Actor Daniel Henney has played a mutant villain with lethal sniper skills (X Men Origins: Wolverine), a doctor—more than once (Three Rivers and My Lovely Sam Soon), and was the voice behind Tadashi Hamada, creator of the inflatable robot Baymax in the Academy Award-winning animated film Big Hero 6. As a model, he’s lent his charms to brands like LG, Asiana Airlines, Coca-Cola, and many others. He’s also featured in the “Haikus with Hotties” calendar, created by pop culture writer and editor Ada Tseng, where he and his golden retriever, Mango, write haikus to each other.
This month, the 36-year-old Michigan native appears as one of the principal cast in a new CBS drama, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, as Special Operations Agent Matthew “Matt” Simmons. The show follows an elite team of FBI agents all around the globe, led by Unit Chief Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise), as they track international criminals and rescue Americans who fall into danger abroad.
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, you play Matt Simmons, a former military hero. Who is Matt on the team?
Matt’s done two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He’s former Delta Force, so he has a lot of experience in the field. The team looks to him for contacts when they’re traveling, he knows people all over the world. Because he’s the first one in battle, I find myself doing a lot of action scenes. He’s the physical guy. A lot of legwork from Matt. He is the one who breaks down the doors for them, gets them out of trouble.
What research did you have to do to get into this role?
Whenever you’re playing a profiler, walking into a world you’ve never experienced before, it takes a lot of prep. Luckily on our set, we have a lot of amazing former FBI guys, and a couple former DEA agents. They’re always on set with us, helping us through the scenes, so they’re available. I ask them questions like, what’s the gun protocol here, how should I be entering this building, how do I this and look like I know what I’m doing? (laughs)
I spend a lot of time with my dad, who’s a Vietnam vet. He was in the navy. I talk to him a lot just about the military mentality. What it takes to go through that world, mentally. What it takes to be that sort of man.
Will we learn more about Matt’s personal life and story in this season?
Yeah, you’ll learn about his personal life. I was very pleased, because quite early on, you get to see Matt’s home, his wife and kids. We’re in the field, examining cases, there’s a lot of expository dialogue, so it’s fun to sort of take a break, walk into your character’s house and see his kids. We had some lighthearted moments, so that was nice.
You’re biracial, of Korean-American and Irish-American descent. Was it always the intention of the producers to cast the role with an Asian-American actor?
I don’t think so, no. You’ll have to ask them, but it definitely didn’t feel like it to me. I think this role was on the table for a lot of different actors, it was just about who was best for the part. It makes me proud to have gotten this part. I think it’s a first, for an Asian-American actor to be cast in a role like this. Matt is the guy that the American public is going to have to fall in love with, and trust. It’s a very rare role, I think, to be given to an Asian-American actor. So I do feel a sense of responsibility. We’ll see what happens, but I take pride, and I hope it’s going to work out great.
Given the recent controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in Hollywood and #Oscarssowhite, it’s pretty great to see the cast of Beyond Borders features two women and three actors of color.
Yeah, I think it’s wonderful. I couldn’t see anyone else doing these roles. But at the same time, I don’t ever think about it like that, or I try not to. I think as actors, as people working in this business, it’s about doing the best you can, putting in the work and making sure that if and when these opportunities arise, you’re ready for it. All the actors who are cast in this show are very capable and really good at what they do, first and foremost. Amazing professionals. So that’s what I’m proud of. And the fact that they happen to be of color, and we have great female leads, that’s just a bonus.
What are some of the places the show traveled to for this season?
We went to Thailand, Belize, Cuba, Japan, Paris. Egypt and Morocco. I’m blanking, but there’s about five more. We went everywhere.
Did you have a favorite locale?
I love Japan, I’ve been there many times for work. We got to explore the mysterious suicide forest in Japan, a few hours outside of Tokyo, where unfortunately a lot of people go to end their lives. It was an incredible episode, really well-written. Japanese culture is so different, and so interesting. It was fun to get to step into that world.
Was there an episode that was particularly challenging?
There was an episode where I had to do a lot of motorcycle work. I’d ridden motorcycles for a long time, but I’d given up riding because of an accident I had in Korea years ago, so I had to get my license again, just before the show. It was something I didn’t want to do, but I thought, this character, that’s his thing, he takes his motorcycle with him on the airplane all around the world. So, I got the license again, and I had an episode where I had a lot of intense riding, so that was a big challenge for me, mentally and physically. And it was like a hundred and twenty degrees in the desert, I was wearing a leather jacket and a black helmet, so that was no fun.
What surprised you about this season?
If I’m honest, what surprised me was how much we all got along, right off the bat. I’ve worked on a lot of shows, and it always feels good, but this group just works really well together. About halfway through the season, we’re taking trips to Vegas together. Like, we’re working all week, and we couldn’t get enough of each other. (laughs)
A lot of that has to do with Gary [Sinise], because he’s such an amazing person. So inspiring. I think it’s a really great group. That’s a part of what makes me want to keep doing it. We hope the show does well so that we can all keep working together.
Any projects are you working on next you’d like to tell us about?
Right now I’m just waiting to see what happens with the show. If it does well, then we have to go back to work in July. I’m working on a couple personal projects, books that I’m trying to change into script form, to be developed into features in the next couple years, hopefully. Other than that, just enjoying time at home with my golden retriever.
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Jean Ho is a writer in Los Angeles. She’s a Dornsife fellow in fiction at USC’s Creative Writing & Literature PhD program.
This article is made possible by Comcast.