How often do you listen to that little voice on your shoulder that tells you to try something new and exciting, with great challenges? It’s not easy to leave the hamster wheel to walk on new ground, but change requires action and pursuing new ventures will always come with unknowns. Without our risk takers, there wouldn’t be actors, there wouldn’t be dancers or musicians. A career in entertainment is a huge risk that requires perseverance, great confidence and alligator skin. Watching our favourite characters on screen, in the role of a lifetime – means that they went to hundreds of auditions, they were dedicated, they took diverse roles to build their toolbox, they never gave up after all the rejections and they never lost the passion for performing.
Every successful actor has an incredible story and actor Donald Heng has shared a couple of gems with me. Playing a new father is his latest role, when he’s not acting. He just became a dad in real life last month and I think his baby became the best supporting actor. We had so much to talk about because Heng has finished the year off incredibly strong. He’s had upcoming performances in Prime’s – The Sinner, on CW’s – Two Sentence Horror Story season 4 – Plant Life airing on Jan. 16 and 2 other films soon to be released – Sight and American Dreamer. In the upcoming episode, Plant Life, Hengs character, Christian is a technology-addicted man who receives a strange plant from his boyfriend, but soon experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body as the plant takes root in his apartment.
Although I couldn’t get Heng to spill all the beans on his technology addicted character, he did admit that it was his first time sitting in make-up for 3 hours to have prosthetics applied. He says it’s nothing in comparison to other actors that have endured more than 10 hours of make-up per day. All in the name of escapism, that we so desperately need and that they/actors can professionally provide. Heng remains incredibly busy and his list of impressive performances keeps growing.
Sight, starring Terry Chen (Almost Famous, House of Cards) and Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, Sabrina) is based on the true story of the world’s most influential eye surgeon, Dr. Ming Wang. Donald plays the protagonist’s father: Zhensheng in all the scenes that take place in the past. The Movie American Dreamer stars Peter Dinklage, Matt Dillon, Shirley MacLaine, and Danny Glover. Donald has a supporting role as Dr. Berton. Other stand-out performances include Deputy Larry Foon on Netflix’s Ghost Wars, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Flash, The Murders, Virgin River, Arrow and many more – including his first big role in Disney’s Girl Vs Monster.
I had to find out the secret to his scheduling skills and how he manages to keep raising the bar, wearing gloves and a mask. I caught up to Heng at his home in Vancouver. His adorable pug dog was there for support but refused to talk to the media. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “Your resume is very impressive; you’ve been in some incredible productions. When did you get the acting bug and what inspired it?”
DONALD “It’s been 10 years now and it started in High School, taking drama classes. I always wanted to pursue it after Highschool but I didn’t know how to. I went to SFU and took History and Political Science. After 2 years in, I still had the acting bug but I didn’t know where to start. I thought I needed an agent to find me work but I also thought I needed work to have an agent interested in me. I ended up finding this little course on Casting Workbook, where they help you edit an audition tape, so you can send it to all the agents in town. I connected with a few agents in town, we met and then I went after it.”
HNMAG “Do you still remember your first big break?”
DONALD “I do, I even remember my first gig. It was a solid 2 ½ years and approx. 70 auditions later, that I got my first one – for a Disney TV movie, called Girl Vs Monster. I have a great story to go along with it. I had read for it then realized how big of a production it was – I didn’t think I had a chance. A week later, I got a call back. I remember skipping my last 3 classes and catching a bus across town to pick up my scooter. I noticed there was a message from my agent on the phone, that said… sorry, but they cancelled the call backs. I felt defeated, after wasting all that time getting across town and skipping classes… it absolutely sucked. I sat on the side of the road and was absolutely shocked. I went to start my scooter and it wouldn’t start – it broke down. I called my dad and waited another 2 hours for him to get off work and come grab my scooter with his van. The next morning, my agent called to tell me that they wanted me (laughing). I had felt so horrible for that 24 – hours. It was pretty awful.”
HNMAG “You’re going to be in Season 4 of CW’s, Two Sentence Horror Stories – Plant Life. Your character is technology addicted and receives a plant that effects his mind and body. Is it safe to say that you spend a fair amount of time in make-up and prosthetics?”
DONALD “I did, I had a couple of days where it was heavy prosthetics. I don’t want to give away any spoilers… but eventually I become part of the set and can’t move without affecting the set. It was the easiest day but also the most uncomfortable day. It was very cool and I remember the Special Effects telling me that it took him 6-weeks to build the SFX prop. It’s pretty amazing that they can take 3 hours to put this thing on me, then film it for 8 hours. There’s 6-weeks of work that went into building that one piece.”
Donald said that he kept reminding himself that Rebecca Romijn, who played Mystique in X-Men would have to come into the set and go to sleep while the make-up artists applied prosthetics and make-up for over 10 hrs, then she would go film all day before spending a couple of hours removing it all. It’s all part of the job.
HNMAG “Is it different, when prepping for a Sci-fi film in comparison to a character in a drama?”
DONALD “For this experience, it was completely the same. The director made it quite clear that she didn’t want my character to be too stylized and wanted the story to be about the relationship between me and my boyfriend. The entire series is anthological and revolves around the paranormal and the mysterious. On the outside, it appears that our relationship is having issues because of my work and my addiction to technology but it really comes down to a communicative error on our part and in the end, it is about our relationship. The preparation was the same as I would do for other roles.”
HNMAG “When can we expect to see this Two Sentence Horror Stories – Plant Life episode?”
DONALD “The season premiere is this Sunday, Jan. 16th with 2 – half hour episodes back-to-back on CW in the US. In Canada, I believe it will be on at 6:30 on the W Network. I’m not sure if it will be on the CW network in Canada yet.”
HNMAG “I had read that, when you were in Ghost Wars – it checked off all the boxes for you, playing the deputy. Can you tell me which boxes those were?”
DONALD “When I was going to university, I was getting a Political Science degree and I was considering being a firefighter or police officer. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer, so being able to act as a cop on the show was a little dream come true. I was also very excited about all the great actors I was going to be working with. I remember binging through Netflix’s Daredevil with Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin, who I thought was phenomenal. When he became attached to the series and I knew I’d get to act with him, I was extremely thrilled. Many boxes were checked off.”
HNMAG “You have 2 other films coming out – Sight, where you play the father of the most influential eye surgeon in the US, Dr. Ming Wang. Is the father also an eye surgeon?”
DONALD “He is an eye doctor as well, which I believe is a big influence on his son. I don’t have many scenes however, where it’s apparent that I’m a doctor. It’s really about the relationship between me and my son and how he grew up in a volatile society. I helped to guide his path in coming to America to follow the dream. It’s one of those feel-good films about hope and chasing the American dream, especially for an Asian American. I can’t think of any movie in recent times that mirror what this film is really about and the intricacies it tackles. It will be coming out in the 2nd quarter of this year, meaning April, May or June.”
HNMAG “Do they ever give out swag after a film shoot, as a memento of the production?”
DONALD “Yes they do. It’s something that they do quite often. For the film Sight, I got a hoodie with Sight printed on it. They gave us a really nice bag. I’ve gotten baseball caps and for being on The Sinner, they gave us a very nice fishing bag that looks very vintage – which I really like.”
I had asked Donald about his role on The Sinner, which I binged through. He was in season 4 and it was filmed in Nova Scotia. If you haven’t seen the last season, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that Donald’s character and the events surrounding his scenes are a major focal point of the story and the writing in the entire season is flawless. Donald added, the town they were filming in had a population of 1000 and the restaurants would shut down at 7:30 – 8:00 and if you got off the set late, you didn’t get to eat. It’s not all glitz and glamour.
HNMAG “What was it like to be around Bill Pullman, he’s phenomenal in the show?”
DONALD “He’s actually one of the first people I met. I was at a bonfire on the beach when Bill Pullman tapped me on the shoulder. He asked if I was going to be playing the character of Bo Lam, then he told me it was a pleasure to meet me. He was the nicest guy and all of the actors that had been on the show for the past 3 months had a relationship with who they thought I was. It really plays into the investigation and all of these actors had been building a backstory of who they envisioned to be this person. A lot of people were excited to meet me, even though I didn’t know who they were. Bill’s a good-looking dude, even as he’s gotten older.”
HNMAG “You’re also in another film that’s coming out soon, American Dreamer. Can you tell me about your character in that film?”
DONALD “I don’t want to give anything away, except that I play a doctor. All of my scenes are with Peter Dinklage. He plays a professor that doesn’t make much money with his life going nowhere. He stumbles across a sprawling mansion owned by a recluse, played by Shirley MacLaine. She offers to sell the house to him for 250,000 if he agrees to remain in seclusion within one of the rooms while she continues to rent the entire house from him. They eventually develop a friendship. I would categorize it as a drama/dark comedy. We filmed that on the island in Victoria.”
Donald’s very adorable pug dog was laying on the couch behind him during the interview. He told me a Christmas dinner story that involved the small dog with a huge appetite. Donald was making fresh pies on Christmas Eve and had placed the pie dough outside on the patio because it was cold out and you’re suppose to freeze your dough. Unfortunately, his father in-law didn’t know about the cooling pie dough and let Donald’s pug outside. Five minutes later, he went out to let her in… but the pie dough was all eaten along with ½ pound of butter. His dog’s face was a big powder puff. He had to rush her into the veterinarian, where they gave her a shot that made her vomit out a pile of batter and butter. The dog survived to talk about it, which is a happy ending. I speak a little pug.
Donald Heng is a Canadian treasure that listened to that little voice and strived to make a change in his life through acting. Watch his films, his role in Plant Life and appreciate the dedication that all actors bring – to enhance our lives through their incredible performances!