By Park Chung-a
"I definitely want to keep Korea a part of my life, permanently".
It's official. Daniel Henney
has reached heartthrob status in Korea. The latest proof is a 40-line poem going around the Internet in rapturous praise of the Korean-American actor and model.
"A perfect combination of East and West", the author writes. "Clean-cut features, a perfect body and innocent smile/ Even my biggest foe English seems friendly when spoken through his beautiful lips/ I wonder what his mother did for prenatal care".
What has brought on such words of devotion is Henney's character in the wildly popular television drama "My Name is Kim Sam-soon
" - "My Lovely Samsoon". The MBC drama recorded a 41.7 percent viewership on Thursday, becoming the highest-rated soap opera this year, according to TNS Media Korea.
Henney plays Henry Kim, a doctor in the United States who treats Hee-jin, one of the main female characters, who is suffering from cancer. As Henry Kim speaks only English, his dialogue always comes with Korean subtitles.
However, the language barrier hasn't stopped his fans from demanding he get a bigger role in the drama. His personal blog on Internet ( Open the link
) gets more than 20,000 hits a day, crowded with his fans' messages in English.
"Everything happened so quickly. It all happened in two-days time after the drama was aired. I just love it. I am really flattered", Henney, 26, said during an interview last week in Chongdam-dong, Seoul.
Like his character in the drama, Henney comes from a multinational background. His mother is a Korean-American adoptee and his father British-American. Adopted before the age of 1, his mother speaks no Korean.
In the drama, it is implied that the mother of Henry Kim is also an adoptee.
"I just think that when you have an American person or someone who has a different cultural influence comes in it's interesting for people to see", Henney said. "Maybe I stand out because of it. Just the way I act in general, I think, is a bit different".
Henney describes his character in the drama as "really nice and really kind". "I think it's refreshing for people to see that. It gives, especially for women, something to look at".
In the drama Henry Kim is devoted to Hee-jin, played by Jung Ryeo-won
, even though she is in love with someone else. Instead of pressuring her to return his affections, Henry is always there to help her.
The actor said he could understand Henry's actions. "It just depends how much you love someone. I definitely think it's possible", he said, adding that he himself was in a similar situation in the past.
Henney may be a newcomer to the Korean entertainment scene, but he is already a celebrity in other Asian countries. He has modeled in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan and has numerous fan clubs in those countries.
But before becoming a model, Henney said he was an introverted young man living in a small farming town in Michigan who loved basketball. His passion for the sport _ and his height _ led him to receive a basketball scholarship into the University of Illinois in Chicago. There, he received a degree in business communication and a minor in theater. " I used to be scared to speak in front of people so I decided to take communications as a major", he said.
Henney's modeling career started in the U.S. in the summer of 2002 by accident. An agent saw him in a parking lot, where he was in a car waiting for his friend to come out a model audition.
Since then he has been working as a model in the U.S. and various Asian countries and has participated in the Paris and Milan Fashion Collections. While modeling, Henney also studied acting at the Deena Levy Theater Studio, a renowned acting school in New York, where he also performed numerous off-Broadway plays.
After his debut in Korea last year with an advertisement for the men's cosmetics line Odyssey, he made commercials with actress Jun Ji-hyun
for Olympus digital cameras and with actress Kim Tae-hee
for Klasse air conditioners.
Henney was at the airport on his way back to the U.S. when Kim Yoon-cheol
, the producer of "My Name is Kim Sam-soon
" - "My Lovely Samsoon", called him. "After getting an offer, I went to the U.S. and sent my videotape showing my acting performances", he said.
According to Henney, the hardest part about the drama is the late nights. "There's one scene that I had with Kim Sun-ah
(who plays the main character Kim Sam-soon) in which she was speaking in French to me. We shot that at 4 o'clock in the morning. The next morning we came back and finished the scene. It is hard because sometimes you shoot something 2 o'clock in the morning and the very next morning at 7 or 8 you have to continue the same scene", he said.
But while the work is hard, Henney says it's also a lot of fun, giving the shooting of one recent argument scene as an example. "Ryeo-won as Hee-jin had to get really mad in the scene. So she was picking up Kleenex box and was throwing it.
"But the cover-on was made of metal. The first time she hit me directly in the stomach. It hit me so hard and bad. So I said 'Huk, Jamkkanmanyo (Wait a moment)' and I just fell out of the camera. And the next time she hit me in the arm. So the next time I took a box cover, you know the piece of metal, to protect my pants (and) to protect myself".
Henney has been in Korea for just a little more than three months, but he says he "strangely feels at home" here.
"Because of my language, English, I was building myself in America, working all over the world, because I did not know I had a chance here", he said. "Korea was the last Asian country that I came to. I think it was meant to be that way. Honestly, I needed to feel everything else and I wasn't necessarily happy with other countries and finally came to Korea. Good fit. My mother is really happy too".
Although his mother can't see the drama in the United States, Henney said he will send her DVDs.
"I am so proud that this is my heritage. It wouldn't be the same if it was Japan or somewhere else", he said. "I want to be true to both sides of my heritage. I definitely want to keep Korea a part of my life, permanently".
After the drama, he plans to pursue movies in both Korea and America. He has currently pending auditions with American moviemakers.
"I want to break through. It's so hard for Asian actors to break through fully. But we are slowly making a way and I think it's time. I have to have the right support behind me. I would also like to keep working here. Korean people are so amazing. The products, the movies that they make are such good quality. I would love to be the part of it", he said.
He also said he wished to break stereotypes about models-turned-actors by continuing to challenge himself.
"There's a lot of typecasts when you're a model, someone who is supposed to be good-looking or whatever. (People assume) you are not going to be able to act and think that you're always going to play the lover, and I don't want to do that. I want to play many different roles and prove that I can do it", he said.
As for the song in praise of him, Henney couldn't contain his amazement. "I saw it on the Internet too. I can't believe that someone actually took the time to do it".
Despite his basic Korean skills, he said that he had it translated for him to completely understand it.
"I can read Korean and understand it about 50 percent. But it's really hard for me to speak and form sentences yet. Before I speak out, I like to make sure that I can do it properly, not to make a fool out of myself". He added he spends most of his spare time studying Korean these days.
"Fans are so sweet. They run up to me and speak English to me. You know you don't have to speak English to me cause I can understand Korean basically. It's amazing that here in Korea, once they like someone, they are so dedicated to the person. And there are these people who write me and are just so enthusiastic about what I do. I am so thankful. I am just blown away by it. I would like to meet the girl who wrote the poem. I wish to meet everyone who write me if I could".