Terroristic Actor Is Father Figure
He’s not a terrorist, but he played one in real life. In 1998, the World Vision organization hired local actor Gavin Kamalu Vinta for field security training purposes. The nonprofit group teaches humanitarian aid workers from around the world how to deal with real-life scenarios.
“We trained them how to act and protect themselves in hostage-takings and negotiations, deal with militia and handle military checkpoint situations,” says Vinta of the humanitarian group dedicated to working with children, families and their communities, servicing approximately 100 million people in nearly 100 countries.
“We portrayed terrorists and head interrogators in those field exercises. Our mission was to help the workers make the world a safer and better place,” he explains. Oahu, Monterey, Calif., and Johannesburg, South Africa, were used as training grounds. His experience in South Africa opened Vinta’s eyes to Third-World living.
“It was humbling seeing squatter camps in small towns. Before I arrived, the World Vision team had us checked into a bed and breakfast in Johannesburg, when a group of assailants entered the home pretending to take a tour of the facility. While one person was being shown around, the other guys went into all the rooms and stole laptops, DVD players and everything of value,” Vinta recalls.
Luckily, the trainers were not confronted with violence and they did not have to act out one of the scenes from their training manuals.
“In our drills, I grabbed people, handcuffed them and forced them to the ground. We were pretty rough because we had to make it as real as possible. I almost got kicked out of the team once for going overboard on my ‘in the moment’ acting,” he chuckles. Vinta recalls one humanitarian worker from California who was annoying, mouthy and acted like a Mr. Know It All.
“I was instructed to ‘take care of him,’ so I grabbed ’em by the collar, swept him from his feet, kicked his legs really hard to the point where he was completely horizontal some five feet off the ground, and he fell crashing down with a big thud. They blew the whistle, put a stop on the exercise and put me on time out for a while,” he says.
That humanitarian employee ended up being assigned to Rwanda. Months later, the man wrote a letter to the organization thanking them for his field training. Apparently, his experience with Vinta humbled him, and he commended Vinta for changing his attitude and behavior.
“Fortunately, he was never in a terroristic situation where his cocky persona might have put everyone’s life around him at risk,” says Vinta.
Vinta’s terroristic acting career ended in 2010 after World Vision made budgetary cuts. He had to return to Hawaii, and soon took on a management position at a local security firm. He was at a crossroads and contemplated a career change. He always enjoyed singing, so there was the option of joining his famous vocalist wife, Kristian Lei, who at the time had 50 students in her clientele and growing. But to do that, there was a major hurdle he had to overcome.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with children. I didn’t like them.
They were a pain in the you-know-what. I wasn’t even planning on having any kids of my own,” says Vinta, until the unthinkable happened. Lei was hired by Disney to play Princess Nala and Rafiki in the Broadway musical Festival of the Lion King. She moved to China, while he stayed back in Hawaii for the first six months of her contract. Vinta ended up inheriting her students.
“They were devastated that they had lost their teacher, so I took the baton and ran with it. At first, I was doing it for the extra money, then I began to fall in love with the children,” says Vinta.
“I have always had a passion for singing, and because my training experience with World Vision was so fulfilling, I decided to launch a career by combining my two passions in life, teaching and singing,” he says. “The minute I started giving voice lessons to the little munchkins, something happened to me. I realized that children weren’t so bad after all, and I dedicated the rest of my life to teaching and helping them follow their dreams.” His prodigies include 16-year-old Brianna Herassa, who has won numerous singing competitions, including Hawaii Stars. Then there’s 15-year-old Romy Callado, who took third place in a regional competition called Spotlight Dance Cup last year.
“When people hear Romy sing, I am told that she has my wife’s moves and voice and is a youthful version of Kristian Lei — she is destined for Broadway. As for Brianna, she will be a pop artist someday,” touts Vinta.
Today, Vinta is co-director of the Fine Arts Music Education (FAME) program at American Renaissance Academy in Kapolei. He feels that his mission is to help his students believe in themselves, support their dreams and reach for the stars
“Our students are trained in jazz, hip-hop, ballet fundamentals, tumbling, choral singing and musical theatre.” For a guy who was originally not fond of children, Vinta today enjoys fatherhood with his bubbly 14-month-old girl Diamond Saige. The one-time terroristic actor has morphed into a full-fledged doting dad and father figure in the entertainment industry.