Brave New Girl


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RACHEL COMEY ‘Phelan’ top in hammered silk at WE ARE ICONIC; MISSONI skirt and OSCAR DE LA RENTA black tassel earrings at NEIMAN MARCUS.

On the Big Screen actress Sonya Balmores can be callous, vicious and dangerous.

Recently, she appeared in Den of Thieves as the wife of a bank robber played by 50 Cent. In Marvel’s Inhumans, she’s the tough, no-nonsense Auran, head of the Royal Guards on Attilan; and in Soul Surfer, she was Bethany Hamilton’s fictional rival Malina Birch. She also guest starred as a tour bus robber on an episode of Hawaii Five-0; and is often cast as a surfer, including in an episode of Lucifer earlier this year.

Her next role finds her playing a wayward daughter returned home in “tropical noir” flick Kuleana, which releases in Hawai‘i theaters on March 30.

But in real life, Balmores is far from a villainess or a femme fatale. The local beauty, who hails from the quaint, charming town of Kalaheo on Kaua‘i, proudly shares her faith and love for God. She also, surprisingly, confesses to being a scaredy-cat.

“My husband says, ‘You’re such a softie,’” she shares. “I really like playing the villain. I can’t be that [bad character] in real life. That’s why I enjoy acting. It’s make-believe and you get to really go wild.

“And I’m not adventurous. I’m really afraid of heights. To me, surfing is not scary because I grew up doing that. But I’m very competitive, if it has anything to do with competition or the job, I’ll do it.”

She recalls the scariest thing she’s ever done—parasailing while in Tahiti with her parents. “You’re so high that you can’t even hear the motor on the boat anymore,” she remembers. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. My husband tried to get me to go skydiving, but I said no.”

Balmores also devotes her free time to various causes locally and internationally. Last year, she went with sister Lila Metzger to Moldova, where they mentored teenage girls who aged out of orphanages and were rescued from trafficking. Balmores taught acting and modeling, ultimately helping the vulnerable girls find their strength and confidence.

This spring, she returns to Kaua‘i for the 10th-annual Love Life Festival May 19 at Poipu Beach Club.

“My sister runs a nonprofit (Kauai UnderGround Artists, or KUGA), and we put on this creative arts festival,” she explains. “When I was living on Kaua‘i, there was so much teenage suicide going on. To be proactive, we try to create a positive, drug-free culture through creative expressions, such as dance, music, visual art, fashion and food.”

She also is an advocate of the Kauai Film Academy, which provides free professional filmmaking training for children. “Hopefully one day I can hire them when I come back to make films,” says Balmores. “O‘ahu gets all the production and money because outer islands like Kaua‘i lack crew members and equipment. I’m super excited to support their first film and get Kaua‘i kids exposed to filmmaking.”

Balmores, 31, is Filipino, Irish and Native American. “I’m part of the Choctaw tribe from Oklahoma,” she notes. She attended Kalaheo Elementary, graduated from Kaua‘i High School and received a four-year presidential academic scholarship to Hawai‘i Pacific University.

Blessed with brains and beauty, she also was crowned Miss Hawaii Teen USA 2004, and placed first runner-up at the national Miss Teen USA pageant in Palm Springs. She’s appeared on the covers of Women’s Health, Shape, Outside and Foam magazines, and modeled in commercials for Olay. But then she discovered acting, with the TV series Beyond the Break among her first bookings, and found her calling. It’s a passion she realized later in life, as she admits to not really knowing what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“My first memory of wanting to be like anyone was there’s this sweetest family in Kalaheo that owned a gas station, and back in the day they would fill up your gas for you,” Balmores recalls. “The owner’s wife, Mrs. Taba, was so beautiful, and she would wear these cool jumpsuits. I remember being 6 or 7 and looking at her, thinking, ‘I want to be like her.’

“I was pretty good at school; I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. My sister is the one who went off to be a model. In third grade, I auditioned for the singing group in school and I didn’t get in, but I kept trying different things. I played soccer because everyone else did. I’ve been a book nerd forever. I grew up surfing and my friends all remind me, oh, you were such a nerd. I had glasses growing up. In between surfing, I’d be reading a book.

“Looking back, I think that’s where it started. I loved escaping into books and putting myself into these other places.”

She lists The Alchemist as her all-time favorite, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers as another top pick. As a child, she remembers going to a comic book store on her way home from school, and while the boys were looking at baseball cards, she would be reading Spider-Man comic books. Now, with her role on Marvel’s Inhumans, she’s officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “The world definitely opened up after Inhumans,” she says. “It’s just a huge genre that’s so loved.”

Balmores, who moved to California in 2014, lives in West L.A., where you might find her walking her Jack Russell Terrier named Rufus or enjoying coffee (she usually orders cappuccino, extra dry foam) at one of the many coffee shops in her neighborhood.

She met her husband, Kanoa Chung, at a beach party on Kaua‘i, and they dated during high school but broke up for a couple of years before reuniting.

“My proudest moment is my wedding day,” Balmores reflects. “It was one of the best moments in my life for sure. It was at my in-laws, in their backyard in Kilauea. They have a big property, and we had about 400 people. We celebrated our 10th anniversary in February—I think that’s my second proudest moment.”

For fitness, Balmores takes Megafomer Pilates classes at a studio in Marina del Rey, which she describes as “the most insane hardest workout.” She also recently started learning Filipino martial arts by famed practitioner Dan Inosanto.

When she’s on Kaua‘i, and not in the water (her favorite surf spot is PKs on the south side of the island), she enjoys taking Pilates and dance classes from her sister, as well as Zumba, which she taught for three years. “I don’t like to exercise, but I love to dance,” she says, adding that her secret indulgences are fried chicken and Spam musubi, as well as Bollywood movies.

She also loves beauty products, especially beauty oils, including a sapphire facial oil by ISUN and a facial serum by Acure.

Balmores usually returns to Hawai‘i a few times a year, and plans to eventually move home one day.

“I took a screenwriting class for the past five years, and my goal is to come back to Hawai‘i and produce all these amazing stories we have there that no one’s telling,” she says. “We will move back—I just don’t know when. We’re doing really good up here. Kanoa (an architect) is having a lot of fun and exposed to really cool projects here. Lifestyle-wise, we definitely miss the ocean and the weather.

“Being from an outer island, there’s not a lot going on. I’m thankful I had so many inspiring people around me to keep encouraging me to do things.”

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