Daniel Henney: I'm not going to settle for small roles

Korean-American hunk Daniel Henney says he would rather be the lead in a romantic comedy than have a small role in action flicks

Korean-American heart-throb Daniel Henney found it really hard to play a bad boy in the American police procedural on television, Hawaii Five-0 recently.

For starters, the character Michael Noshimuri is an ex-convict.

"He's very different from who I am, it was quite stressful," recalls Henney, 33, a former model and clean-cut spokesman for brands such as Olympus and Daewoo.

"I didn't know how to play an ex-con, a guy who's been in prison for so long. I'd nothing to draw up on."

Then, there was the pressure of guest starring in a prime-time drama.

Daniel Henney: I'm not going to settle for small roles
Photo: AXN

Over the telephone from Los Angeles where he is based, the actor says: "Whenever you jump into a pre-existing TV show, especially a successful one, there are standards you've to meet. If you don't bring your A-game, you can let people down. I was nervous at first, but once we got rolling, I got comfortable really fast."

His character Michael is the younger brother of Adam (Ian Anthony Dale), a well-meaning yakuza head who is trying to clean up his organisation.

In episode 10 of Hawaii Five-0 Season 3, which airs on AXN (StarHub Channel 511) next Monday, Michael is released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence and reunites with his brother.

However, the brothers have conflicting ideas of how to run their crime organisation.

"Michael wants to make money the old school way," says Henney, who shot to fame as a devoted doctor in the Korean hit drama My Name Is Kim Sam Soon (2005). He became a household name in South Korea.

Getting "inked" was what helped the actor, whose arms appear fully tattooed on the show, get into the role.

"The minute they put the tattoos on me, I kind of jumped into character, it was much easier," he says with a laugh.

The Michigan native - whose nurse mother is Korean and father is of British descent, who worked in an automotive factory - is quite happy to concentrate on his career in the United States, as it is an escape from the adulation he receives in Asia.

He says: "I live generally in the States now so I stay away from fame, because it can do strange things to your mind. What happened to me after Sam Soon, it was wonderful at first, but you can also lose yourself in that.

"You can get so busy, your schedule's crazy, everybody loves you one day, they hate you the next day, it's not a natural place to live in."

Before you dismiss him as thankless, he adds that he loves "what it's done for me, and I'm very grateful but at the same time, I'm just a guy from Michigan who likes to play basketball and catch fish".

But Henney is no small-town boy, as he is gunning for the big roles in Tinseltown.

He says: "The roles that I lose are to amazing actors, I'm fine with that. I could do smaller roles if I wanted to, but I've chosen to go for the big ones. If I face adversity, that's my choice."

Besides Hawaii Five-0, he has been busy as the lead in romantic comedy Shanghai Calling (2012), and has a smaller role in the Arnold Schwarzenegger- headed action film The Last Stand, as the right-hand man of Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker). The Last Stand opens here on Feb 21.

He says: "I've decided I'm not going to settle for small roles. The smallest role that I'll settle for is the one like The Last Stand, where I'm an FBI agent. And I did that because I'm friends with the director Kim Ji Woon."

As someone who is usually cast as the suave, romantic Mr Right in Asia, you might think Henney would tire of such roles.

On the contrary, he prefers being a part of romantic comedies to action flicks.

Henney, who made his Hollywood debut as Agent Zero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), says action movies are very difficult for him "because you're playing such larger-than-life characters", which is harder to relate to.

"When I do romantic comedies, you've dialogue, usually with a woman, it's very normal, and they are situations that I've been through in life. It's more relaxed, it's more fun, the stakes aren't so high, which is nice," says the bachelor.

With a laugh, he adds: "Plus I get to work with a beautiful woman, which is such a great thing too. Trust me, it gets kind of old when you're on set with 30 guys doing an action movie for two months."

Episode 10 of Hawaii Five-0 Season 3 airs next Monday on AXN (StarHub Channel 511) at 10pm and the show airs every Monday at 10pm.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on January 14, 2013. For similar stories, go to You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.