Family & Companions
One of the most successful Asian-American actresses of all time, Kelly Hu found her greatest success in genre projects, mostly fantasy, action and horror. After becoming the first Asian-American Miss Teen USA in history, Hu broke into Hollywood with a series of sitcom guest spots and her first film role, in "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan" (1989). Television allowed the athletic Hu to achieve prominence by playing martial arts expert policewomen on "Nash Bridges" (CBS, 1996-2001) and "Martial Law" (CBS, 1998-2000), which led to further big screen successes as fantasy characters. These included a psychic queen in the sword-and-sandals epic "The Scorpion King" (2002) and, most famously, the steel-clawed assassin Lady Deathstrike in "X2: X-Men United" (2003). A string of voiceover work followed, as well as high-profile roles on a variety of TV dramas and procedurals, including "Army Wives" (Lifetime, 2007-13), "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS, 2009- ), "The Vampire Diaries" (The CW, 2009-17) and "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS, 2010- ). Although the lack of colorblind casting in Hollywood may have limited Hu's professional heights, the actress worked consistently, building a lengthy résumé that was impressive by any standards.
Born Feb. 13, 1968 in Honolulu, HI, Kelly Ann Hu was the daughter of Juanita and Herbert Hu, and was of Chinese, English and Hawaiian heritage. An aspiring performer since childhood, Hu took lessons in ballet, tap and acrobatics and was trained in kung fu by her older brother. As her "manager," he pitted Hu against various boys in the neighborhood in fights, earning her the reputation of a local bully. Determined to become an actress, Hu took a modeling class to try and win a title that could serve as her entrée into Hollywood: Miss Hawaii Teen USA. Not only did she win the crown, but she managed to go on to win the entire Miss Teen USA pageant, becoming its first Asian-American winner. She became a top model in Italy and Japan and appeared in many commercials before landing her big American showbiz break, a guest-starring arc on "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992) as Kirk Cameron's Hawaiian dream girl. She moved to Los Angeles and took out a full-page ad in Variety announcing her arrival, notching small roles on everything from "Night Court" (NBC, 1984-1992) to "21 Jump Street" (Fox, 1987-1990; syndicated, 1991). The actress made her film debut as an ill-fated partygoer on the cruise from hell in "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan" (1989). Her professional momentum continued to increase, with Hu appearing in Oliver Stone's "The Doors" (1991), "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" (1991) and the bizarre "Surf Ninjas" (1993). That same year, Hu strapped on her sash again and won the Miss Hawaii USA pageant, placing fourth in the overall Miss USA Pageant.
She took her first action role as an undercover cop in "No Way Back" (1995) with Russell Crowe, impressing the crew and audiences with her athleticism. Enjoying the film experience, Hu began intense martial arts training but still found time to flex her acting muscles with a fun role on "Melrose Place" (FOX, 1992-99), which caught the eye of creator Aaron Spelling. The mogul cast her as Dr. Rae Chang on his new primetime soap "Sunset Beach" (NBC, 1997-99), but she left the series after six months, instead joining the hit police drama "Nash Bridges" (CBS, 1996-2001) as Don Johnson's protégé, the tough-as-nails Inspector Michelle Chan. Her "Nash" connections paid off when executive producer Carlton Cuse hired her as a guest star in a new pilot he was working on. Playing a gorgeous martial arts expert and undercover cop, Hu wowed execs, and they offered her a regular role on "Martial Law" (CBS, 1998-2000) as Grace "Pei Pei" Chen, the protégé of plus-sized (but powerfully agile) supercop Sammo Hung. Her "Nash Bridges" character was memorably killed off, and Hu rode the short-lived wave of interest in the quirky "Martial Law" with aplomb.
She rebounded on the big screen as Cassandra, the psychic queen to "The Scorpion King" (2002). A prequel to "The Mummy" (1999), which featured Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in his first starring role, was highly successful at the box office, if not with critics. Hu also earned another historical mention, appearing as the first Asian-American on multiple magazine covers including that of Maxim, with that issue becoming one of its all-time bestsellers. Continuing her ascent to the pinnacle of genre fame, the actress essayed the villainous mutant Lady Deathstrike in the Marvel superheroes smash "X2: X-Men United" (2003). As a deadly assassin whose every finger sported a wicked adamantium blade, Hu provided the most memorable visual element in a film bursting with special effects, and her climactic battle with fellow mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) earned the pair an MTV Movie Award nomination.
Hu was also a dedicated poker player, competing in high-stakes events such as the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour. She placed in the top 200 of the World Series of Poker Ladies Tournament in 2006, and in 2008 she helped campaign for Barack Obama in Hawaii as well as emceeing the Asian-American Action Fund's annual fundraiser. In search of her next big role, Hu found work in multiple high-profile projects, including playing Dr. Julia Hoffman in the never-aired TV-movie reimagining of "Dark Shadows" (2004) as well as roles on the drama "Threat Matrix" (ABC, 2003-04), the crime procedural "CSI: NY" (CBS, 2004-13) and the sitcom "In Case of Emergency" (ABC, 2007). Lesser known to mainstream audiences but royalty in genre circles, Hu also carved out a lucrative career as a voiceover artist for many animated projects, including "Robot Chicken" (Adult Swim, 2005- ), "The Spectacular Spider-Man" (The CW, 2008; Disney XD, 2009), "Phineas and Ferb" (Disney Channel, 2008-15) and "Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword" (2009). Video games offered her another rewarding outlet, and she voiced characters in everything from "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords" (2004) to "Terminator Salvation" (2009) and "Batman: Under the Red Hood" (2010).
When it came to flesh-and-blood acting, dramas and procedurals served as Hu's bread and butter, and her many guest spots included playing authority figures on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), "Army Wives" (Lifetime, 2007-13) and crossing over from "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS, 2009- ) to "NCIS" (CBS, 2003- ) as the same character, Lee Wuan Kai. Hu returned to genre fantasy with a seven-episode arc as the long-buried bloodsucker Pearl in cult fave "The Vampire Diaries" (The CW, 2009-17) before meeting her destiny at the business end of a stake. The hometown girl took one of her most personally resonant jobs when she began recurring on the successful reimagining of "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS, 2010- ) as Laura Hills, the public safety liaison to Governor Pat Jameson (Jean Smart). In a rare non-genre effort, the actress was a supporting player in the Asian-American family drama "White Frog" (2012), about a young man (Booboo Stewart) afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome, whose seemingly perfect family is rocked by a sudden tragic event. Keeping busy on television, Hu also picked up a recurring role as Triad assassin China White on the bow-wielding superhero saga "Arrow" (The CW, 2012- ) and on the opposite side of the coin, made a guest spot in an episode of the series "Castle" (ABC, 2009-16).
By Jonathan Riggs
Cast (Feature Film)
Named Miss Teen USA, becoming the first Asian-American to be crowned
Made acting debut as Melia, Kirk Cameron's love interest, on "Growing Pains" (ABC)
First role in a feature playing one of Jason's victims in "Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan"
Played the wife of musician Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan) in Oliver Stone's "The Doors"
Appeared alongside Leslie Nielsen in "Surf Ninjas"
Appeared in "Strange Days" as a TV newscaster
Appeared regularly on the daytime soap "Sunset Beach" (NBC)
1997 Cast in the recurring role of Michelle Chan on "Nash Bridges"
Played featured role in "Fakin' Da Funk"
After earning a brown belt in karate, was offered the role of Det. Grace Chen, in the kung fu cop series, "Martial Law"
Cast alongside WWF superstar The Rock in "The Scorpion King," a spin-off of "The Mummy" series
Starred as Yuriko Oyama/Deathstrike in Bryan Singer's "X2"
Starred as the villainess Sona in Joel Silver's "Cradle 2 the Grave" opposite Jet Li
Appeared in five episodes of "Threat Matrix," playing a headstrong former CIA agent who joins the team
Cast in "The Underclassman" with Nick Cannon
Cast on the TV series "In Case of Emergency"