Pride and Joy

Delighted about her role in the mermaid-inspired short film Ocean Child, Joy Tuck is discovering that real life is sometimes better than fairy-“tails.”

Mermaids descended on the shores of O‘ahu last year, and if you’re worried about missed opportunities to witness such grandeur, don’t sweat it — there will be a chance to view these water nymphs soon enough. The aquatic troupe was part of the cast of Ocean Child, and they’re excited to announce that the movie will start the Academy Awards qualifying film festival circuit next month.

Part of the pod is a merchild named Joy, who fittingly enough is played by local girl Joy Tuck. In the underwater world of the fictional School of Mermaidology & Neptunism, Joy and her friends welcome new mermaids to the campus.

Debbie and Larry Tuck adopted Joy when she was just 5 days old. PHOTO COURTESY DEBBIE TUCK

Ocean Child was filmed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and on the white-sand shores of Kāhala Beach, where the real-life actress feels right at home.

“I loved being a mermaid of course,” says the 12-year-old, who’s appeared in mainstream shows like General Hospital, Jane the Virgin and Henry Danger. “But I especially loved being able to film so many beautiful shots here at Kāhala Beach. The drone footage of me swimming in a mermaid tail was challenging but so much fun.”

The movie poster for Ocean Child depicts a group of young mermaids who attend the fictional School of Mermaidology & Neptunism. PHOTO COURTESY DEBBIE TUCK

Joy — who’s represented by Kathy Muller Talent & Modeling Agency here in Hawai‘i and Amsel, Eisenstadt, Frazier & Hinojosa Inc. in Los Angeles — was part of Ocean Child’s original iteration, titled Wish Upon A Starfish (2017). The producers and writers redid that script and screenplay, a move that was met with much fanfare. Already, Ocean Child has garnered recognition from the Los Angeles Film Awards, Milan Gold Awards, New York Movie Awards and Holly-wood Gold Awards.

Joy dove into the industry at age 6, quickly immersing herself in a career that’s spanned short films, TV shows and commercials. (To find her full résumé, visit imdb. me/joytuck.) But even before that, adoptive parents Debbie and Larry noticed there was something special about their little girl.

Joy Tuck at home on the set of Ocean Child at Kāhala Beach. PHOTO COURTESY DEBBIE TUCK

“She’s the youngest of four, and the only adopted child,” notes Debbie, who adds that she and Larry adopted a 5-day-old Joy from Laos while living abroad in Southeast Asia. “She had her picture taken quite a lot. She used to dance on top of these straw mats while her dad played guitar.”

But most of all, it’s Joy’s infectious smile and bubbly personality that makes her shine wherever she goes.

“She brings joy and lights up every room,” Debbie says.

When she’s not preparing for a role or going to school, Joy enjoys dancing hula with Hui O Ka Uluwehi. PHOTO COURTESY DEBBIE TUCK

Joy’s first shot at the spotlight came when she auditioned for a short film in Orlando. Out of a nationwide pool, she landed the lead role.

“It was super cute,” recalls Debbie. “She changed into an animated character partway through, and did a voiceover for her own character.

“That was the beginning of the crazy life we lead now,” she adds, a smile in her voice.

Even during COVID, Joy made a splash in national commercials for the likes of McDonald’s, Buick and Liberty Mutual (she’s the girl performing double-dutch rope jumps). And now, with the premiere of Ocean Child, Joy is poised to continue her ascent in acting.

Joy Tuck dons her mermaid costume and mystical makeup for the filming of Ocean Child. PHOTO COURTESY DEBBIE TUCK

When she’s not preparing for a role or actively filming, Joy’s life resembles that of an average preteen. She attends school at DreamHouse ‘Ewa Beach, enjoys swimming at beaches, practicing karate (“It helps me to focus and center myself,” notes the blue belt) and dancing hula with Hui O Ka Uluwehi.

“I love learning to dance hula and also learn about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture,” Joy notes. “The dance, the costumes, the music and chanting are everything! Performing with other dancers makes me feel part of something so much bigger.”

And, like any kid her age, she likes watching TV and movies — recent favorites include Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Uncharted and Enola Holmes. But it’s more than just entertainment for her. The young actor watches with intent, as she still has roles in the works for 2023, including being cast in a season two episode of Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. While many kids her age are into Disney and Nickelodeon, Joy’s interest mostly lies in drama, specifically dramedy.

“I’m so ready to move to the next step in my acting career,” says Joy, who looks up to actors such as Jenna Ortega, Awkafina, Peyton Elizabeth Lee and Daniel Dae Kim. “I’d love to be cast in a TV show as one of the principal characters, or in a feature film in a starring role. I really love drama and can’t wait for more great roles to come my way!”

Keep up with Joy on Instagram (@joytuckofficial).