Tia Carrere’s Most Excellent Career
From 90s sex symbol to Netflix villain, Tia Carrere dishes about her past, her new role and what she wants her teen daughter to know about body image.
By Rachel Naud
Tell us about your new Netflix series, AJ and the Queen.
It was great fun working on this series! I’ve always been a fan of Sex and the City and Michael Patrick King and RuPaul are just amazing! Icons! Add to that all the fine actors — Izzy, Michael Leon, Josh, Katerina, Matt and all the guest stars who really bring their A-game. Plus, I got to live at home and drive to Warner Brothers to work. I was so happy I didn’t have to leave the state to shoot, which is so often the case these days.
How does the show fight LGBTQ stereotypes?
It is a show where no one is one thing. As the shows goes on and we dig deeper into people’s backstories, we uncover their humanity and discover our empathy for them. I think that is at the heart of the LGBTQ struggle — not to be marginalized because you are gay, lesbian or trans.
Can you tell us about your character, Lady Danger?
Lady Danger and Josh Segarra’s character, Damien, are like Boris and Natasha from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, as seen through a David Lynch lens. I get to be a funny and twisted gangster grandma but there is no mistaking that I am also a very dangerous person, for real.
Why is it fun to play a villain?
I think I’ve always gravitated to the dark side because it’s so much fun not conforming to society’s social and moral constraints. I mean, isn’t it liberating watching characters do and say things you would never dream of saying or doing in the real world?
You were a 90s “It Girl” and sex symbol, famous for Wayne’s World! What was that time like for you?
Oh goodness! It’s so funny to hear me being characterized like that. I, of course, do not see myself that way at all, but I recognize that it was a magic time for me in my career and I was just holding on for dear life, trying to do as many quality projects as I could and trying to make the right career choices so I could continue doing what I love to do.
You’ve had a wonderful career, spanning 35 years! How is being a woman in Hollywood different now than before?
It is amazing to look back on a time when women weren’t in the positions of power that they are now in this business. It is striking to see all the diversity of women of all ages and races being represented on the screen as never before. I came up in a time where there was basically no one that looked like me on TV or film and shows wouldn’t cast me in an interracial couple. This thinking is gone forever, thank goodness. We still have a way to go to be recognized as directors on that Oscar world stage but it is happening as we speak.
Did you feel pressure to maintain a certain body type during that time?
Of course! Being 23 and doing Wayne’s World in those short tight dresses and bikinis, I had to pay more attention to food and exercise. I was never unhealthy about it or obsessed, but just aware of what I wanted to look like on film. A 23-year-old metabolism certainly helped though! That’s why when Lady Danger came along, I was over the moon in that I had finally met a character in which I could be who I am right now at this time in my life. I’m more voluptuous in my look and the way I express myself. It was liberating being fully myself without feeling self-conscious at all. Meanwhile, my male co-star was on a strict diet and exercise plan for those abs he was showing all the time! Hilarious!
How do you talk about body image with your 15-year-old daughter, Bianca?
I am always trying to reinforce the thought that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and that confidence is the most attractive part. Unfortunately, we live in a time of social media and hyper-focus on the image we project in the world. No matter what I say or how many times I say it, she will have to navigate this time in her own way. Adolescence is such a fraught time and now with media, it’s almost too much pressure for these kids.
Does Bianca want to go into show business? If so, would you be supportive of that choice or try to steer her onto another path?
I am so happy she has no interest in being in this business. I’d much rather she use her mind and intellect than subject herself to such scrutiny. It would probably be difficult with comparisons to her mom in the business.
What are some of the fears you have raising a teen girl circa 2021?
As I said before, the social media aspect is very troubling and makes being a teen girl all the more difficult, but we can’t stop technology. All we can do as parents is try to bolster our girls’ sense of self and individuality. I try to help her see what makes her different and special.
What are some of the greatest rewards of being a ‘girl mom?
The best part of being a mom with a girl is that I get to enjoy a second childhood with her! I never got to be a girl scout when I was a child, but I did become a troop leader with my daughter and her troop. I was very involved in her school PTA, chaperoning Astro Camp and Yosemite, volunteering in the classroom and running fundraising events. I was the kind of kid whose yearbook basically said my name, 12 years and that’s it. No clubs. Nothing. I’m making up for that now.
What are you most looking forward to as a parent as Bianca grows into a young woman?
I look forward to her finding her passion and power. And, of course, if she chooses to marry and give me grandkids one day a long, long time from now, I wouldn’t complain.
Any words of advice for other parents out there about getting through the teen years?
I was actually hoping to find some advice in the pages of your magazine to get me through these years myself!