Daniel Henney set on pushing open Hollywood’s doors

March 11, 2015
Daniel Henney (Disney/Photo Kayvon Esmaili)

Daniel Henney during a press day for “Big Hero 6″ in Hollywood in February (Disney/Photo Kayvon Esmaili)

By Tae Hong

Before he led television shows and films, before he landed magazine covers, before he rose to stardom as a sex symbol in his mother’s home country of South Korea, Daniel Henney was a kid from a small-town farm in Carson City, Michigan.

As of the 2010 census, his hometown is a small, mostly white town with a population of about 1,000.

And when Disney’s “Big Hero 6” came out in theaters late last year, a handful in the community took their kids to see the film in support of their home-grown star.

For Henney, that was, more than anything, pride.

“I just thought to myself, you’ve got 17 or 18 white children from a very rural part of the country who are going to an Asian-themed film and they love it. That’s incredible. When I was a kid, that was unspeakable,” Henney said.

Coming off that Academy Award-winning project (in which he voiced Tadashi, the hero’s brother), Henney’s intent on continuing his journey to change the face of Asian actors in Hollywood.

He was 25 years old when he became a household name in South Korea through “My Name is Kim Sam-soon.” A healthy flow of K-dramas and films — as well as enduring fan adoration — followed.

Ten years later, Henney’s focus is now on America. He says the shift was about responsibility, especially after speaking to friends like Rain and Hyun-bin about their struggles in breaking into the overseas market due to the language barrier.

“I’ve always thought it was important for me, once I got the opportunity, to be one of the forces behind pushing the door open,” he said. “It’s not a selfish thing as much as it is that I know I can do this for other Asian actors, showing Asians in a different light for the mainstream American public.”

While Korean projects are never off the table — eventually, he plans to go back for another drama and another film if they strike him as good projects — he’s out to make his mark here.

“I know I can deliver on that, and that is a responsibility I have. It’s important that I keep banging those doors. I’m still young. I’m 35. I want to make sure I can still do some things while I can,” he said.

Soon, Carson City residents (including his parents, his mother a South Korean adoptee to a family of German dairy farmers and his father an automotive worker who grew up on a pig farm) will have another project to look forward to: a “Criminal Minds” spinoff on CBS.

Last month, it was announced that Henney joined the main cast of the hopeful show, in which he will play all-American family man and fast profiler Matt Simmons alongside Gary Sinise and “Breaking Bad” actress Anna Gunn. The project will be his second with the network as a main cast member after “Three Rivers” in 2009.

“I am super excited because we have never, ever seen seen this character from an Asian actor before. Under any other circumstance, I can’t believe they would come to an Asian American actor. Props to CBS for giving it a shot with me,” he said. “We’re going to do some great things with it.”

The success of “Big Hero 6” — now available for purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD — including its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature was another step, another completed challenge, in the right direction for the actor. He called the film a “big risk” for Disney and said he’s glad to have made it this far as an Asian American actor.

The animated film was meaningful not only in its scale but in its ability to connect him to audiences despite its unprecedented multicultural theme, he said.

“I love when I hear things like, the Asian American community is very proud of you and looks up to you,” he said. “That makes me very proud.”


  1. Pat

    March 20, 2015 at 4:18 AM

    Daniel: born to a great STAR

  2. Pat

    March 20, 2015 at 4:20 AM

    Daniel : born to be a STAR

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