Another important thing to prepare yourself for is the rejection that is a part of show business. Actors get rejected every day, from submissions to auditions to callbacks and then reviews. Along the way, when you become more successful, Internet trolls emerge to try to tear you down and other industry professionals may start to view you as competition. Just believe in yourself and your skills, surround yourself with supportive family, friends and management who are happy for your success, and stay POSITIVE!
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of Dawna Lee Heising.
Dawna Lee Heising has acted in over 80 feature films, alongside legendary actors such as Eddie Griffin, Tommy Wiseau, Aki Aleong, Danny Trejo, Eric Roberts, Lorenzo Lamas, Mel Novak, Robert Amico, Justin Shenkarow, Manu Intiraymi, and others. Her recent films include Param Gill’s “Bad President”, which premiered at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival and stars Eddie Griffin; “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption”, which won Best Picture at the 2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival; and Richard Rossi’s “Canaan Land”, which is up for Oscar consideration. She is trained in Tang Soo Do martial arts, weapons (Jo-staff, kali sticks, guns), kickboxing, ballet, and pole dancing. She is a former Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Ms. World 2008, Ms. Universe 2009, Miss San Francisco Universe, Miss Orange County Universe, Miss California Hemisphere and Mrs. California United States 2000, among many other titles. She has a B.S. Degree in Business Management and MBA from Pepperdine University. Her uncle is legendary director Tak Fujimoto, and her cousins George Daugherty and David Wong won a Primetime Emmy Award for “Peter and the Wolf on Broadway”.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/133abafe4c70328f55fd3ca5bcc7c6ca
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am Chinese, Japanese, and Native American. My mother Fumie Lee was interned during World War II at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona with her family when she was a child. My mother graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class and was voted “Most Beautiful”. She worked as a Charge Nurse at UCI Medical Center for many years. My grandparents Morizo and Emi Fujimoto emigrated from Japan and ran a carnation farm in Carlsbad, which they lost when the family was interned at Poston. My grandfather started another carnation farm in Encinitas after the war, and through hard work made it successful.
My uncle Jack Fujimoto was the first Asian American to become President of a major higher education institution in the mainland United States when he became President of Sacramento City College in 1977. My uncle Tak Fujimoto is a legendary Director of Photography who is known for his work on such films as “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “The Sixth Sense,” etc.
My father Don N. Lee came to the United States from China by himself at the age of 10 and joined the Air Force at 15. He remained a proud member of Amvets.org throughout his lifetime. He graduated from Stanford University and USC and earned a M.S. Degree in Electrical Engineering from Ryder College. My father became a renowned aeronautical engineer and was one of the innovators who developed the Patriot Missile. He earned 11 computer patents for his work. One of my Chinese ancestors came to California to work on the railroads in the 1800’s and returned to China with a baby he conceived with a Native American woman.
My cousins David Ka Lik Wong and George Daugherty won a Primetime Emmy for “Peter and the Wolf” on Broadway. They were also nominated for a Daytime Emmy for “Rhythm and Jam” and “Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat”. George is an award-winning music conductor, and he and David have traveled the world performing their long-running show “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”.
My husband Paul was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for New Products for Hunt-Wesson, where he introduced the Healthy Choice food line. He also introduced Flavored Alka Seltzer for Bayer and has a patent for Orville Redenbacher popcorn. He is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and teaches part time at Chapman University, Santa Monica College, and UCLA. My daughter Marissa was a top sales representative for Sanofi-Aventis and her husband Sammy is a network administrator. My daughter Misty is a psychiatrist at UCLA Medical Center and my son-in-law Tim is an orthopedic doctor at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved performing and began training in ballet and jazz dancing when I was very young. I was a cheerleader all through school, and was on the dance squad at Cypress College, where I earned an A.S. in Chemistry. I also earned an A.A. in Theater Arts from Fullerton College, where I studied acting with Sal Romeo, and joined Sal‘s Friends & Artists Theatre company on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.
Being a very driven person, I have competed in over 100 pageants, and I was fortunate to have won or placed in all of them. I am a former Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Ms. World, Ms. Universe, Miss San Francisco Universe, Miss Orange County Universe, Miss Orange County America, Miss California Hemisphere and Mrs. California United States, among many other titles.
While attending U.C. Berkeley, I won Miss San Francisco Universe and was discovered for “Fantasy Island”, where I played Miss Hawaii. I played Cleo the Snake Dancer in the last episode of “Magnum P.I.” with Tom Selleck, a cage dancer in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, the village sorceress in “Forbidden Warrior”, a ghost in “My Science Project”, a lady of the night in “Bring ’Em Back Alive”, “Matt Houston” and “Tales of the Gold Monkey”, and the Hawaiian Governor’s wife in “The New Gidget”, which was directed by Ted Lange. In my early acting career, I had small parts in very BIG projects.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It was a fantastic experience to work with the great Eddie Griffin in Param Gill’s hilarious feature film “Bad President”, which premiered at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. “Bad President” stars Griffin, Jeff Rector and Stormy Daniels. Param Gill co-wrote and directed “Bad President” and Eddie Griffin stars as Luther (the Devil). Robert Amico, Justin Shenkarow, and I play Eddie’s minions: Shame, Anger and Misery. Robert is a graduate of the Actors Studio in New York, and Justin won an Emmy and Golden Globe Award for “Pickett Fences”.
It is wonderful to work with pros like Robert and Justin because their energy is contagious, and they give you so much to work with. All of our scenes were with Eddie, who is an incredible talent. He would keep us all laughing between scenes, and then instantly become Luther as soon as the cameras started rolling. We all stayed at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas during the August 2019 shoot. I became good friends with assistant director Meilani Wenska, who worked closely with Robert in his position as producer during the shoot. It really opened my eyes to all of the daunting behind-the-scenes work that must be done on big budget SAG productions. A major highlight of the shoot was attending Eddie Griffin’s comedy show as his special guests with the rest of the cast and crew. I am now a major Eddie Griffin fan for life!
Jeff Rector does an amazing job as Trump, and director Param Gill is a genius. The screenplay, co-written by Gill and by the late journalist John Buchanan, is based on real life events, so whether you are for or against Trump, you will love this film. “Bad President” is slated to be released to theaters nationally and internationally in 2021, and is now available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and other streaming platforms.
What challenges have you overcome in your career?
Early in my career, I auditioned for the role of Cleo the Snake Dancer on the last “Magnum P.I.” with Tom Selleck. “Magnum P.I.” was shot in Hawaii where it was illegal to film with snakes, so they were looking for an actress in California. I was extremely excited when I got the role and I thought it was my BIG break! I danced with the snake all day with the trainer just off camera. When the two-part finale episode screened, I saw that my dance with the snake had turned into a HUGE billboard behind Tom Selleck sitting on the curb. I am still honored and grateful to have gotten the role, and I am still striving for that BIG break lol!
Right after I got the part of Cleo the Snake Dancer and had just signed with a great talent agent, I suddenly became the sole support for my two young daughters. I had to leave show business, and I moved in with my mother and went to work as a temp at Hunt-Wesson. I later moved to Epson America, which is a division of Seiko, as a Product Planner for desktop and notebook computers. With the help of my companies, I enrolled at Pepperdine University to finish my education. My mother is the reason my two daughters are so successful in their careers, and have remained humble, empathetic, considerate and, most important of all, NICE people today.
I earned a B.S. in Business Management and MBA from Pepperdine University and was hired as a Marketing Director for hardware and software technology companies. I built four Marketing Departments from the ground up, handling public relations, advertising, business plans and trade shows. I worked my way up to be the Vice President of Marketing for SpotSync, a POS software company. During my business career, I missed acting so much that I started my television interview show “Eye on Entertainment”. “Eye on Entertainment” won Outstanding Television Interview Show at the 2013 EOTM Awards and Best Television Interview Show at the 2017 WIND International Film Festival. I was also awarded Best Television Host at the 2017 WIND International Film Festival. “Eye on Entertainment” can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/user/eyeonentertainment
I left the business world and returned to acting full-time ten years ago. I am very grateful to my mother for taking care of my daughters and allowing me to finish my education. My MBA at Pepperdine University has enabled me to prepare for success in the film industry. When I returned to acting, digital cameras had taken over and anyone could make a film. I have learned through experience that it takes careful thought and planning and production knowledge and training to make a good film.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am proud of having performed the challenging Lady Macbeth Act 5 Scene 1 monologue from “Macbeth” in B. Luciano Barsuglia’s award-winning documentary “A Bard for the Ages: Shakespeare’s Timeless Effect”. The scene was filmed by director Craig Railsback and edited by Dr. Renah Wolzinger, and we were so happy with the resulting video that we released it as a short film called “Dark Classics”. I was honored to win Best Actress for “Dark Classics” at the 2019 LANFA Film Festival. I play Ashley Flowers in Barsuglia’s multi-award-winning psychological horror film “Social Distance”, starring Vern Wells and Jed Rowen. I am also a producer on Barsuglia’s upcoming feature film “The Electric Man”, starring Eric Roberts, Tom Sizemore, and Vern Wells.
I portrayed the character of Skye in John Reign’s war drama “Finding Purpose”, and I reprised the role of Skye in Reign’s big budget sequel “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption”, which won Best Feature Film at the 2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival. Legendary actor Aki Aleong portrays my father in “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption”, which has received rave reviews. The heartwarming action/adventure/drama was slated to be shown nationwide through AMC Theaters before the pandemic hit.
I play Connie in my first faith-based film, Richard Rossi’s “Canaan Land”, which stars Richard and Rebecca Holden of “Knight Rider” fame. “Canaan Land” has been accepted for Academy Award consideration and was released for streaming in January 2021. Director Craig Railsback and editor Renah Wolzinger recently filmed me doing the Act 5 Scene 1 monologue from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” for filmmaker and actor Tony Mardon’s “The Witches of the Sands”. We are so happy with the results that we may release it as a short film in the future. I was honored to work with Christian Calloway and James L. Brewer in award-winning filmmaker Christopher Baiza’s “Xmas”.
I am excited to be playing Dr. Epstein in award-winning screenwriter Rod Smith’s “Distortion”, which has an amazing, all-star cast including Sadie Katz, Helene Udy, Lainee Rhodes and Tatiana Larrea. “Distortion” is a mystery suspense thriller, which is based upon lies and deceit and the desire for power. It is the story of five women, who are each hiding their lives behind a distortion of reality. My character of Dr. Epstein is a psychologist, but she is also a Gnostic Witch, who wants the obtain the power of a demon. It is a fantastic role, and I am very honored that Rod Smith cast me! Rod wrote “Mayday” and “Lockdown”, both of which were released by Lionsgate.
I have the lead role of Nikki Carter in Walter Hochbrueckner’s feature film “The Paradise Motel”. The film is scheduled for release on Halloween 2021, and follows an abused wife as she traverses Route 66 and escapes to Paradise, which isn’t always. The story is a twisty tale of murder and terror in unexpected ways, and I am excited to play the challenging role of the abused wife.
I will also be working with Aki Aleong and JJ Stomp on an action martial arts film in Spring 2021, where I will be playing Aki’s wife, tentatively called “The Assassin Unleashed”. I am super excited to be playing a villainess in Michael Dailey and Rod Smith’s family film about a mermaid this Summer. The film is called “Adrina”, and Rod wrote the incredible screenplay. Aki will also have a role in the film as a protector of the children who lives on the beach.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Why do you think it is important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I believe that the film industry is doing a great job of addressing diversity issues these days. The success of films celebrating the Asian culture such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Last Farewell” are testament to the fact that times are changing. The success of “Black Panther” and the Oscar wins for “Moonlight” and “Green Book” show the advancement in equality of the Black community. More women and film professionals of color have been added to the Academy Award voting community, and there are many more films and television shows celebrating the LGBQT community. The Disney Channel has a bisexual lead character on “The Owl House” series, and the Pixar short “Out” features the studio’s first gay lead character.
The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, races, and nationalities. It is important for the unity of our nation that our diversity is represented in film and on television. It is also especially important to show the youth of our nation that people of all races and cultures can co-exist as one. Diversity makes people of all races feel accepted. Bigotry can stem from isolation. If people are surrounded only by others of the same race, sexual preference, and religious beliefs as they are, then it is easy to stereotype people and make false assumptions based on lack of knowledge of people of different communities. Diversity in television programs and in films can communicate the experiences of other cultures, races, and communities, and help teach our young people tolerance of all aspects of the United States and of the world.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
These are incredibly challenging times for our country. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact in the United States has exposed long-standing inequalities by race, ethnicity, and income. Confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are disproportionately higher in communities with larger Black and Latino populations. Contributing to these outcomes is the likelihood that people of color live in poverty and reside in neighborhoods with overcrowded households, air pollution, and inadequate access to health care. Beyond this, the pandemic has pushed the United States into an economic recession, which impacts already disadvantaged people more severely than the rest of society.
Our country is in crisis, and it is not just from the coronavirus pandemic. Americans are in the middle of an epidemic of hatred that has left most of us feeling hopeless and exhausted. There is a growing division in our country between the Left and the Right, between the advantaged and disadvantaged, between different social classes, between different races, and between liberal and conservative beliefs. This had led to the uprising of radical hate groups on both ends of the political spectrum, as evidenced by the riots that we have endured all through 2020 and the siege on Washington at the beginning of 2021.
We all need to work together to break the cycle of disillusionment and hopelessness that crushes the spirit of so many Americans. We need to bring understanding, peace, compassion, and empathy back to the American people. Charity starts at home. We need to try to teach our children that the most important thing in the world is kindness and being nice to those around us. We need to teach our children to care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We need a movement to try to unite the American people to work together for the good of our country.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
The best advice that I can give to anyone is to:
- Prepare yourself with a good education as a basis, and then keep training after that. There are so many talented people in Hollywood with the best educations that you need to be well-trained just to keep up. Some of the best training experiences I have had have been on stage. I played Mei Li in “Flower Drum Song” and killed myself to learn the incredibly hard songs (not entirely successfully — lol!), but it was a fantastic acting experience to train myself to cry every night on stage.
- Another important thing to prepare yourself for is the rejection that is a part of show business. Actors get rejected every day, from submissions to auditions to callbacks and then reviews. Along the way, when you become more successful, Internet trolls emerge to try to tear you down and other industry professionals may start to view you as competition. Just believe in yourself and your skills, surround yourself with supportive family, friends and management who are happy for your success, and stay POSITIVE!
- I feel that it is important to keep exploring new Acting techniques to reach your highest potential. I started with the Strasberg method at Fullerton College and the Friends & Artists Theatre with Sal Romeo, then studied the Uta Hagen method privately with June Barfield. I am now studying the Uta Hagen method at South Coast Repertory with Matthew Arkin, Alan Arkin’s son, and Shakespearean acting with Karole Foreman.
- I try to always stretch my acting range and grow with each role that I do. I loved combining horror and comedy with my roles of Melanie in Gregory Blair’s “Garden Party Massacre” and Adam Steigert’s “The Horrific Evil Monsters”. The role of Lucifer’s wife Esmeralda in William Lee’s “Black Mamba” required her to be dominant and power-hungry, but also required comedy and action. Skye Kayhill in John Reign’s “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption” is one of my favorite characters, and went through a wide range of emotions, including love, happiness, worry, fear, and loss. At the same time, the role required tons of action stunts and comedy.
- Most importantly, make sure that you read the script FIRST before agreeing to do any project, and make sure that the project is funded! Concentrate on creating a background for your character and learning your lines and understanding every scene. Stay out of any petty conflicts on or off set and focus ALL of your energy on becoming your character, feeling real emotions, and working with your scene partners to make the story come to life.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To continually improve takes hard work, dedication, education, meditation, and drive. Many years ago, when I was attending U.C. Berkeley, I was assigned a book called “The Psychology of Winning” by Dr. Denis Waitley, and I have always followed the ten principles of positive self-awareness, positive self-esteem, positive self-control, positive self-motivation, positive self-expectancy, positive self-image, positive self-direction, positive self-discipline, positive self-dimension, and positive self-projection. What these tenets have in common are positivity, and I believe that being positive is vital to success and having the life that you desire and becoming the person you want to be.
I have always exercised every day, studied every day to learn something new and connected with the important people in my life. I continue to study Acting, to practice Tang Soo Do martial arts, and to see my family as much as I can. This year I have trained with my Sabumnim Master Rick St. Clair and have learned to use the Jo-Staff and Kali sticks. I lift weights and have discovered intermittent fasting to stay in shape. It has been hard during the Coronavirus quarantine to see my family as much as I want to, but I visit my Mother every week and bring her food and talk through the screen door. The quarantine has forced my husband, who is a Certified Financial Planner. and who is a Type A personality and who is even more driven and successful than I am, to work from home and has brought us closer together.
How I Define Success:
I have always been a very driven, achievement-oriented, goal-focused, Type A personality. I am never satisfied with the status quo, and I am always trying to improve in every area of my life. I am always striving to learn more to become a better mother, daughter, wife, grandmother, actress and all-around person.
I have never been afraid to go after what I want in life. I have taught my children that the sky is the limit to what we can accomplish in this life and we are only limited by how hard we are willing to work to achieve our goals. I have raised my two daughters to set their sights high and to realize the value of a good education. My daughter Marissa was a top sales representative for Sanofi-Aventis and my daughter Dr. Misty Richards is a psychiatrist at UCLA and has just been named to the 2021 Southern California Rising Stars list, which celebrates the best doctors in Southern California who have been practicing for 10 years or fewer. Both of my daughters are incredible mothers, and I am extremely proud of them.
I am grateful and honored to have received awards for my acting by international film festivals, including Best Actress for playing Lady Macbeth in “Dark Classics” at the 2019 LANFA Film Festival; Best Actress for my role as the cyborg Barbie in Dustin Ferguson’s “Nemesis 5: The New Model” at the 2018 LANFA Film Festival; Best Actress for my role of Naomi in Jared Masters’ “Teachers’ Day” at the 2014 Shockfest Film Festival; and Best Supporting Actress for Gregory Blair’s “Garden Party Massacre” at the 2018 Lucky Strike Film Festival. I have also won eight Best Ensemble acting awards for “Garden Party Massacre”.
I was especially honored to win “Actress of the Year” at the 2018 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame Awards, and I am grateful to Grand Master Dr. Jim Thomas, the CEO of the Awards. I was privileged to serve as Mrs. Golden Global 2018 and as the Queen of the 2018 WIND International Film Festival. It was an amazing experience in 2019 to be the Queen of Petra Deeter’s Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival, and to co-host the Awards Ceremony with Manu Intiraymi and Marle Schaefer at the historic Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. My mentor Aki Aleong was presented with the Trailblazer Award and Academy Award winner (for “Visas and Virtue”) Chris Tashima won the Innovative Artist Award.
My main goal in the entertainment industry is to do lead roles in quality feature films and on network and cable television. I want to become the best actress that I can be. I have learned through experience that a great script is the backbone of a great project, and I am becoming much more selective in the roles that I accept. I started my acting career in big budget films and in network television and I want to return to that level of quality.
I have signed with talent agent Diana Carter, the CEO of the Arykas and Ybots Talent Management Company, which is based out of Hollywood with offices in New York City, Atlanta, and London. Diana is a United States Army Veteran and is a force of nature! She is highly educated, with a master’s degree and PhD, and she has been nominated for 2021 FORBES inaugural Top Next 1000, inspiring entrepreneurs on their way to great success. The Next 1000 list celebrates the ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded and pre-revenue startups who are redefining what it means to build and run a business today, especially in the “new normal.”
Diana is a high-powered Hollywood film producer, talent agent, casting director, distribution rep and senior Public Relations analyst. She is as achievement-oriented, focused, motivated, hard-working, and driven for success as I am, if not MORE so, and I am certain that she will help me get where I want to go!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I am very thankful to many people who have helped me in my career. I am grateful to my good friend and great actor Robert Amico, who plays Shame and is a producer on “Bad President”. Robert is the most supportive friend that I have in Hollywood. He came to the “RoboWoman” premiere and to the “Nemesis 5” signing event at Dark Delicacies. He also attended Edward Payson’s Anti-Hero Film Festival with me to watch my film “Dark Classics”. Robert called me in July 2019 and told me to call director Param Gill about the role of Misery. He had recommended me and Justin Shenkarow for the roles of Luther’s minions, Misery and Anger, and I was hired during my call with Param, who is also genuinely nice and supportive!
I am grateful to all of the wonderful filmmakers who have hired me to work on their productions. I have learned something new from every film, and I have developed numerous long-time friendships in this industry.
I am extremely grateful to legendary actor and filmmaker Aki Aleong, who took me under his wing, rehearsed roles with me, and made me the vice president of his Mustard Seed Media company. I am also grateful for my manager Joe Williamson, who believes in my talent and who always has my back. He also offers me a huge shoulder to cry on, when negativity and trolls and jealousies emerge, which unfortunately happens often in this business.
And of course, I could not be in this business without the support of my wonderful husband Paul, who is even smarter, more driven, and more successful than I am, and my wonderful, beautiful Mom, who is proud of everything I do!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”
– Ayn Rand
I also believe in Carpe Diem and living for the day. I have always tried to make the most out of every day because life is short, and we are not promised tomorrow. This is something that I have successful instilled in my daughters, and they both make me very proud.
How can our readers follow you online?
My Demo Reel:
IMDb Pro Link:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!