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Daniel Henney shows third cop’s a charm in ‘The Spy: Undercover Operation’

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Daniel Henney portrays Jack, an FBI agent who comes to South Korea to catch a criminal in "Confidential Assignment 2: International," which is set to be released in local theaters on Wednesday. [CJ ENM]
Daniel Henney portrays Jack, an FBI agent who comes to South Korea to catch a criminal in “Confidential Assignment 2: International,” which is set to be released in local theaters on Wednesday. [CJ ENM]

Daniel Henney, a Korean-American actor who local audiences last saw in the 2013 film “The Spy: Undercover Operation,” slips into the familiar role of a handsome, charming and flirtatious FBI agent named Jack in “Confidential Assignment 2: International.”

Henney is the latest addition to a cop duo of South Korean detective Cheol-ryung (portrayed by Hyun Bin) and North Korean detective Jin-tae (portrayed by Yoo Hai-jin). All three are going after the same criminal, but each with a different purpose in mind.

Director Lee Suk-hoon wrote the script for “Confidential Assignment 2” with Henney in mind. The character of Jack had to be Korean-American, speak and understand Korean so interactions with the other protagonists are natural, and he had to be handsome so that Cheol-ryung could feel competition in his romance with Jin-tae’s sister-in-law Min-young, portrayed by Lim Yoon-a.

Henney’s character was crucial in the sense that the film franchise was expanding from a confidential mission between a North Korean and a South Korean detective to one that now includes an American cop. 

Jack reluctantly cooperates with North Korean and South Korean detectives Cheol-ryung and Jin-tae, portrayed by Hyun Bin and Yoo Hai-jin left and center, to complete his mission. [CJ ENM]
Jack reluctantly cooperates with North Korean and South Korean detectives Cheol-ryung and Jin-tae, portrayed by Hyun Bin and Yoo Hai-jin left and center, to complete his mission. [CJ ENM]

“I saw the script three to four months before we started production,” Henney said during an online press interview Tuesday. “I thought it was a smaller part but it was of course, much bigger. I was excited but there was also a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. I wanted to try as much Korean as I could. I was nervous but excited at the same time.”

Unlike in prior roles, Henney speaks as much Korean as he speaks English as he bonds with Jin-tae and Cheol-ryung.

“I always wanted to try speaking as much Korean as I possibly can and it was nice with our director this time because usually if I speak any Korean — I don’t know why, but they usually say ‘okay, good, move on.’ Sometimes I don’t really feel good about that because I don’t know if they’re just moving on because it’s me, [and] they want to make me happy. But this time with this amazing crew and director I had to make sure it was right. He [Lee] made me do it over and over to get it as good as we could.

“I always practice speaking Korean, in front of a mirror at my home in the U.S. and I speak Korean with my dogs too,” he said. “I speak conversational Korean without a problem. But with movies like ‘Confidential Assignment 2’, it’s heavier, more difficult. The acting is hard too because there are emotions involved and I have to act with other actors.”

Daniel Henney [ECHO GLOBAL GROUP]
Daniel Henney [ECHO GLOBAL GROUP]

A comedic element in the film lies in Jack’s flirtations with Jin-tae’s family. When a handsome newcomer enters — equipped with good manners and a way with the ladies — the attention is immediately turned toward him, sidelining Cheol-ryung.

Jack’s tough demeanor immediately melts away when he meets the women of Jin-tae’s family — his wife, his daughter, and his sister-in-law. His gestures and lines with them are all about flirting, which Henney said with an embarrassed grin that a lot of came from him.

“Unfortunately, [Jack’s flirting and facial expressions] that was not in the script,” he said. “We all sometimes do things that are really cheesy. I look back on the film and I’m kind of embarrassed. Fortunately for Jack, I think it works. I do stupid things sometimes, I’m sorry, but they end up in the movie.”

Due to his limited Korean and his exceptional good looks, the roles he gets offered for local content tend to be repetitive, but the actor says he doesn’t mind that.

“I know sometimes I get stuck in Korean projects. There’s a bit of comic relief because I’m from the States, my Korean is not great, but that’s fine with me. I don’t mind that at all. I think it’s a lot of fun to play that.

“The thing is that even though Jack speaks a lot of English, you have to be able to understand Korean to be able to respond to it. I think years ago I used to be a little frustrated with that, especially with Korean-American audiences. They would think I just wasn’t understanding anything and that’s not true. To be able to act and to respond, you have to understand what’s happening so I spend all day long on the set speaking Korean with people. I absolutely am much more comfortable in English and so I do take pride in the timing and being able to land these jokes and saying things in Korean so that they [the audience] get the laughs.”

Daniel Henney [ECHO GLOBAL GROUP]
Daniel Henney [ECHO GLOBAL GROUP]

The actor has spent the last two weeks in Korea, promoting the film along with the other cast member, despite his busy schedule. He’s also currently starring in the American television series “The Wheel of Time.”

Henney said it can be difficult balancing his schedule across two countries but “this time I put my foot down,” when it came to being able to spend time in Korea. 

“We’re staying in Korea longer. It’s one of my favorite things — I get to feel the energy of the fans. I could see their faces and sometimes we get to hug them or just hang out with them. That, for me, is the best part of this [promotion]. Korean fans have given me everything. It’s not lost on me how much this country and the fans have given me. I’m thankful every day for that. I always tell people, even in the States, that I consider myself a Korean actor first and foremost. This is where my career started. This country gave me everything, so there’s a big place in my heart for Korean fans.”

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]

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