By Dawn Lee Tu
Daniel Henney says he works hard and doesn’t complain, and I absolutely believe him. Take, for example, his projects since the start of the year (I cannot begin to guess how many miles Daniel Henney’s racked up on his frequent flier accounts!). Since the start of the year, he was spotted in New York City during Fashion Week to see the Coach 2016 Collection, and he’s all over Korea with his spread for Cosmopolitan Korea and Harper’s Bazaar Korea and ads for Hamilton watches (Henney is the 2016 ambassador), plus new ads for Wide Angle (a golf line). He’s also a spokesperson for the educational language company Malpool. It has been a busy first two months of 2016 for Henney!
Henney’s longtime fans know that he’s been in the modeling and acting game for a while. Most known for his roles in Korean dramas, Henney broke into television in 2005 as Dr. Henry Kim in My Lovely Sam Soon. In 2009, Americans were first introduced him in his role as Agent Zero, starring alongside Hugh Jackman, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In total, Henney’s acting and modeling career has spanned over a decade and includes nine full-length films, eight television shows, over 25 sponsorships/commercials/advertisements, and countless modeling projects. Soon, Henney will be adding another American television show to his portfolio, in his new role as Matt Simmons in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CMBB), set to premiere on March 16th on CBS.
Henney took a moment out of his busy day to talk to me about CMBB and other fun things.
Congrats on your work on CMBB! How is CMBB different than CM? What can newcomers and fans of CM look forward to?
There are a lot of things that are different but we wanted to keep the same formula and model that CM established because they’ve done so incredibly well. We would be foolish not to follow what they’ve done. (CMBB) is a procedural show so we’re analyzing a single crime every episode. And as profilers we are getting into the minds of the people who are committing these crimes and trying to understand why they are doing what they do and what would psychologically cause them to go down the road they’ve gone down. Besides all of that, we are travelling abroad and doing every episode in a different country so in every episode, you get into different issues because you’re in a different country: spiritual issues, religious issues, weapons protocol issue, etc. There is a ton of stuff you’re going to experience that is different with this show than the original CM. (There will be) a lot of different languages, a lot of cool “unsubs,” or we call the villains, in different countries, the sets are amazing, you’re going to experience these countries as a viewer, whether it be France, Japan, Belize, Mexico, Morocco… you’re going to get to learn about them, it’s pretty cool.
I’m looking forward to learning more about Matt because it seems like he has the potential to be a very interesting character. We know that he’s happily married with four kids, he’s got some special ops experience, and may have some history with other CM characters too. What else are we going to learn about Matt Simmons this season?
You get to learn a lot as you go through each episode. He’s a very complicated guy. He’s done two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, he’s ex-military, ex-Delta force. Those guys are very special. Those men who have gone through those programs protect our country and our world. At that level it takes a very special man to be able to put himself through those programs and take that oath to serve. So you’re going to see a lot of this unfold through the series and just what an amazing person he is and how he puts his life on the line for his team. He also has a really great sense of humor, he’s a family man and loves his wife dearly, which I think is really special, because let’s be honest, with a role like Matt, his character is generally single, womanizer, border-line alcoholic, and has father issues. Matt is not that guy. He’s a great person, he loves his country, love his family and I’m very proud to be Asian American and Asian and to have been cast in this role because it’s not common for a television show. He’s a main guy, he’s the quintessential American, and they’ve entrusted me with going out and grabbing the respect of the American public with this character. That’s special I think.
I’m really hearing your personal connection with Matt in terms of him being a family guy. What other aspects of his character do you find yourself connecting to the most?
Matt is a lot like my father. I’ve been talking to my dad just about the mental aspects of being a person like Matt Simmons because my father spent five years in the military in Vietnam so he’s been in situations I could never imagine myself (being in). I went home last summer to Michigan, sat with my dad and spoke in depth about some of the things that might go through is head. I’ve also spent time talking to ex-FBI guys we have on set. That really helps. So I don’t know. I feel a close connection to him. Plus Matt’s Asian American so you can’t deny that. He’s definitely Asian American. He’s probably grown up a place where he’s been the minority just like I did. Plus he’s fought his way to be at the level he is at now and that’s what I do now. Plus his wife is Caucasian and that makes a very interesting dichotomy and dynamic between those two. And his children are mixed race. They’re adorable. So I think this is special to bring it into the American living room now. They have mixed-race children, a mixed-race marriage, an Asian leading man, so it’s all interesting, and I feel a very close connection to him.
On instagram back in January, you posted a pic of the cover of the LA Times when the Oscar nominations were announced and you used hashtags #keeppushing and #diversity. What are your thoughts on the #oscarssowhite and the lack of diversity in US film and tv? Have you been following that?
I do to a certain extent. I posted that picture because when you see it in front of you, the cover of the Times, you see that it’s incredibly you know, it’s all Caucasian. I tend to shy away from complaining, blaming, and pointing fingers. Other people seem to like to do that. I don’t think it gets us anywhere. I think it’s important for us to inspire and encourage our young Asian American and Asian talent. I think it’s important for us to inspire our children, if they want to be writers, be writers, if they want to be actors, be actors. That’s what I meant by that. I think that we can sit back and complain about the lack of diversity of Asians but let’s be honest, a lot of our families when we were young encouraged us to be doctors and lawyers, they wanted us to shy away from arts and entertainment right? So we don’t have a huge writer presence right now so it’s important for us to encourage that. The more writers we have out there, the more stories we’ll have to tell. I mean, you have shows like FOTB and it’s special that that exists, because of that outside of the box thinking. So I don’t complain much. I just work hard.
In your Koream (2013) interview and your August Man (2014) interview you talked about the importance of more leading Asian lead roles in U.S. TV and film. With the growing but still small interest in Asian American stories with shows such as Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken, have you felt the impact and seen more opportunities open up for yourself as an Asian American actor? If so, what kind of opportunities?
To be honest with you, I just consider myself an actor. I go after every role whether it be Asian or not. A lot of times if it is written as “Asian,” I’ll shy away from that because it doesn’t work for me. I work better if it is just written as a “normal” role: 30-40, male, athletic, intelligent… I’ll go for that as opposed to something that is just written specifically Asian because then you get into a weird thing, because if it’s written Japanese, I’m Korean; if it’s written Chinese, I’m Korean; if it’s written Korean, I’m Korean American. Am I Korean enough or am I too Korean American? So I just decide to be a good actor and I do what I can. But I do feel that with shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken — and he’s done an amazing job, he’s a friend of mine, and he’s just so incredible — I’m proud that a lot of young Asian talent are getting a chance and that’s really, really great. I’m very proud of (Ken Jeong) and I do see doors opening and I hope to continue seeing doors opening, that’s for sure.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders premieres on CBS on March 16 at 10:00, 9:00 Central.
Please check back on March 22 for Part 2 of our interview with Daniel Henney, in which the actor breaks down his thoughts on television acting versus film acting, discusses his fashion projects, and muses on his image as a down-to-earth human being.
photos: ©Robert Voets and Trae Patton/ABC STUDIOS
About the author: Dawn Lee Tu does a lot of things including teaching and writing and is sometimes known for being quite knowledgeable about short hair, ice cream, and Asian American things. You can find her on Twitter at @dawnleetu