As Goo As It Gets

Kanoa Goo, grew up in various East O‘ahu neighborhoods, starred with Constance Wu in I Was A Simple Man, which made The New Yorker’s Best Movies of 2021 list. Photo courtesy Taylor James Studio

Who’s been really good at piling up acting credits in TV, film and theater of late? Rising star Kanoa Goo.

Kanoa Goo may be living his dream as an actor in the City of Angels, but he has never forgotten his roots.

His journey into the spotlight started in his youth when he took part in a local performing arts camp and continued with roles in various productions at Diamond Head Theatre and his alma mater, Punahou School, as well as roles in local TV commercials for KFC and American Savings Bank.

Since then, he’s become a face to watch in TV, film and theater, with dozens of acting credits to his name. He starred in the original Hallmark Channel romantic movie Aloha Heart and has had recurring roles on ABC’s The Rookie and CBS’ Fire Country.

“The Rookie — that was obviously a career highlight for me,” notes Goo, who plays assistant district attorney Chris Sanford. “Getting that job definitely opened a lot of the doors for me and everyone was just the best on that show. And I think a lot of the fans who watch that show want me to come back in some capacity. I get messages all the time. Hopefully, the writers bring me back.”

Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Goo tries to make it back home a couple of times a year. Luckily, some of his recent projects were filmed in the islands, including I Was A Simple Man, in which he has a lead role alongside Constance Wu. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and made The New Yorker’s Best Movies of 2021 list.

“Doing I Was A Simple Man … I think really was kind of like a crucial moment in my career in that the success of that film going to Sundance and then doing well after that, along with other factors that came together in my career, it felt like a pivotal moment,” says Goo. “Also, I just loved making it. Everyone in that film, it felt like everyone’s hearts were aligned, and it just felt so special to come home and do that.

“We were shooting in this old rundown house in Waialua and it just felt so authentically Hawai‘i. Just making it felt so special, so the fact that the finished product ended up being something that we are all very proud of is such a bonus, and I feel the same about Chaperone.”

Goo is referring to his next film, Chaperone, which premiered at Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year and won the Breakthrough Grand Jury Award. Also shot in Hawai‘i, it was directed by Zoe Eisenberg, who he’s currently in the early stages of writing a script for another movie with.

“What I like about Chaperone is that it is a very normal, slice-of-life story that happens to take place in Hawai‘i,” notes Goo, who studied acting at New York University. “Its characters are just normal people navigating life decisions and consequences. You can feel the essence of Hawai‘i in the film definitely, but the story and its themes are universal and anyone watching can relate in some way.

“I think those kinds of ‘normal life’ films are just as important to be seen coming out of Hawai‘i filmmaking in addition to the more epic historical dramas.”
Goo also returned to the stage recently, starring in Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City at the Tony Award-winning Pasadena Playhouse, which he describes as an unexpected and amazing highlight of last year.

“It just felt like I was returning to childhood times,” he explains. “Just being in the back, it doesn’t matter where you are, a theater always smells the same. I remember just being backstage and literally being brought back to my childhood and it was so nice because after working more in film and television and then get to revisit kind of those early days of how I fell in love with acting felt really special. It kind of reminded me to continue doing more theater.”

Growing up, Goo recalls moving a lot — “maybe like 10 times as a kid” — including to the Kaimukī, ‘Āina Haina and Kapahulu neighborhoods. His dad was an athlete and Little League coach, so naturally Goo played youth baseball. Then, he discovered performing arts and eventually left the ball game for a different crowd.

“I just became obsessed with performing — I just loved it so much — it kind of became my thing from that point on,” says Goo. “I was around 8 years old, so then in high school I just continued to perform in school productions and that basically led me to going to college to study acting and theater.

“It’s so crazy in these moments to reflect back because I think it’s really rare for something to be your hobby as a kid and your passion as a kid to turn into your career and what you do to sort of make a living, so it’s nice. It feels really special, and I feel really grateful that I get to do what I’ve always loved to do.”

Along the way, Goo has also taken great pride in his mixed heritage, and his part in helping to further Asian and Pacific Islander inclusion in Hollywood, especially when it comes to on-screen lead roles.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people like me in the industry,” notes Goo, who is of Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian ancestry. “I don’t think there’s a lot of mixed local actors from Hawai‘i that are represented on a large scale, and I think what continues to inspire me is just embracing what makes me, me, and letting people find that as opposed to me trying to shift who I am to fit in.”

And at the heart of who he is, is where he’s from — an island boy from the Aloha State — and that’s something he’s thankful for.

He lists the people, the beaches and the food (açaí bowls from da Cove Health Bar and Cafe, rice cakes from Chinatown, sandwiches at Andy’s Sandwiches & Smoothies in Mānoa, and barbecue chicken musubi and mashed Okinawan sweet potatoes from Diamond Head Market & Grill), as things he misses about Hawai‘i. But most of all he says he misses the feeling of being home.

“I think there’s nowhere else that helps me get the most relaxed and the most calm and at ease, and that’s what I think I really appreciate the most about going home now,” he says. “That feeling of relief that I think is just a part of Hawai‘i.

“To be up here pursuing a career and then get some kind of escape home to Hawai‘i is the biggest blessing and I feel really grateful that I get to be a part of this growing representation of Hawai‘i talent on screen.”

Over the years, Goo’s received a lot of career advice, but the one that sticks out the most for him (and that he continues to follow) is “kindness gets you far.”

“I think that’s something I’ve been told a lot in the first part of my journey as an actor, that people really appreciate my kindness and my warmth and my open energy,” he says. “I think that it’s true, it’s something people remember. They don’t really remember what you said but they remember how you made them feel …

“And if I can balance being a good, kind person while also kind of like guns blazing ahead of trying to achieve what I want to achieve, if I can do both of those things and not do it at the expense of other people’s feelings, then I feel like I’m doing something right.”