Kelly Hu: From Beauty Queen to Aspiring Actress


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Kelly Hu

Written by: Michelle Emmick

Beauty is so vast. It comes in all forms and is really about the type of person you are and how you treat other people.

Beautiful words spoken from Kelly Hu. Kelly is an actress, entrepreneur, former fashion model, and beauty queen who was crowned Miss Teen USA 1985 and Miss Hawaii USA 1993.

Her career in acting started in 1987, and she hasn’t stopped since. Kelly shared that there weren’t many Asian actresses when she started, which she believes is one of the reasons she never lacked in opportunity. 

My first acting job was on a special Hawaiian-vacation episode of Growing Pains. I was still living in Hawaii when I landed the part. The show was shot in Maui and when it was finished, I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. The day the show aired, I took out a full page ad in Variety announcing my arrival and availability. I got called by 20 agents before the show even premiered! Timing is everything in life. I was gung-ho and willing to put myself out there and not afraid of failure. I came to Los Angeles with my eyes open and full of hope. 

Kelly has built a lengthy resume, starring in shows like Sunset Beach, Nash Bridges, and Martial Law, which led to big screen films like The Scorpion King and X2: X-Men United. She’s played high-profile roles on a variety of TV dramas, including Army Wives, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Vampire Diaries, and Hawaii Five-0.

She also voices the character Stacey in the popular animated series Phineas and Ferb. Her most recent project was in the Lifetime film List of a Lifetime, where she played the lead role of Brenda Lee, who is diagnosed with breast cancer and is prompted to look for the daughter she gave up for adoption decades ago. The film is dear to Kelly’s heart as her mother, grandmother, and aunt all had breast cancer.

In addition to acting, Kelly has a line of socially-conscious graphic t-shirts called 33 Edge. She created the line in response to the protest and discrimination demonstrated during the COVID-19 quarantine.

My hope is that it encourages more unity, equality and respect for fellow human beings. 

Designing and producing her apparel line came during the pandemic when the creative economy was effected the greatest. It was also during that time that Kelly shifted her overall outlook in terms of her expectations of herself.

I wasn’t going on camera, and I had a revelation to see how the industry would receive me. One of the ways was letting my hair grow out grey. I’m trying out my white hair and becoming part of the silver sister club. It saves me money, its freeing and I’m not getting hit on any less!

Kelly stresses that she has become much more relaxed over the last few years.

“I was that crazy girl that would take three yoga classes a day. I stopped that. Three of my grandparents lived well into their 90s, and none of them ever stepped foot in a gym or on a treadmill.”

Kelly also acknowledges that her friendships, which she calls her sisterhood, play a big part in her positive outlook.

“It’s so important to have friends that you can rely on for an honest opinion. The most successful years of my career were the most miserable because I felt like I couldn’t get the truth. Many people that are supposed to be helping you have an agenda, and it’s easy to make the wrong choices. It’s important to have people looking out for you.” 

These days Kelly says she has a much better understanding that living healthy is to be happy and living stress-free.

It’s about not spending money you don’t have, wearing clothes you can’t afford, or buying cars and homes that are over your means. You have to find happiness in what you have and with the people you surround yourself with. At 53 years old, I’ve never been in more of a happier place.

You can find Kelly at:

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