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 acting 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. I feel that it is important to keep exploring new techniques, as well.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dawna Lee Heising.
Dawna Lee Heising has acted in over 60 feature films, including John Reign’s award-winning film “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption” and Param Gill’s “Bad President”, which premiered at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival and stars Eddie Griffin. She has been awarded by international film festivals, including Best Shakespearean Actress for “Dark Classics” at the 2019 LANFA Film Festival; Best Actress for her role as Barbie in Dustin Ferguson’s “Nemesis 5: The New Model” at the 2018 LANFA Film Festival; “Actress of the Year” at the 2018 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame Awards, and Best Supporting Actress for Gregory Blair’s “Garden Party Massacre” at the 2018 Lucky Strike Film Festival.
Dawna is trained in Tang Soo Do martial arts, weapons (Jo-staff, kali sticks, pistol), kickboxing, ballet, and pole dancing. She is a former Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Ms. World, Ms. Universe, Miss San Francisco Universe, Miss Orange County Universe, Miss California Hemisphere and Mrs. California United States, 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”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am Chinese, Japanese, and Native American. My Mother, Fumie Lee, is a second generation Japanese American (Nisei), and 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” in her high school. She attended Kaiser Hospital Nursing School in Oakland, CA and 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 during WWII. My Grandfather started another carnation farm in Encinitas after the war, and through hard work made it successful. He and my Grandmother continued to live frugally in the same house where they raised their seven children.
My Uncle Jack Fujimoto was the first Asian American to become President of a major higher education institution in the mainland of the United States when he became President of Sacramento City College in 1977. He was awarded with Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun award on November 15, 2011, for his contributions to the advancement of Japanese studies and culture. My Uncle Tak Fujimoto is a legendary cinematographer who is known for his work on such films as “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “The Sixth Sense,” etc. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and attended film school in the U.K. He has been a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) since 1997.
My Father, Don N. Lee, came to the US from China by himself at the age of 10. He lived in the back of a relative’s laundry in New York 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 was a respected and renowned aeronautical engineer and one of the innovators who developed the Patriot Missile. He earned a M.S. Degree in Electrical Engineering and 11 computer patents. After retiring from engineering at the age of 70, he returned to Claremont University to earn a M.S. in teaching and taught math and chemistry in a high school in an underprivileged neighborhood. One of my ancestors on my Father’s side 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. It has been difficult to track down the details so we do not know which tribe it was, but my Dad always said that his Native American heritage is where he got his dark skin and high cheekbones. My father died six years ago at a Burke Williams Spa.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been drawn to performing. I was a cheerleader in junior high, on the dance squad in high school and a cheerleader at Cypress College, where I earned an A.S. in Chemistry. I have taken ballet and jazz dancing from a very young age. I am a very obsessive personality and have entered at least 100 pageants, and I won or placed in all of them. I am a former Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Ms. World, Ms. Universe, Miss Orange County Universe, Miss Orange County America, Miss California Hemisphere and Mrs. California United States, among many other titles. I won Miss San Francisco Universe while attending U.C. Berkeley and was discovered for “Fantasy Island”. I played Miss Hawaii in “Fantasy Island”, and Cleo the Snake Dancer in the last episode of “Magnum P.I.” with Tom Selleck. I was also cast as the Hawaiian Governor’s wife in an episode of “The New Gidget”, which was directed by Ted Lange.
After that, I took a break from acting, and earned a B.S. in Business Management and MBA from Pepperdine University. I became a marketing director for hardware and software technology companies. I built four marketing departments from the ground up, and handled advertising, public relations, and trade shows. I eventually became the vice-president of marketing for a point-of-sale software start-up company. I returned to my first love of acting eight years ago.
Can you share a story about an event that happened to you since you began your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
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 so 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 extremely honored and grateful to have gotten the role, and I am still striving for that BIG break lol!!!
None of us can 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 filmmaker John Reign, who has taken my career to a whole new level with his amazing film “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption”. It is a film that I really believe in and that I am enormously proud of. “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption” is the story of John Kayhill, a U.S. Army veteran of the Bosnian War, who is trying to overcome the effects of the PTSD he suffered. His wife Skye, his mentally disabled brother Rod and he journey on an old sidecar motorcycle that was given to John by a close war buddy, who had recently died from a heart attack. John decides to travel to the family of one of his fallen veteran brothers to bring closure for them, but also for him. The film follows the trio through an inspirational journey of trials and triumphs, which enables John to find his road to redemption. “Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption” won the Best Feature Film Award at the 2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival, where I served as the Festival Queen. The film was slated to be shown at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and after that, to be shown nationally through AMC Theaters. When the pandemic hit, the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival was cancelled, and AMC Theaters closed. This heartwarming action/comedy/drama is available on Amazon Prime at:
I am grateful to genius award-winning filmmaker Dustin Ferguson, who has given me many wonderful roles. Dustin has every shot lined up in his head so his film shoots are always productive, efficient and fun. Dustin gave me my very favorite role in his film “Nemesis 5: The New Model”, which was executive produced by Albert Pyun. He also gave me the starring role in the action revenge film “RoboWoman”, which was so much fun to shoot! “RoboWoman” had so many stars in it, including Aki Aleong, Mel Novak, Brinke Stevens, Sue Price, Gregory Blair, Jonathan Nation, Vida Ghaffari, Ken May, Thom Michael Mulligan and so many more!
I am grateful for my Rockstar 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. He is always there to keep me from being used, because I always want to see the good in people. I am very honored to be with the Williamson Management Company because Joe has turned down so many people and only manages a handful of people. I feel very blessed to be one of them!
I am extremely grateful to legendary actor and filmmaker Aki Aleong, who took me under his wing and made me the vice president of his Mustard Seed Media company. 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!
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
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 acting 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. I feel that it is important to keep exploring new techniques, as well. I started with the Strasberg method at the Friends & Artists Theatre with Sid, then studied the Uta Hagen method with June Barfield. I am now studying the Uta Hagen method at South Coast Repertory with Matthew Arkin and Shakespearean acting with Karole Foreman.
Another important thing to prepare yourself for is the rejection that is a part of the 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. Just believe in yourself and your skills, surround yourself with supportive family, friends and management who are happy for your success, and stay POSITIVE!!!
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I am proud of having performed the challenging Lady Macbeth Scene 5; Act I monologue in Brian Barsuglia’s documentary “A Bard for the Ages: Shakespeare’s Timeless Effect”. I was honored to work with the great Eddie Griffin, alongside Robert Amico and Emmy and Golden Globe-winner Justin Shenkarow, in Param Gill’s “Bad President”, which premiered at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. I play Ashley Flowers in Brian Barsuglia’s award-winning feature film “Social Distance”, starring Vern Wells. 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! I have also just been cast as a doctor in award-winning filmmaker Rod Smith’s “Distortion”, which has a fantastic script!
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share with our readers why you think it is important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
I think the film industry is doing a good 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 of “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, including “Transparent”, “Empire” and “Stranger Things”.
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, etc. as they are, then it is easy to stereotype and/or 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?
I do not know the answer, but it would be great if we all could come up with a great way to end homelessness, and to take care of our homeless population. Los Angeles is like a tent city downtown and the problem has gotten so bad that the area is infested with rats. I think that our homeless Veterans should be first in line to be helped and that we need to bring experts together to help find a solution to the homeless situation.
With the mass shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, I also would like to start a movement for love and acceptance of all people. We need to increase our awareness and treatment of mental health issues, and to do something about the senseless killing of innocent people by extremists.
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices, or treatments that you do to help your body, mind, or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I have a home gym and I exercise every day. I am currently taking online martial arts lessons with Sabumnim Rick St. Clair and am learning to use the Jo-staff and Kali sticks. My Tang Soo Do martial arts classes have been shut down due to the pandemic, but I practice my katas every day.
One of the most important aspects of self-care is relieving stress. One of my mentors is Christina Howard, the founder and CEO of CVH 1st Class Magazine. Christina is a warm and caring international humanitarian, and she is also the founder of an organization called Sandwich Angels. The Sandwich Angels are a team of volunteers who help the homeless and hungry of Manchester and Tameside in the United Kingdom by making and distributing sandwiches. I have looked up to Christina for many years ever since she featured me on the cover of her award-winning magazine CVH 1st Class. We both believe that we have Guardian Angels who watch over and protect us. She led me to Psalm 5, which I say every day:
- Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.
- Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
- My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee and will look up.
- For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
- The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
- Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
- But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.
- Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.
- For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
- Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.
- But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.
- For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite saying is “Carpe Diem”, which means “Live for the Day”. My favorite quote is by Ayn Rand:
“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.”
I have always tried to make the most out of every day because life is short, and we are not promised tomorrow. I have also 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 is 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 the Southern California area practicing for 10 years or fewer. Both of my daughters are incredible mothers and I am extremely proud of them.
I am never satisfied with the status quo, and I am always trying to improve in all areas of my life. I am always striving to learn more to become a better mother, daughter, wife, grandmother, actress and all-around person. 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 want and becoming the person you want to me.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
My Demo Reel:
IMDb Pro Link:
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!