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If you were a Tumblr girly in the late 2000s, then you already know Daniel Henney. The half Korean hottie got his start modeling in Asia, and his breakout role was in the hit TV show My Lovely Sam Soon. The K-drama series provided many gorgeous gifs of Henney that graced more than a few Tumblr accounts.
Since then, Henney has starred in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Criminal Minds, and now The Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is a high-fantasy drama adapted for Robert Jordan’s hit book series, and it’s Henney’s first time getting to the genre. Henney stars as Lan, a male companion (called a Warder) to one of the powerful women called the Aes Sedai. Warders share a bond with their Aes Sedai that links their minds and emotions. Henney, whose Warder is paired with Rosamund Pike’s Aes Sedai Moiraine, described their characters’ relationship as a “marriage” of sorts. And like any marriage, it’s not always an easy time.
Season one premiered in 2021, and season two is available now. We caught Henney just before the SAG strikes hit for a slightly spoilered conversation. Make sure you’ve seen season one!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Melissa Slaughter: How do you feel about the fantasy genre? Are you a fan?
Daniel Henney: Yeah, I wouldn't lead with that for myself, but I would definitely say I'm a fan. I grew up watching Labyrinth, NeverEnding Story. I loved He-Man. But I didn't know much about The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time world [of high fantasy]. I was from a very small town. We didn't have a lot of access to that stuff. But I think it’s good for the brain to escape into a world of whimsy and magic and fun. The fact that people can create that stuff is super cool. I love shows that have a practical element like ours where the creatures are real and the costumes are fantastic. It's really, really fun and good for the soul.
MS: What was your entry into the character of Lan?
DH: I like to walk in the shoes that I know the characters will be wearing. I got Lan's boots and walked around Prague. It's so geeky, but it just helps me get there. Playing such a huge character, you want any advantage you can. So the boots for him, all the physical stuff, the stunt training that helps him. For me, I'm not a classically trained actor, so anything physical that I can do to get me where I need to be emotionally is great.
MS: I'm curious, what was your training like for Lan, and was it different between season one and season two?
DH: Season one was the foundation-building training for me. I never worked with a katana sword before, so we used a modified katana for Lan. [Since] I built the foundation with the sword, now I need about a week to learn something, whereas before it was about a month. We have a great stunt team in the Czech Republic—a tough, gritty stunt team—and now they just implement what I've learned.
MS: Is there anything fight-wise that you haven't done yet that you'd like to do?
DH: I would like to do more hand-to-hand. I do a lot of sword work with Lan, which is super fun. Loved the horse stuff, loved all the sword stuff. I did a double sword scene for season two. But it'd be nice, just good old-fashioned, sort of bare-knuckle brawl with somebody.
MS: But it doesn't seem like Lan's style! He’s so regal!
DH: I got one punch I think in season one, which was cool, and that's all I got. So we'll see.
MS: At the end of season one, Lan and Moiraine have their bond broken and they're no longer connected. How does that affect Lan?
DH: Through the bond, they can feel each other's pain, hunger, desires. It's like being in any long relationship or marriage and all of a sudden your partner starts acting really strange. You can't communicate anymore, and they're not letting you in. That's kind of what's going on. So he's up against it, he's frustrated, he acts out a little bit. It’s kind of out of character for him. He's trying to get a reaction. He's trying to gauge where he stands—where they stand.
MS: Now that he doesn't have that bond with her, can you give us a kind of glimpse as to what Lan might want for himself? What might he be moving toward in season two?
DH: I think what he wants for himself is always mission or duty driven. Because of that situation, he's allowed to go on this journey alone. It's very formative. I think he needs that time. He was born into a kingdom that has now been taken over and his parents were killed. Moiraine’s been his rock, and now he's finally on his own. It's time for him to really grow up and ask questions. He's got this beautiful new love that's kind of percolating, and that really is a North Star for him at this point because he's feeling pretty, pretty destitute.
MS: A lot of times when we have conversations with folks, we talk about how part of the mixed experience is feeling like we don't really belong anywhere. And in a sense, when I watch Lan on the show, it feels like he doesn't have a physical space to belong to because, as you said, his homeland was destroyed, he's an orphan. Do you feel like you have a place where you belong? Is there a place where you feel most at home?
DH: There is! Home is more about the people than the place. I was born in Michigan, and it's a very simple way of life. So I do gravitate toward that now—the quiet, the nature. I spent the majority of my 20s and 30s in cities, hustling and working and doing all this. And I did struggle with that [feeling of not belonging] growing up. It's tricky. I still do at times.
MS: You've also had several leads in American TV shows, but you got your start in Korea. How are you finding success differently in the U.S. as opposed to in Asia?
DH: It's strange. I got so lucky in Korea. I was 25 years old. I was over there doing a shoot for the camera—a commercial or something—and I just stumbled on this chance to be in a soap opera. I got the role in the show and it became the biggest show, like Seinfeld over there. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, and I was everywhere and everyone knew me. To this day it's still like that over there. Over here, even though that helped me to get through the door, I have to earn my way. I have to be good at things. I'm not just going to be given roles. You still have to audition, you still have to grind.
MS: Last question. Do you have any advice for Asians looking to also become actors?
DH: The most important thing is that you immerse yourself in the world of acting. To this day, the best actors have the training behind them. Get into the theater, be a nerd about it. You know, just soak yourself into all the different interviews you can on YouTube. It's right there at your fingertips. I didn't have that growing up. I couldn’t go online and watch a Marlon Brando interview. Be good at the art part, be good at the acting, be good at the writing—whatever it is you like.
The Wheel of Time seasons one and two are out now on Amazon Prime.
Published on September 8, 2023
Words by Melissa Slaughter
Melissa Slaughter has lived in all four time zones in the continental United States. She is a podcast producer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can hear her work on her independent podcast We're Not All Ninjas (with co-host Alex Chester), as well as on shows from Pineapple Street Studios, Netflix, and HBO.