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Kelly Hu Keeps Her Eye on the Prize

Whatever your stereotype of a Hollywood starlet might be, Kelly Hu does not fit it. As HILuxury learned in a recent, exclusive interview, Ms. Hu is a woman of character, depth and intelligence, whose relentless curiosity has taken her around the globe.

And while her Hollywood credentials are legitimate- her “reel world” accomplishments already include a sultry sorceress in The Scorpion King (alongside local boy Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to the kungfu fighting detective Chen Pei Pei in the TV action series Martial Law-this Island-born beauty still has dreams of skyrocketing to superstardom. Not content to get by merely on her exotic genetics (the sizzling body doesn’t hurt), she’s an ambitious goal-setter, constantly seeking new challenges and raising the bar set by herself.

My favorite Christmas memory is…

Going to visit the troops in Iraq a few years ago for Christmas. I got to have lunch with a bunch of the soldiers from Hawai’i who were there with the Hawai’i National Guard from the beginning of the war. It gave me such an appreciation for everything they do out there.

The worst Christmas gift I ever received was…

Last Christmas when I got the flu.

My favorite place to shop in Hawai’i is …

Longs Drugs. I’m there multiple times on every trip.

My favorite place to shop for Christmas gifts is…..

I tend to shop all year round for gifts so I don’t have a particular place. I see stuff I like during the year and I sock it away until Christmas.

What’s on your Christmas wish list?

I’m getting myself a new iPhone this year. I’m a practical kind of gal.

The qualities I find most attractive in a man are…

confidence and a good sense of humor.

I’m happiest when …

I’m with my friends from Hawai’i having a great meal.

My favorite beauty items are …

Kiss me masacra and Kevin Aucoin lip pencil in medium.

My biggest pet peeve is …

Lack of consideration. People get so caught up in themselves sometimes, they forget there are other people they have to share the world with.

What is always in your fridge?

Dark Chocolate.

I am most proud of ….

my dog Mushu. I spontaneously rescued her 8 years ago and she’s the smartest dog I’ve ever met. She runs agility and is sponsored on a team. She knows so many tricks we perform them as the “Mushu Show.” She’s even performed on t.v. with me on The Late Late Show and The Best Damn Sports Show Period. She recently taught herself how to roll down the window in the back seat.

Describe your dream meal.

Ordering the entire menu from Side Street Inn… and then not gaining a pound. You said “dream.”

My last splurge was…

some vintage earrings at an antique mart.

The last book I read was …

I haven’t had much time to read books this year since I’m trying to get through 50 plays, but I did manage to read Out of Africa for research in acting class.

What do you enjoy shopping for the most?

It’s kind of a toss up between clothes and gourmet food. I just love going into those huge department stores like Harrod’s in London to shop for gourmet food and munch on stuff while I’m shopping for designer stuff I really can’t afford upstairs.

I am obsessed with …

Scrabble on my iPhone. I play it every night before going to bed. My highest score so far is 548.

I’m really good at …

Decorating cakes and cookies. I’m making my friend’s wedding cake in May and I do holiday cookies whenever I have the time. I do cookie-decorating parties. It’s always a great time and everyone gets to leave with the cookies they made.

Take, for example, her New Year’s resolutions for 2010: She set out to read 50 plays and learn a new language. She’s not only on par with the play reading, but having submerged herself in Beijing for the past three months, she’s immersed in the language and culture of her heritage.

“Every new year I make a list of goals I know I can achieve if I just put my mind to it,” explains Hu, who is of Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian and English ancestry. “One year it was to raise money for a charity and run a marathon.”

In 2006, Hu raised $100,000 running the Honolulu Marathon (which she finished in just under five hours) for Reef Check Hawaii. Next year, she’s thinking about learning to play a few songs on the piano she recently received as a gift.

In between Mandarin classes and adventures in the city, (which range from a party at the Beijing Film Studio to a visit to WalMart- where she found live turtles being sold as food-that inspired a blog post at alivenotdead.com/kellyhu), Hu has made jaunts to the island of her youth (to film two episodes of Hawaii Five-O) and even made a quick trip back to her current home in Los Angeles.

A former Miss Hawaii USA and the first Asian-American to be crowned Miss Teen USA (1985), Hu holds a black belt in karate, and was the first Asian-American featured on the cover of Maxim magazine (2002; it went on to become the magazine’s best-selling issue that year).

While in China, Hu took up the Chinese martial art of wushu.

“I figured I’m in the best place to learn it, so why not?” she explains, adding that her steady diet of healthy foods helps maintain her balance. “I try to eat organic-including organic dark chocolate every day-and cut out red meat, alcohol and caffeine,” she says.

Although it begins with small talk about cutting out meat and replacing it with more fruit and vegetables, all conversation returns to coming home to Hawai’i and the allure of great cuisine that “makes it nearly impossible for me. I’m just a local girl through and through. I love to eat,” she concludes.

Not one for running in place at a stuffy gym, Hu tries to keep workouts interesting.

“I try to look for things I can do that will be more fun and feel less like working out,” she says. “I like martial arts because I get to learn a skill and getting fit is the by-product.”

Hu’s career has another fortunate by-product: Her penchant for travel has been satiated by roles that have taken her around the world. Her newest film, The Tournament (in which she has the lead role), was filmed in Bulgaria.

Any drawbacks?

“Airplane food sucks, even in first class sometimes. I take a neck pillow for long flights, and a cosmetic case of toothbrush, toner and moisturizer to freshen up on long flights. Earplugs and eye covers are a must on overnight trips. And lately, I’ve brought my cashmere wrap. It’s great to use as a blanket or scarf on cold flights and it packs away very small if I don’t need it,” she says.

As well-traveled as she is, the stylish actress says her favorite place to shop for clothes is still in L.A. Her closet consists of a lot of pieces by Rock and Republic, and All Saints – both edgier, rock-style clothing.

“My fashion style changes all the time depending on my mood,” she says. “These days I’m very into leggings and flat boots to walk around the city and take subways. Comfort is a big issue when you have to be out of the apartment (in Beijing) all day, so I also carry an enormous bag with everything I’ll need for the entire day.

I’m still working on lightening up the bag. Haven’t quite figured that one out yet.”

While in China, even when dressed conservatively, Hu noted that she stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe she’s “just too much rock ‘n roll for Beijing” or at 5-foot-5, she’s just a tad taller than most. Yet, Hu is used to “sticking out.”

On her second day in the foreign city, a young woman on the subway told Hu that the top button of her shirt was undone. While considerate of her, Hu had left it open on purpose.

“Nothing was falling out or anything-just your average lowcut V-neck,” Hu admits. “But then I remembered a guy staring at my chest in the elevator. On the walk home I realized that women here have very small breasts and tend to keep them well-tucked away. No wonder people here are infatuated with my enormous B-cups!”

Hu has been living in L.A. for the past 20 years but calls Hawaii home. She’s here at least twice a year, usually at Christmas.

And she enjoys spending time with her boyfriend of seven years, singer/songwriter Mitch Allan, who recently started a new band called Satellite.

“It’s fun dating someone else who is creative,” says Hu about their relationship. “We really ‘get’ each other.”

When asked about marriage and children, Hu replies candidly:

“Not sure I believe in marriage, so that probably won’t be happening any time soon. As for children, as soon as I figure out how to fit them into my schedule, I’ll start.”

A graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Hu modeled in Italy and Japan before moving to L.A. to pursue acting. She most recently starred in the independent romantic comedy Almost Perfect, which is currently in post-production.

“I was pretty much born knowing I wanted to perform,” she says. “I think I figured out that acting was an actual occupation when I was about 4. I remember going into the kitchen and telling my mother that I was going to move to Hollywood and become a superstar. I haven’t quite reached that goal yet, but I’m working on it.”

Constantly on the go, Hu looks forward to Christmas-a time for her to catch up with friends she’s been too busy to see all year. And if time allows, she will decorate cookies to give away as gifts.

“I feel like it’s a more thoughtful and personal gift than anything I could buy. Plus people can just eat them afterward and there’s nothing lingering in the house they don’t want.”

She also enjoys decorating her home, even though she’ll be away during the actual holiday. And while she may not celebrate this Christmas in Hawai’i (simply because her travels have already brought her to our shores many times this year), chances are she’ll be here soon-quite possibly for good.

“It’s funny, I seemed to have spent my entire childhood waiting to grow up so I could leave Hawai’i and experience the world,” she says. “Now that I’ve done all of that, I spend all of my time trying to figure out how to come back and still maintain the lifestyle I’ve had since I left.”