Hooked On The New Doogie
Like any second-grader in the mid-2000s, Matt Sato vividly remembers watching shows like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and High School Musical on Disney Channel. From his home in Mililani, he sat in front of the TV reveling in the entertainment and enjoyment they provided, knowing it was one day something he wanted to be a part of in some way, shape or form.
And now, that dream has come to fruition as Sato stars as series regular Kai Kameāloha in the Disney+ reboot of Doogie Howser, M.D. — Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. — which aired its first episode Sept. 8 on the streaming service.
“When I auditioned for this role and found out that it was filming in Hawai‘i, it was too good to be true,” says the 20-year-old actor.
After his chemistry read with Peyton Elizabeth Lee (who plays the title role of teen medical prodigy Lahela “Doogie” Kameāloha), Sato, and the rest of the TV execs, knew his appointment as big brother Kai was meant to be.
“Kai is super free-spirited and not into doing what’s popular, just whatever makes him happy,” Sato says. “His little sister, Doogie, is super intelligent, book smart, and Kai is more street smart, and he can be very emotionally intelligent.”
Viewers, who tune in for Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.‘s second episode tonight (Sept. 15) might also recognize another familiar face in patriarch Benny Kameāloha, portrayed by Pearl City High grad Jason Scott Lee.
“He plays my dad, and he’s such a legend to me,” Sato says. “I’ve always looked up to him, and being able to work with him is unreal.”
Getting to play the oldest of three is a fun role for Sato (who in real life is younger brother to Gavin Kaleialii Sato). The role-reversal allows him to take on the archetypal character arc, messing with his younger siblings Doogie and Brian Patrick Kameāloha, played by Wes Tian.
“Brian is carefree and ridiculously funny and tries to impress everyone,” Sato says. “It’s how I was when I was younger. I remember wanting to be the center of attention all the time growing up.”
The similarities continue in the show’s family dynamics, too. The fictional Kameālohas feature an Asian father (Lee) and haole mother (Dr. Clara Hannon played by Kathleen Rose Perkins) and three kids of mixed descent — similar to that of Sato’s own family.
“We had a local dad (Gavin) and white mom (Lara), and mixed kids,” Sato says. “There’s some funny jokes in the show that all of us hapa mixes are going to understand.”
The fact that he grew up in Hawai‘i further solidifies that this is the perfect role for Sato, who enjoys fishing on the Westside — sometimes indulging in sessions twice a day — and hiking locales like Pali Puka when he comes back to visit. He also finds time to volunteer with local nonprofits like Hawaiian Humane Society — he loves animals and has a Maltese named Michi and a pug named Olive — and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i. Anything to give back to the place that’s given him so much throughout his childhood.
From Mililani Ike Elementary to Mililani Middle and then American Renaissance Academy in Kapolei, Sato participated in everything from soccer and baseball to cross-country and swimming — but the proverbial acting bug just wouldn’t go away.
In fifth grade, he started dance classes at Waipi‘o’s Pas De Deux Hawai‘i and attended acting workshops led by Margaret Doversola. His abundance of natural talent came to the surface during this time, and thanks to casting director Rachel Sutton, Sato landed his first principal role on Hawai‘i Five-0 in 2014 at the age of 13.
“Once I did that, I knew I was hooked,” he says. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
With support from his family, Sato moved to LA at age 16 to pursue his passion full-time. In addition to national commercials for products like Hasbro Bey-blades to Clean & Clear and Zuru Toys, he also starred in teen web series Chicken Girls (his first experience with episodic work) and Nickelodeon’s Side Hustle (airing now), as well as James Hong’s Patsy Lee & The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms.
While nothing quite tops a mainstay role in a popular TV show, being able to share his island home with Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. cast, crew and viewers is an added bonus that Sato is more than grateful for.
“I’m excited to be able to share the aloha spirit with the audience watching,” he says. “There’s so much to take away. It’s a comedy, drama, coming-of-age story, it’s a procedural hospital show — there’s something in it for everyone, whether you live here or not.”
While audiences across the Pacific can live vicariously through Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. and its beautiful scenery shots and pristine filming locations (look forward to views of Waimānalo, Waikīkī and The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center), kama‘āina are the ones in for a real treat, to hear Sato tell it.
“There’s a lot of funny Easter eggs that only locals are going to get,” he says. “The audience, no matter where they’re from, is going to have a lot of fun.”
There’s more in the works for Sato in the future, and fans can follow along on his journey on Instagram (@mattsato).