• Interviews

Actress Amy Hill, “Magnum P.I.”’s Cultural Expert

Magnum P.I. is a modern take on the classic series centering on Thomas Magnum, a decorated former Navy SEAL who, upon returning from Afghanistan, repurposes his military skills to become a private investigator. When Masters bought the estate, Kumu came with it. Kumu has a wide knowledge of Oahu and is usually the go-to person for information, usually from Magnum.

Actress Amy Hill has found her place and her voice playing Kumu who has become an important part of the show. Amy Hill is not originally from Hawaii: her mother was Japanese and her father Finnish-American. She portrays Kumu as being an expert on the island and life in general.


In a telephone interview, Amy Hill says that her role was just supposed to be nine episodes. “They didn’t have even a name for me but then they gave a name Kumu. It is Hawaiian and means a teacher, so I explained a lot of cultural things. Being immersed in the culture, I try to do things and learn every day.”

Amy had a lot of friends in Hawaii and her daughter Penelope moved to Honolulu to attend the University of Hawaii. “My daughter is graduating and she is one semester late because of the pandemic. She is going back to Los Angeles and I’m saying: goodbye, I’m loving here.”

Born in a small farming community in Deadwood, South Dakota, Amy Hill moved to Seattle when she was six. “They both were proud of their own culture and sauna was always part of my life. As a child growing up in Seattle, I wasn’t accepted in the community. I went to the University of Japan and when I came back, I moved to San Francisco. Everybody was surprised I spoke Japanese.”

“I feel very connected to Japanese heritage,” she says. “That’s how my Asian American consciousness started. I was involved in Asian American Theater Company and we were writing our own plays.”

Amy says that she had problems being accepted in Hollywood. She wasn’t pure enough to be Asian American. White people were saying that she doesn’t look Japanese enough.

Margaret Cho was doing standups in San Francisco and she got a deal from ABC to create a show. She wanted Amy to play her mother. “I wasn’t that excited to play her mother but I loved the grandma’s character.” Amy acted in 1995 in the first Asian American family sitcom All American Girl. Grandma Kim was based on her mother.

That started her career in television. Following the cancellation of All American Girl, she was cast in the role of Kay Ohara on Maybe This Time, which would eventually lead her to work and co-star with TV legend Betty White. She played Betty White’s best friend who was an old Japanese lady.

Amy Hill says that her favorite thing about her Hawaiian character is living in Hawaii. “This is a wonderful, magical place. I’m not from here, but I’ve been coming to Hawaii for many years.”