Debuting his acting career in Korea, Daniel Henney has quickly gained popularity worldwide, becoming a global phenomena and a star to watch. With several roles in renowned TV series and films under his belt, Henney is emerging as a true master of his craft — and now, the accomplished actor returns to your screens in Prime Video’s latest fantasy tv-series, The Wheel of Time. A powerful story based upon Robert Jordan’s fourteen volume novel series, Henney steps into the complex role of King Lan. Schön! spoke with Henney about his career, childhood and of course, The Wheel of Time.
You were an international model prior to your debut as an actor in the renowned Korean drama, My Lovely Sam Soon. What was the deciding factor in your transition from a model to an actor? Have you always had a passion for acting?
Modelling was a really wonderful experience. I think there’s a stigma attached to the business at times. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found it to be an incredibly formative and shaping experience for me. I had always had acting in my mind, and I knew that my ultimate goal was always that. I have been acting since I was young, at home with my family, on stage in elementary and middle school, and even some in high school. I moved to New York as a model in 2003 and was able to pay my way through acting school through the money I made as a model. That actually made me very proud.
Let’s talk about The Wheel of Time. The television series is based upon Robert Jordan’s iconic fourteen volume novel series. What can the dedicated book fanbase expect from the series, both the rest of this season and the already confirmed season two?
I think they can expect a hell of a ride. We are really trying to stick closely to the source material. It’s incredibly challenging at times because the books are so dense and long. However, I feel that our showrunner Rafe Judkins has done an amazing job at choosing what is necessary from the books and what he has to cut to showcase in the show, without losing any of the essence of the characters or the writing from Robert Jordan. Fans can expect to see all of their favourite characters brought to life. We’ve worked incredibly hard over the last two years to make this show very special for them. We just hope they love it.
Why should those who have not read the novels watch The Wheel of Time? What makes this series special to you?
This series is special to me because it takes me back to when I was young. I think with the success of Game of Thrones and also shows like Vikings, the trend has been for shows to be a bit darker and grittier. Our show definitely has some darkness, but it is different in that it is high fantasy and there’s a sort of different tone to the world. When I watch our show, I’m reminded of stuff from my childhood. I remember watching movies like The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, and of course, The Chronicles of Narnia films. I believe that our show may have more in common with those films than it may with some of the darker offerings we’ve seen throughout the last decade. I really do believe that it stands on its own.
Within the series you play Lan, the last surviving member of the fallen kingdom of Malkier. What were your thoughts when you first read Lan’s character description? What did you connect with most?
Growing up as an only child in a small mid-western town, I related to the lonely side of him. I spent a lot of time on my own as a young child, walking through the forest with my dogs, hunting and fishing, and just really learning life on my own. I believe Lan shares those same characteristics. I’m also fiercely protective of my loved ones, and I try to keep them safe at all times. This is definitely something that I share with him. Lan was raised by warriors. My father is a Vietnam veteran, and my mother is an amazing nurse in our small hometown. Warriors to me for sure.
Lan is a highly complex character that displays little emotion. As an actor, how did you prepare for this role? What techniques did you use that allowed you to truly embody the character?
I generally like to start from the outside in when I’m working on a character. So all of the physicality that was needed and all of the stunt practice that we needed to do prior to shooting the Winternight sequence was incredibly helpful for me in developing my relationship with Lan. I spent the first month in Prague walking 5 to 7 miles a night to and from my apartment and gym with a practice sword tucked into my backpack. I persuaded the owner of a private gym in town to let me stay later so I could practice my sword forms hours into the night. Also, just being in Prague in and of itself was incredibly helpful for developing the character.
Speaking of Prague, did you explore the city at all? What did you like most about it?
Oh yes, I think it’s safe to say that I have explored every inch of the city. I love Prague. I love the history of the city, the people, the architecture, the food and the surrounding areas as well. I think we’re all very lucky to call Prague home for now. It suits The Wheel of Time beautifully.
As an Asian-American, you know the importance of representation in Hollywood. How does it feel as an Asian-American to be playing the role of a King?
It’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I’m incredibly proud of this role and of the show. I desperately want it to be successful — not for myself, but so that everyone else can see these amazing characters embodied the way they are by this fantastically diverse cast. It’s really special. I grew up like any Midwestern kid. When you’re young and free, playing with your friends there are no categories. I would always play the king. I would find a couple of tree branches, tape them together to make a sword. I would rescue the princess while riding my black stallion (my dog)… and of course, save the land. But now to actually be playing a king….there are no words. I guess I never thought it would happen, but here we are.
You have incredible chemistry with your cast members. What was your favourite memory from being on set?
I’d have to say there isn’t one specific moment that stands out, it’s just been the entire experience with this cast all together. There’s a really beautiful energy circulating throughout this cast that I’ve never really seen before. The younger actors have been such a joy to work with, and watching them mature and overcoming obstacles throughout this first season has been really special. These are beloved characters, and it’s not easy to step into the shoes of something that’s held so highly. I am amazed every day at the amount of fortitude and strength in these young actors. Rosamund and I truly feel lucky to be able to work with all of them and be able to spend time together the way we do. I really enjoy going to set every day, and that’s not always the case in this business.
How did you physically prepare to play Lan? Did you need any training to perform certain scenes?
Luckily, our stunt team here in the Czech Republic is incredibly talented. They will map out the choreography first, then I will go in and add my flavour to it before it all comes together. It’s a beautiful collaborative process that I enjoy very much. It’s a lot of repetition, keeping yourself in shape, watching your nutrition and committing to the role at all times.
The series was announced in 2019. Following this long wait, is there a certain scene you are/were most excited for the viewers to see?
I love the fight sequence in the first episode. I think it’s incredibly dynamic and will surprise people quite a bit. I think that our Director Uta did an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the violence and visceral fear in the characters that night. I’m also excited for people to see episode five. My character has a very emotional arc throughout that episode, and I think it will challenge viewers and especially book readers in regards to what they may have previously thought of Lan and who he will be moving forward.
Your golden retrievers are Instagram famous, with your dog Roscoe having 28,000 followers. Any recent dog stories to share?
Haha! That’s so funny. Yes, they are quite popular. I recently fostered another dog as well. Her name is Rosie. I discovered her on a recent trip to South Korea on a dog meat farm. She walked up to me and put her head in my hands as if she was asking me to take her with me. So I did. I brought her back to my home in Michigan and fostered her for about a month. We trained her and basically taught her how to be a dog again. And I’m happy to say she now belongs to my best friend’s mother. And they are now best friends.
You have a devoted fanbase. Do you have a message you have for these fans as they await each episode of the series?
Just thank you. It amazes me that they’ve stuck with me all these years and the support that they always give me. I’m really proud of this show, and I hope they can feel that. I really do feel like the luckiest man in the world sometimes.
What are your plans for the future? Any other roles we can look forward to?
I have a movie coming out in Korea next year called Confidential Assignment 2. It’s the sequel to a highly successful action film from a few years back. It’s exciting because I’m reuniting with an old friend of mine Hyun Bin. We did My Lovely Sam-Soon together in 2005. It was a real joy to work with him again. I also have another film coming to the states next year called Searching 2. It too is a sequel to the film Searching. It’s such an incredibly cool concept. And the entire film takes place on screens (cctv, FaceTime, etc)… I hope everyone tunes in.
The Wheel of Time is currently streaming on Prime Video