Tia Carrere:
Wayne's Rocker Chick Hunts Relics

by Michelle Erica Green

She's an internationally famous actress and model, but Tia Carrere has always had a secret ambition: she really wanted to be Indiana Jones.

"I was an Indiana Jones fan like crazy. I wanted to be Harrison Ford. And I'm so happy that I am now!" exclaimed the actress during a recent break from her work on Relic Hunter. The new syndicated series allows Carrere's character, history professor Sydney Fox, to raid lost arks on a weekly basis. At the behest of museums, religious leaders, legal experts, and obsessive fanatics, the adventurous teacher hunts for missing treasures in all corners of the globe.

Sydney pursues archaeological relics like ancient jewelry, buried loot, and vanished sacred scrolls, but don't confuse her with Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. "Lara Croft wears shorts and a muscle tee! Let's be honest, she's completely inappropriately dressed for what she does," laughed Carrere. "That's more of a fantasy male fetish character than a real woman. She's like a Barbie doll that moves and shoots people. Sydney Fox is real."

It's little wonder that Carrere thinks so, because the character was created specifically for her. Approached by the producers after their demographic studies indicated that she was one of the most popular actresses in the world among young male viewers, Carrere - a star of Wayne's World and True Lies - was offered the opportunity to have a one-hour action-adventure series developed specifically for her.

Hunting For the Formula

"Gil Grant, the executive consultant, and I sat down and had numerous meetings about concepts," recalled the Hawaiian-born actress. "Then Jay Firestone, the head of the production company here in Canada, said, 'What about a female Indiana Jones?' We loved it. That's why the shoe fits. Because I was involved creatively all along the way, I've been able to put the fingerprint on a character that I love playing."

Carrere liked the fact that the character was conceived as "a passionate, sexy, intelligent, strong woman. I aspire to being this crazy woman that just goes, there is no hesitation or fear, she does what needs to be done." While Relic Hunter's producers expect her to be a draw for young men because of her popularity in movies, bathing suit shots, and as a model for the comic book character Shi, the mid-thirtysomething Carrere is more interested in how women will respond to Sydney Fox.

"I like introducing this female to young girls, teenage girls. That's why it's important to me that it's smart, and there are sparks of things that would excite the female viewers - seeing the woman getting one over on the guy, seeing her maybe not being so sure about her love life like many career women are not, because she's so driven and so good at what she does. It's kind of endearing - otherwise she's too perfect, and unreal. Sometimes she makes the wrong choices in her personal life, but I think she's a very well-rounded character."

Sydney Fox has a sidekick, a young British teaching assistant named Nigel Bailey who would much rather be in the library than following Sydney on her adventures. Although he admires the daring relic hunter, he also loathes the situations she gets him into, which often involve dirt, bugs, danger, and the potential for utter humiliation - which comes easily to Nigel. "He's tense, she's not, which is funny, and that's where the comedy comes out of," Carrere said.

Nigel is played by British actor Christien Anholt, who said his character "looks on Sydney with some adoration but also disbelief as to what she actually gets him involved in." Both actors joked that Nigel is the worrier to Sydney's warrior. Uncomfortable in general around women, the young man panics when Sydney asks him to help undo her zipper, and freaks out when she leaps past him down hundred-foot cliffs.

Carrere shrieked when told that Anholt said he hoped Nigel might get to romance Sydney later on. "You shouldn't have told me that, he's going to be tortured for the next couple of weeks!" she joked. Anholt auditioned with Carrere and the two got along well in addition to generating excellent chemistry, so both are pleased with the combination. "We laugh all day long. We're having such a great time. We are shooting crazy hours, which makes it such a good thing that we enjoy what we're doing."

Creating Sydney

Professor Fox's backstory posits that her father was an engineer who took her to far-off lands where she lived in huts surrounded by his colleagues. "She was sort of one of the guys, she didn't think anything of running around partially clothed; she's kind of a wild child, that is ultimately why she got into the line of work that she did," explained Carrere. "She is very intelligent, a professor of ancient civilization, but she has many unorthodox methods of teaching. She is a believer in capturing people's imaginations more than telling them stuff out of books. She thinks that's really boring, she wants people to experience things - so she'll have swordfighting or spear-throwing or fertility dances in her classroom."

Though her students greatly appreciate her style, it doesn't make Sydney a favorite with the rest of the teachers. And when she travels with Nigel, "He goes, 'Oh my god, I can't believe what goes on!' while I'm rappelling down the side of a 200-foot cliff telling him, 'This is nothing, you should have seen the granite ice face that I climbed down last year!'"

The dynamic appealed to Carrere: "It's very cute because it turns around the whole stereotype of the male hero and the languishing female in the evening gown in the background. I just love it. We've had to give him a few punches here and there because he looked like a little bit of a sissy boy, and you can't have Nigel being a sissy boy, but he's very adorable. Since the first meeting when Christian came in, he had great instincts for the comic possibilities of the situation, and because I have to play it so serious and so real, it's great having him commenting on the situation with his comic self."

Because the part of Sydney is being created for her, he actress has an unusual level of input into the creative process. "I can call Gil and say, 'Instead of this line, how about saying it like this?' and he'll laugh or he won't," Carrere explained. "Like, we walked past a couple smooching, and I looked to Nigel and there was another couple making out, and the line was scripted as, 'Would you get a room?' You've heard that a million times before. So I said to Gil, what if I say to Nigel, 'What is it, spring?' If that makes me chuckle, it makes it come alive for me."

In the early discussions about the format of the series, the producers and Carrere decided to make the archaeology as realistic as possible, rather than incorporating fantastic or religious elements like the Indiana Jones movies or The X-Files. "They have been doing research to find little kernels of truth - certain relics that actually exist, or types of relics that exist to create a whole history around," said the actress. "If there are situations where there is some sort of mystical legend - a place was haunted by a headless nun and her voice was scaring off the bad guys, this sound comes up and they run away - the explanation could be, it was the wind blowing through the cavern. We're really skating the line in many different ways, with the comedy and the real danger, with the fantasy and myth and the pragmatic, logical explanations."

The series will shoot 22 episodes this first season - half in Toronto and half in France, where co-producer Gaumont Television has offices. "My mom quit her job in Hawaii and came here to assist me, I think so she could go to Paris!" laughed Carrere. "Originally when I was talking about developing a TV show, I wanted to stay in L.A., close to home. But doing a show like this with the scope that we're looking for, it would have been too expensive, which is unfortunate."

Carrere said she is aware of the growing controversy in Hollywood about the number of shows filming outside the United States, taking jobs away from domestic actors and crews. But she added that Relic Hunter would have been impossible to film in Los Angeles given their budget. "We are doing a very ambitious show, heavy on the action with amazing sets, trying to make everything as real-looking as possible, like the tunnels and the catacombs and the tombs. Up here, we can go out to the forest to double Nepal, and use buildings in Toronto to double Berlin."

The series will also incorporate some CGI, which is being completed now for the early episodes. "The only one that I've seen altogether is the first episode, which is fantastic. I'm so proud of it. It looks real; you feel like you're on this amazing romp with these two fun people."

Singing Praises

Carrere always wanted to be a singer, and hopes to find some way to sing on Relic Hunter "without seeming hokey. I have to mention that to the writers again, but they'd probably have me yodeling! That's the kind of show it is!" Though Arnold Schwarzenegger's True Lies was her favorite film role, "Wayne's World was such a cultural phenomenon, I had no idea - nobody had any idea - all I knew was that when I read the first script and they started singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' I started laughing out loud. I remember saying, how do you spell, 'Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you do the fandango?'"

Though Carrere had an offer on the table to be a regular on Baywatch, when she read the part of Cassandra, she decided she absolutely had to get the part. "I was like, 'Asian rocker chick? Nobody else is going to play this. I'm going to get this part.'" Carrere was so certain of it that she strung out with her agent the situation with Baywatch. "I could have lost it - I could have lost both - but I had this gut instinct that there was nobody else who could play that part like me. At the time, from the pool of actresses that I knew going in, I knew I was the only one that had the rock and roll background."

The part made her one of the world's most celebrated babes, featured in many magazines and cast opposite Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. "God gave me breasts, I have no problem with sharing them with the world, they're not always going to be up here," she laughed, but added seriously, "I say work it, use whatever you've got to get them to watch. It's important in the syndicated world to raise awareness, and I guess that's why they approached me, the business side, the recognizability: I had done a lot of work and a lot of press. They'll learn how smart we are when they watch. I think now we're not afraid of wearing makeup and being sexy and being provocative and passionate, that's part of being a woman."

"I'm 32, I think when you get to a certain age, hopefully you've learned some things along the way. I'm still learning, but I'm liking more expressing myself," she added. "It's taken a long time to get to this point, but the people that I aspire to, the people that I look up to, are very strong, opinionated, daring women."

Who are her role models? "Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Bancroft, Vanessa Redgrave. Very, very strong women," said the actress who was discovered by a producer's parents in a grocery store in Hawaii just before graduating from high school. Aloha Summer, her first job, got Carrere her Screen Actors' Guild card and inspired her move to Hollywood.

Now she has the option on Shi, which she would like to film over one of Relic Hunter's breaks in filming. "We just did a first draft, he's rewriting the script right now, it's just a matter of finding the place for me to do the film. My first hiatus is March to May and I definitely would like to do something in that time frame. But I also have my music, so it's hard!"

Carrere put out one records for Warner Brothers, but never followed it up, which she regrets. "There's still that part of me, my musical part. Ultimately I love having creative outlets, whether it's writing, singing, acting, whatever. I have produced a couple of projects - we started a production company, Phoenecian Films, a few years ago, and it's branched off into another entity, Franchise Pictures."

An animal lover and supporter of numerous charities, Carrere singles out Planned Parenthood in her press releases. "I think Planned Parenthood is a very important organization, and because of religious beliefs, a lot of people are afraid of espousing it," she noted. "I went to Catholic school for thirteen years, so I am as indoctrinated with the dogma as anybody can be, but while I respect the Catholic Church, I have a hard time accepting their stance on birth control, because I think too many children are brought into this world. That gets me into the whole male-dominated church organization thing."

All Over the Place

There may not be much time for debate in her future, however. Carrere hopes Relic Hunter will have a lengthy run in syndication, and that she'll be able to fit in other projects over her breaks. "I'm having a great time playing this character, so come what may. It's great to be excited to go to work in the morning."

"I'm all over the place, and now I'm in another country so that's really nice!" she laughed. "Keep on going when you're young and full of energy...why not?"

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