Korean-American actor Daniel Henney breaks stereotypes in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

Actor Daniel Henney says his role in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is traditionally played by Caucasian actors.
Actor Daniel Henney says his role in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is traditionally played by Caucasian actors.PHOTO: AXN

The Korean-American is tired of racial jibes and wants to encourage diversity in Hollywood

Korean-American actor Daniel Henney says he chose not to tune in to last month's Oscars ceremony.

The reason? He knew that racial jibes would make their way into the show, which was plagued with controversy about racial diversity after no actors of colour were nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a second straight year.

Indeed, the ceremony's host Chris Rock perpetuated Asian stereotypes, among others, when he trotted out Asian children role-playing as accountants. "It's not that I'm not interested. I watched highlights and kept up on Twitter as to who was winning. I didn't want to watch the show because I knew there was a lot of that going on," says Henney, referring to Rock's gag.

"In the States, there are these issues that exist. I know Jeremy Lin tweeted about it, I felt the same way."

Taiwanese National Basketball Association player Lin tweeted: "Seriously though, when is this going to change? "Tired of it being 'cool' and 'ok' to bash Asians #Oscars"

The 36-year-old Henney believes in taking a proactive approach to encourage diversity in Hollywood.

Speaking over the phone from Los Angeles, where he is based, he says: "It's a very strange place to be in when it comes to acting in the States. It's going to take us Asian-Americans to force the hand by becoming too good for them to ignore."

The model-turned-actor has been working at his craft since getting his big break in the Korean entertainment scene in the 2005 comedy My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, in which he played an English- speaking doctor.

He went on to star in Korean television dramas and movies, such as romance drama Spring Waltz (2006) and action series The Fugitive: Plan B (2010), and romcom movie Seducing Mr Perfect (2006).

He made his Hollywood debut as Agent Zero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and was the voice behind technology whiz Tadashi Hamada in animation hit Big Hero 6 (2014).

Most recently, he landed a regular role as an FBI agent in cop drama Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (2016).

His FBI agent character Matthew Simmons is atypical of the roles given to Asians in Hollywood, says Henney.

"This is the character who is built for the American public to fall in love with. He is the muscle of the show. He's an ex-soldier. He's a family man, he has four beautiful children. He does everything for his wife and his team. Such roles have traditionally been played by Caucasian actors.

"That's why I took the role, I want to prove that an Asian man can be that person in people's eyes."

The bachelor says he had no problem bonding with the child actors who play his children.

He says: "I've been hanging out with these kids. I play football with the boys in the yard when we are taking breaks in between shooting. I'm always wrestling around with them."

In fact, he sees all this interaction as good preparation for the future.

"Little girls are just so precious. I don't want to touch them, I feel like I'm going to break them. But I think I'd be a good dad in future. I've had a lot of training with my Golden Retriever. So I hope I can apply (caring for my dog) to humans one day."

  • Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders premieres today at 9.45pm on AXN (StarHub TV channel 511).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Actor Daniel Henney wants to break barriers'. Print Edition | Subscribe