In the 1990s, actress and model Tia Carrere was everywhere. She starred as Cassandra Wong in the popular Wayne’s World movies alongside Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.
She was a Bond girl in True Lies, acted alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All The Way, and voiced Nani in the animated hit Lilo & Stitch. With her exotic beauty, talent, and infectiously upbeat persona, Carrere seemed destined for major stardom.
Yet, in the 2000s, Carrere seemed to disappear from the spotlight. While she continued to act, taking roles in smaller movies and TV shows, she was no longer landing the high-profile parts that she did in her heyday.
So what happened to Tia Carrere, the actress who at one point looked poised to be a huge star?
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Tia Carrere’s journey to stardom began in an unexpected place—a grocery store.
She was discovered at age 17 while still in high school when a producer’s parents approached her in a grocery store in Waikiki. They were looking for the lead actress for their son’s upcoming film Aloha Summer.
Carrere had never acted before but was used to being on stage as she had been singing and performing in talent contests since age 11. She was cast as the lead in the movie despite having no acting experience.
Right after filming Aloha Summer in October 1984, Tia moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
Tia started acting in Hollywood in 1984 during a time when there was little Asian representation
At the time, there were very few Asian actors on TV or in major roles. She mentioned there was maybe one minor recurring Asian character on TV that would have a couple lines every few episodes.
Carrere’s early career saw her taking on a series of roles in popular TV shows, including “General Hospital,” “MacGyver,” “Quantum Leap,” “Married With Children,” and “Friday the 13th,” among others.
Tia Carrere was initially eyeing a role on Baywatch when she stumbled upon the casting description for Wayne’s World.
The character, described as a young Asian female who’s a fan of bands like Pat Benatar, was a rarity in Hollywood at the time, with few major roles tailored for Asians.
Tia attributes the creation of the role of Cassandra to Mike Myers and the writers, emphasizing that had the character’s ethnicity not been specified, actresses like Cameron Diaz might have been considered.
Interestingly, Tia was unfamiliar with the Wayne’s World skit from Saturday Night Live when she secured the role and had no inkling of the film’s potential success.
On set, she fondly recalls Chris Farley’s sweet nature, though he was notably shy around her. The role of Cassandra proved pivotal for Tia’s career, catapulting her from obscurity to a sought-after actress.
Reflecting on the film’s release, Tia acknowledges the unexpected phenomenon Wayne’s World became, expressing her gratitude for being part of a movie that remains cherished decades on.
Following the success of “Wayne’s World,” Carrere continued to make waves in Hollywood. She starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “True Lies,” played opposite Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes in “Rising Sun,” and even had her own series, “Relic Hunter.”
Carrere lent her voice to the beloved animated film “Lilo & Stitch,” where she played the character of Nani Pelekai, Lilo’s older sister and guardian.
Tia Carrere also ventured into the realm of reality television. She would appear on season 5 of “Celebrity Apprentice" and season 2 of "Dancing With The Stars."
Though she is still best known as an actress, music was always Tia’s first love.
She shared that her original dream before acting was to have a singing career. She loved to sing growing up and would perform in talent contests from age 11.
Though acting took precedence, Tia further pursued music later in her career. In the early 2000s, she released two solo albums – Dream (2000) and Hawaiiana (2007). Her music style incorporates pop, rock, and traditional Hawaiian sounds. The album Hawaiiana paid tribute to her Hawaiian roots.
In 2009, she won a Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Music Album for her third record Ikena, a collaboration album with Hawaiian artist Daniel Ho.
What Tia Carrere Doing Now?
Now at 56, Tia Carrere continues to act, taking roles in smaller movies and TV shows. She doesn’t seem to be landing as many high-profile parts as she did at the peak of her career, but says she will keep working as an actress until she’s “100 years old.”
Carrere recently acted in the new movie Easter Sunday starring comedian Jo Koy. She plays his auntie in the film, which is premiering on August 5th. She is excited for the movie and hopes it can be a major hit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding was for Greeks and Italian Americans.
She moved from West Hollywood to the suburbs to be closer to her daughter’s high school. Her daughter is currently 17 years old. Tia purposefully raised her outside of Hollywood in Topanga to give her a normal childhood away from the industry.
Carrere spends time with her daughter attending her school events and athletics. She enjoys having deep discussions about psychology and analyzing TV shows with her daughter, who is interested in becoming a psychiatrist.
Tia is still in an on-again, off-again relationship with former husband Simon Wakelin. Though divorced for several years, they got back together and have now been a couple for 21 years total.
Carrere recently organized a family reunion and shot a music video. She mentioned that she had previously organized a family reunion in Vegas as well. The Hawaii reunion had about 70 attendees, while the Vegas one had around 120.
Tia continues to appreciate the success she had at the height of her career but leads a quieter life focused on her daughter and relationship.