I have a confession to make: I am a huge fan of Criminal Minds. So, I was thrilled to learn earlier this month that CBS had developed a spin-off show called Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which would focus on a new group of FBI profilers who travel the world rescuing Americans missing overseas. My excitement was compounded when I discovered that Beyond Borders would feature the incredibly talented (and also incredibly easy-on-the-eyes) Daniel Henney.
Born in Carson City, Michigan, Henney worked as an international model before breaking into the film and television industries overseas. Soon, Henney developed a massive fan following in Korea and other parts of Asia for his roles in such television dramas as My Lovely Sam-Soon, Hello Franceska, and Spring Waltz. More recently, Henney has appeared before American audiences in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and as the voice of Big Hero 6’s beloved big brother, Tadashi Hamada.
With Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (premiering on CBS on March 16 at 10pm EST/9pm CST), Henney tackles his first leading role for American primetime television, and it seems like show and actor could not be better matched.
Henney will appear in Beyond Borders as Matthew Simmons, a military veteran and war hero who boasts a virtually unparalleled proficiency with weaponry as well as split-second profiling skills. Henney appears alongside a diverse cast of fellow profilers including team leader, Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump, CSI:NY) as well as cultural anthropologist Clara Seger (Alana De La Garza, Law & Order), technical analyst Russ “Monty” Montgomery (Tyler James Williams, Everybody Hates Chris, Dear White People) and medical examiner Mae Jarvis (Annie Funk, A Most Violent Year).
I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Henney and chat a bit about Beyond Borders. That interview appears after the jump, and Henney’s answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has a much different feel compared to the first Criminal Minds show. Every week, the team will travel to a different country to rescue missing Americans and catch UnSubs.
In one interview, you describe the show as focusing on “different cultures” and “different worlds.” You spent much of your earlier career as an Asian American working abroad in foreign television, film and modeling. Do you think your time as an American living overseas informed your initial interest in Beyond Borders?
Henney: Absolutely! When I was first approached to do this show, I had already worked with CBS many times and I was already somewhat excited just by the show’s concept alone. The premise of Beyond Borders — which takes us week-by-week to distant locales to interact with people of different cultures — really hit home.
I’ve lived the majority of my adult life overseas. A lot of the places I’ve explored and the cultures I’ve gotten to learn about are experiences I wish I could have shared with my friends, many of whom are actors who chose to remain in America. For example, while I was living and working in Taiwan and Thailand, I would be walking through all these exotic places and wishing I could show it to my friends.
Beyond Borders will give us a chance to take a journey every week to these different places. These will be new places for viewers, and they will be new for us, too, as profilers. Each episode, we will be dealing with different cultures, different UnSubs, different gun protocols, different religious and spiritual issues, and we will be learning as we go.
Beyond Borders will take you to some locations where you used to live and work in Asia, and elsewhere around the world. Now as you revisit those places through Beyond Borders, are you getting a chance to see those environments in a different light?
Henney: Through this show, we’re getting to travel on-location to places like Bangkok, Thailand, and I’m definitely reliving it. Also, I’ve got to give a huge shout-out to the people who scout for our locations, and who design sets to recreate these places in the studio.
Previously, you spoke with some Asian American bloggers while doing publicity for your role as Tadashi in Big Hero 6. In those interviews, you mentioned that growing up as an Asian American kid in Michigan, you had a hard time finding stars on television and film who looked like you and whom you could look up to. You said that Big Hero 6 was meaningful for you because it offered an opportunity to inspire other young Asian Americans.
In Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, you will be playing a prominent, leading role in a primetime TV show which will likely continue to open doors for Asian Americans, in terms of our visibility and representation. How has that been for you?
Henney: It has been really, really amazing. When I met Erica Messer, the creator of the show, they pitched the show and I got really excited. I’ve also been fortunate to have developed a good relationship with CBS, and they’ve stuck with me over the years. You know, as audiences, you see the shows that come to fruition, but I’ve worked with the network on many other projects. CBS has been a great supporter of mind, and with a network as committed to diversity as this one, Beyond Borders – and my being able to be a part of the show – was a matter of time.
As I said before, growing up in the Midwest, I found that no one really resembled me on television. So, as a kid, I gravitated towards non-Asian American actors, because that’s all there was. Now being in a position to inspire other actors – especially other Asian American actors and other Asian Actors – is super cool.
Also, my character on Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is very different from what we’ve seen in the past. I feel a lot of responsibility with this role. My character, Matthew Simmons, is kind of the field guy, the “muscle” guy. He’s a family man: he’s married, and not a womanizer or single. He’s a really incredible, all-American guy, which is not something we’re used to seeing by an Asian American actor. I’m really excited to hopefully show with this character that Asian men can be cool, and you can follow us into battle and trust us, and also be a little bit attracted to us, too.
Not just “a little bit”, I think! (I mean, check out this smoking hot still taken from Beyond Borders’ pilot episode.)
One fascinating thing about Beyond Borders is that it presents a very diverse cast. As you mentioned, there’s this choice to cast an Asian American man in the role of the handsome military hero and the special forces guy. Your character, Simmons, challenges the stereotypes produced by the kinds of roles traditionally available to Asian American male actors. Was this something that attracted you to the show?
Henney: It definitely attracted me to the show. People are casting more diverse these days, which is great. For Beyond Borders, however, every episode features our team traveling to a different country and interacting with different kinds of people. So there’s a necessary diversity for our team, so that people can relate to us when we travel. When you look at our team, it looks very international, and I think it helps us to look like we know what we’re doing.
Another show that you’ve been on with CBS is Hawaii Five-Oh, which also has a very diverse cast and has also invited so many Asian American actors to appear as guests for the show over its many seasons. What was it like to appear as Michael Noshimuri for the show?
Henney: Hawaii Five-Oh is really kind of its own tight-knit community. The cast has been out there in Hawaii for so long. So, you fly out to Hawaii and it’s a bit like being the new kid in school, albeit really fun. Their cast is also very diverse, and very Asian-based, and it’s just a wonderful show.
With Beyond Borders, we’re dealing with a whole new team and a new kind of premise. So, we’re hoping that we can make a very different, equally as wonderful, show.
Hopefully one that becomes as successful as the first Criminal Minds?
Henney: That would be amazing, if we could be just as successful. Maybe we could ride their coattails, a little bit!
Last question: Tyler James Williams, who plays tech expert Monty, has a clip on CBS.com where he tells us his wildest travel story. Would you like to share one of your wildest or most “out there” story about international travel?
Henney: I’ve got so many travel stories, because I’ve spent so much of my life in airports and on airplanes, like this time an airport blew a tire on a landing in Japan.
Once, I was on a flight from Seoul to Detroit. We were in the air for three hours, and all of a sudden, the lights went out, like right over the middle of the ocean. It was very unsettling. I was in business class, and the co-pilot came back to talk to me to tell me it was nothing to worry about, just a mechanical issue, which, of course, did nothing to put me at ease. So then we turned back, and flew another three hours back to Seoul, and when we landed, there were fire trucks everywhere. That was crazy – imagine being three hours into a flight and then turning around and going back!
I’ve had so many amazing stories. I’ve met strange animals, talked to different people, and had thing stole. I wish I had taken notes! But, maybe at some point, the writers of Beyond Borders will find inspiration for some episodes from some of my stories.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders premieres this Wednesday, March 16 at 10pm EST / 9pm CST on CBS.
Tune in tomorrow to catch Daniel Henney and the rest of the Beyond Borders cast as they take the FBI’s profiling unit international! You can also tweet your reactions to the premiere to #CriminalMindsBB!