: Basically, she is supposed to be the entrance to hell, a seductress character that kind of lures and introduces them to the whole new world of Urge — kind of like the character Salma Hayek plays in From Dusk till Dawn (1996). So, I was very lucky [in that] I got to produce the sequence, as the director trusted me because of my background.
She was always written very overtly sexy, but I wanted to juxtapose that with a more conceptual idea to tell the story of Urge because she is supposed to be the personification of the drug. So I collaborated with an amazing modern dance choreographer here in New York, Laurie De Vito, and some ballet dancers as well (plus a designer!) to bring it all together. So that was cool. It took a while to come up with [it], there is just so much that goes into it. It took a couple months or so — just kind of going back and forth and figuring out exactly what we should do and how we wanted to tell it.
GALO: When you have to embody a character like Xiomara, you certainly have to go into her psyche to see what makes her different from yourself. What would you define her personality as?
KH: That’s what appealed to me about her from the beginning. She is supposed to be telling the story of Urge. It starts out perfect and it kind of evolves into something really bad. Having to embody a very ethereal kind of angelic presence at the same time as something very dark, dangerous and super sexy that is what appealed to me about it. Pulling that off takes a lot of confidence.
GALO: Staying on subject for a minute, is there any routine that you follow when you are getting yourself into character?
KH: I just go very inward and I like to be alone before a performance. With any kind of performance — even growing up doing stage performances — you are acting. It’s a show. So I just go inward and try to focus and get to an authentic place. I studied method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, so I really love method. I kind of try to be authentic about my characters.
GALO: What is your favorite scene from the movie?
KH: Well, my favorite scene from the whole movie is Pierce’s scene with Justin Chatwin, when he is first introduced to Urge after Xiomara’s performance ends. They are basically convinced to try this drug. So he, [Justin], is first introduced to the man (Pierce Brosnan’s character), and they have a really cool exchange. The set design for that particular scene was really awesome, too. I will leave it up to the audience to decide who Brosnan’s character is to them, but he’s a character that is bigger than what you first perceive him as — more than meets the eye.
GALO: Tell us a little bit about the cast. You’re playing alongside some pretty cool people, including Pierce Brosnan and Ashley Greene. Do you have any cool behind-the-scenes stories that you could share with us?
KH: Well, the movie really had a cool, fun and sexy cast. The actors I worked alongside with were all playing characters that they normally wouldn’t, so it was really cool. I can’t really think of any funny stories… I am blanking on anything particular. I mean, there are always those moments when you forget a line or something like that, but everyone totally got along, though, and it was super fun.
GALO: When we’re young, it is natural to look up to our parents as a blueprint of who we expect ourselves to become. Why did you decide to follow in your father’s footsteps and become an actress?
KH: Growing up in the business with him was an amazing experience and I value it so much. I think it taught me how to hone my instincts so well from a really young age and not let people take advantage of me. It’s a different environment. But, ultimately, you just follow your heart. Where your heart is [that] is where you end up. I really think acting has so much to do with instinct and intuition. I kind of didn’t really decide to pursue it — it just happened.
GALO: So if you hadn’t chosen acting, what would you have pursued?
KH: I always thought that I would be a producer or a fashion designer, which I did a little with my swimsuit line in Hawaii. But it’s cool that I get to parlay that into stuff I’m doing with like the show costumes and even collaborations with people like Zana Bayne.
GALO: Having a famous father and going into the show business, did you ever feel there was added pressure or expectations to make him proud?
KH: People definitely always expect you to fit into their perceptions. I always tried to be respectful of my parents and others, but at the same time, I was always going to do my own thing. People probably perceived my dad to be one way also, and he did his own thing. But we’ve always had a close relationship.
GALO: You mentioned Hawaii. Given your association with it, I’ve got to ask about the art of hula dancing. I’ve heard it takes a lot of hip control and may not be as easy of a dance as it looks. How often do you get to hula dance now that you live in New York? Any tips for beginners like myself?
KH: I don’t get to dance very much, but I do kind of incorporate some of that into my performances. It’s all in the hips and the hands. But my mom was a hula dancer — she danced for my dad’s shows, and so did all of my older brothers and sisters. Anytime I go home to Hawaii, we all do a hula dance — it’s really nice.
I would say it’s all about grace. Don’t be afraid to take your time with it and don’t get too much in your head. Just feel the movements. The hand motions have symbolic meanings. They’re telling a story. Hula is telling a story. I haven’t written a hula dance or story before, but that would be cool.
GALO: Being one out of ten siblings must have been very interesting growing up. How did you stand out at home with so many brothers and sisters?
KH: Well, I actually only grew up with four of my siblings and we were all super close. We had a good time together and our parents doted on each of us completely. We all have our own talents and would perform together in our dad’s shows. None of us felt left out. We always had enough attention to go around.
GALO: Out of all of the celebrities and famous people that you’ve met in New York, California, or even back home in Hawaii with your dad, who would you say is the trendiest or hippest person?
KH: Well, you know when I was younger and working in my dad’s shows, rock bands or other musicians that would come through Hawaii would be playing in the one big amphitheater [there]. So I got to meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t really expect to be coming to my dad’s shows. But probably the most amazing person I’ve met was Gwen Stefani. My sister opened for her when she came to Hawaii and that was really cool.
GALO: I have to say I’m a little jealous! I personally love Gwen. She’s the epitome of cool, as dorky as that might sound. I mean, who doesn’t love her ’90s style pop/punk music and makeup trends! Getting back on subject, close your eyes and imagine another actor/actress that you want to be like one day, or with whom you would maybe want to be cast with. Who do you see?
KH: Well, when it comes to male [actors], I really admire and like Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings). He is such a strong actor and I like the roles that he plays. But as far as my most idolized actor/actress, I would say it’s Angelina Jolie. I don’t think I will ever be able to act with her, but she’s definitely like my ultimate everything. I think a lot of girls are really inspired by the characters that Jolie plays. Not just the characters, but her aura. It is so powerful and strong, and I think that’s something admirable for girls to look up to — myself included. Even in normal life, she is doing things to give back to the world in a way that is on a whole other level of a higher calling. She is not just an amazing actress, but is also an authentic person. I really admire her for that.
GALO: With Urge out in theaters, what’s next for you?
KH: I have a comedy, Flock of Dudes, coming out in September with a cool cast. I have a cool scene in the movie with Timothy Simons from Veep. I am also really excited about a thriller that I have been cast in that we film in a week. I can’t say what it is yet until the trailer is released, but it’s based in New York and the character I play is a really strong female role in a male dominated world. I’m excited about that and I can’t wait for it to be announced. But in the meantime, everyone should go see Urge. Just remember to keep an open mind and try to find the deeper meaning.
“Urge” can be currently rented on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Vudu. The film is 90 minutes and rated R. Want to know more about Kea Ho and her endeavors in and out of the film world? Follow her on Instagram here.