If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, chances are good you know Donald Heng’s work. The Vancouver-based actor has been seen in a wide variety of settings—comedies, drama, made for TV movies, weekly series, indie films—but in recently, Heng had settled into a shadowy niche in the unpredictable, spine-tingling world of the SyFy television network’s original thriller content. With guest appearances on several different SyFy shows and his recurring Ghost Wars role as the edgy Deputy Larry Foon, the talented, versatile Heng is making dramatic tension his calling card. Tinseltown News Now caught up with Heng between shoots to discuss this latest upshift in an already impressive career
Q: You have had some good professional fortune at SyFy — do you feel career momentum is building at the network?
A: Definitely. This whole business is not for the impatient that’s for sure. Someone once told me that acting is a marathon, not a sprint, and that has always stuck with me. There may often be little rhyme or reason in this industry, but if you’re in it long enough and are prepared and constantly working on your craft, momentum will occur.
Q: You have previously appeared in “The Flash,” and “Supernatural,” please discuss these experiences
A: It was a relief to finally get to work on “Supernatural.” That show has been [produced] in Vancouver for 12, going on 13-14 seasons. My entire circle of actor friends have been on it, so it was great to get any kind of part on the show. But my character got to interact with Jared and Jensen and that was incredibly fun. They were really nice and welcoming and the jokes and pranks are non-stop whenever they yell cut. “The Flash” was also incredibly exciting in its own right. I read the comics as a kid and so there was of course that part of me that was freaking about getting my ass saved by the Flash not once, not twice, but three times. Some of the stunts in that show were also the most fun I ever had on set. It was like riding a go-kart down an empty street and my fear was not hard to fake [laughs].
Q: How did you come to meet “Ghost Wars” creator-writer-producer Simon Barry?
A: I may have met him earlier when I auditioned for “Continuum” but I can’t say that definitively. But I definitely did meet him for “Van Helsing,” and then again later for “Ghost Wars.” He is an incredibly humble, personable human being and, of all the producers I’ve worked with, definitely made the biggest effort of including and inviting the cast to collaborate in his projects. During the table read for the first episode, Simon told everyone that he wanted to build these characters with us and if there were certain lines that didn’t sit well with our characters, to bring it up to him and he would work with us to change it.
Q: Were you cast on “Continuum?”
A: No, I did audition for it a couple times but unfortunately that show ended its run before I had a chance to be in it.
Q: Discuss your experience on “Van Helsing”
A: When I got cast in “Van Helsing,” I was very excited to work with Michael Nankin, who has had a long tenure with SyFy. I had done a couple workshops with him while studying at the Actor’s Foundry, so it brought me a sense of validity to be able to work with him in that capacity.
Q; How did Mr. Barry come to select you for “Ghost Wars?”
A: That’s something you would have to ask him [laughs]. I’m sure the decision didn’t rest solely with Simon, but that is a very interesting question that I wonder about all the time. When I show up on set after every casting, I always have the urge to ask the director/producer ‘why was I selected?’ Truth be told, in this industry, the best actor often doesn’t get the job.
Q: How has it been working on “Ghost Wars?”
A: It was great, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. The cast and crew were great. We spent some time up in Squamish for the shoot and it was absolutely beautiful. We had dinner with Simon and David (the director) and they told us some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard in my life regarding their experiences in the industry. I had always wanted to play a police officer so that was a huge checkmark off the bucket list.
Q: Your character is particularly nuanced for a horror/thriller, please discuss
A: My character, along with most of the characters in the fiction town of Port Moore, treats Roman Mercer [Avan Jogia] as an outcast. Roman’s mother was into witchcraft and the rumor goes that she has put a curse on this town. After a paranormal bus accident, my mother is among the dead and I blame Roman for the incident until his supernatural abilities are revealed.
Q: How do you prepare a characterization like that?
A: I try to find the everything that is relate-able between my character and myself. Fortunately, Deputy Larry is a very human character, much like the rest of the other characters. When it’s boiled down, it needs to make sense behind the horror and the gore, this was a project that really tried to make sense of every nuance, character motivation and plot. So, as Deputy Larry, I had to find in me what it meant to lose the most important person in my life, and what I would want to do to the person who took that away from me. Apart from envisioning supernatural entities, there wasn’t a whole lot else I needed to work on besides those two dichotomies.
Q: The horror/fantasy genre offers limitless possibilities in plot and action, please discuss working in this style
A: Well, it’s always fun because it is, in a way, the epitome of acting. It’s the reason why kids grow up loving Superman and Batman and the Power Rangers—it brings you into a world of fantasy where you don’t need to be yourself, but it is also constantly evolving. A movie about Batman 20 years ago is considerably different than a movie about Batman today. I just watched “Black Panther” and that movie is so good because it successfully ties in so any historical themes and elements into the fantasy. That way, the films are marketed not only to kids who adore the superheroes, but also the teenagers and adults who just want a film that touches them.
Q: The “Ghost Wars” cast also features some other notable talents, please discuss.
A: The best part about working on this show was definitely the cast. I didn’t see the cast list until a week after I had been cast the project and I was floored when I saw that Vincent D’Onofrio and Meatloaf were involved in it. It was also nostalgic for me to be able to work with Avan Jogia because he was in the first project I’d ever auditioned for (“The Gym Teacher”). I didn’t end up getting that one but it was still a nostalgic feeling to be able to work with him. But D’Onofrio—man! I have a story. We were in the midst of a break while crew was turning over the cameras and Vincent and Jesse (Deputy Norm) are walking by me about to go outside for a smoke. Vincent turns to me and asks “do you want one?” as he’s pointing to his box of Cohiba cigars. I responded, “uh…uh..yeah… I’ll do some.” And Vincent goes, ‘Do some?, it’s a cigar, it’s not drugs.’ I laughed sheepishly and followed the up to the rooftop. The thing is, I never smoked a darn cigar in my life and I inhaled my first bit before being told I wasn’t supposed to do that. I didn’t care, I just couldn’t say no to being able to tell people I had a cigar with Vincent D’Onofrio!
Q: Does SyFy feel like home to you now?
A: I definitely feel comfortable with the science fiction genre. I know what to expect when I do work on it and it makes me all the more excited when I have the opportunity work on that type of show. Though like I mentioned before, all shows are constantly trying to find the best way to connect with their viewers and the core of all good shows are the same, they have to respond with a story that’s human at its core.