My hour-long interview with Dawna Lee Heising didn’t seem like an hour at all, since we had a lot to talk about and she was such a pleasure to talk with. Dawna has done nearly everything on a film set, on both sides of the camera. She’s an actress, model, dancer, producer, and entertainment journalist who’s also experienced on both sides of the interview mic. For More Horror magazine, as well as her own website, Eye On Entertainment, Dawna’s interviewed literally hundreds of people in show biz. Those who are part of the Hollywood scene as well as those who are in town to make an appearance at an event or award show. Dawna shows the same genuine interest and charm, whether she’s talking with a relatively unknown talent just starting out, or an A-lister ….and she doesn’t have an unkind word to say about anyone. I found her to be a very sweet and personable lady with a great sense of humor, who just happens to also be a glamours bombshell who pole dances and does bikini modeling.
Since I covered so much with Dawna, her interview here is being presented in two parts. Topics covered in this first part include her family (all of whom are very successful, whether in show biz or otherwise), her behind-the-scenes roles, her interview work with her show Eye On Entertainment, and her modeling. Of course, we also touch on her acting roles, but that will be delved into much more in Part 2. Above photo by David J. McNeil.
CHRIS CHARLES: How are you this afternoon, Dawna?
DAWNA LEE HEISING: I’m great! I’m really excited to be doing this interview with you.
CHRIS: It’s my pleasure. You’re one of the ladies who’ve been on my interview radar for some time now so I’m really glad that this is finally happening. First, I’d like to get started with a little about you. You were born in Vallejo, California and your father was in the Air Force?
DAWNA: Yes, my father died three years ago. My father came from China and he was so proud to be an American and to be a veteran. He was a member of AMVETS.
CHRIS: Ah, I can definitely appreciate that, as I’m a veteran myself. So, I wouldn’t take you for Asian just at a glance, but I understand you’re Chinese and Native American on your father’s side and Japanese on your mother’s side, correct?
DAWNA: Yes, probably because my hair’s blonde, but I am. I’m very proud to be Asian. It’s a good story on my father’s side. My great-great-grandfather came over from China and worked on the railroads in Seattle. That’s how I got the American Indian, and then he took a baby back to China. I actually work for Aki Aleong. I’m the vice president for publicity for his Mustard Seed Media Group, and Aki has this wonderful film called Chinaman’s Chance, and it’s about the Chinese working on the railroad. So, I can’t wait until that one comes out.
CHRIS: When should that be out?
DAWNA: Well, he’s been working on it for 10 years. It’s got so many stars in Hollywood in it. It’s got Reggie Lee, Danny Trejo, Michael Madsen, Olivia Hussey from Romeo and Juliet. He started it in standard definition so he’s re-editing it now.
CHRIS: Sounds like a great cast. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that. You come from a show biz family. Your uncle is cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, who’s known for his work on such films as Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, The Sixth Sense.
DAWNA: Yes, I’m really proud of my uncle, He’s actually in textbooks.
CHRIS: And your cousin is producer David Ka Lik Wong, who’s an Emmy-winner.
DAWNA: He won a Primetime Emmy for Peter and the Wolf on Broadway. He won it with his partner George Daugherty, who’s a classically trained conductor. They were also nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Rhythm and Jam and for other awards for the children’s series Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat. They write, direct, and produce their shows and are both incredibly talented. We go and watch them at the Hollywood Bowl every year because they perform Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, which is a show that they also produce.
CHRIS: Wow, sounds like an amazing family.
DAWNA: They are. I’m really proud of my family. My dad went back to college at 70. He already had a master’s in engineering and he had 11 computer patents, but he went back and got his MBA from Claremont College and then he taught high school math and chemistry.
CHRIS: And I understand you’re a Pepperdine University alumna where you received your MBA. That school’s in a great location near Malibu. You were there for six years?
DAWNA: Yes, six years. I have a B.S. in business management and an MBA from Pepperdine University and have developed four technology marketing and public relations departments from the ground up.
CHRIS: I also understand you were a volunteer public relations professional for Engeye Health Clinic in Uganda. Please tell me how you got involved with the clinic and your role.
DAWNA: My daughter Misty, is a Fulbright scholar and a psychiatrist at UCLA. She went to Albany Medical College where she met Stephanie Van Dyke, who’s the founder of Engeye Health Clinic. My daughter has been to Uganda three times to volunteer at Engeye. It was to help the people of Ddegya Villiage in Uganda because they don’t have a health clinic. They get free medical services and Stephanie is really wonderful. She’s now gone back to Seattle, where her family’s from, and I did publicity for Engeye Health Clinic for four years and my daughter was on the board.
CHRIS: That’s really admirable. You have two daughters, correct? DAWNA: Yes, my other daughter Marissa did a Contour Chair commercial with Art Linkletter when she was very young and is now an award-winning pharmaceutical rep at Sanofi-Aventis. CHRIS: How about your grandparents? I understand there’s an interesting story there, too. DAWNA: My grandparents are from Japan and my mom’s family was sent to the Poston Relocation Camp in Arizona when she was very young. My grandfather lost his land when they were sent to the camp, but had a carnation farm in Encinitas after that and made millions in Japanese stocks. My uncle Jack Fujimoto was the first Asian American to become president of a major higher education institution in the US mainland when he became president of Sacramento City College in 1977. He was awarded with Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun award in 2011 for his contributions to the advancement of Japanese language studies. My husband is certified financial planner with his own company and has been awarded the Five Star Wealth Manager Award every year since 2012 by Los Angeles magazine. One of my sisters is a Harvard-trained lawyer and my other sister is a nurse practitioner and a director for three hospitals.
CHRIS: So, a very successful family. Now on to you. You’re resume reads like you’ve don’t pretty much everything on both sides of the camera. Besides acting, directing, and producing, you’ve done many behind-the-scenes roles, such as makeup, wardrobe, editorial, and visual effects. Have you pretty much experienced everything there is to do on a movie set?
DAWNA: I pretty much have. A lot of it’s through my show, Eye On Entertainment, and that’s shown through Time Warner Cable. I had to learn how to use a camera and I’ve done people’s makeup and I’ve done my own for years.
CHRIS: I see you even have stunt credits.
DAWNA: As far as the stunts; I’m a pole dancer. When you’re in indie films, you kind of have to be involved in everything. I guess you don’t have to, but I’m a Type A personality so I’m pretty obsessive about that type of thing (laughs). Being in the business, I kinda want to do everything. I think I told you, I worked for marketing departments when I was still studying technology. I’ve used my MBA for a lot of different things. I actually just came back to acting five years ago. When I came back, I came with the same mindset; that I wanted to learn everything.
CHRIS: You have some stunt credits that aren’t for pole dancing scenes, don’t you?
DAWNA: I’ve done some fight scenes, I used a sword in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance and in a video from Mike McCafferty called Dawna of Time. (Author’s Note: LOVE that title) Mostly it’s the pole dancing but I’ve taken Tae Kwon Do, and I’ve used that in a couple of videos and movies. I used a gun in Natural Born Filmmakers and Awesome Girl Gang Street Fighter. I love action. I’m supposed to be the lead in a film called Carlos Dunn’s Alanbane, but I’m not sure where that stands right now.
CHRIS: Like another lady I recently interviewed whom you’re close friends with, Vida Ghafarri, you’ve conducted many interviews, as well as given them. Would you say you’re equally as comfortable on either side of the interview mic?
DAWNA: I think I’m probably more comfortable interviewing people. I have more experience with that.
CHRIS: In fact, you’ve interviewed Vida?
DAWNA: Yes, that’s how I met her, actually. I’ve been doing Eye On Entertainment for about 10 years with my producer John Cox, so we’ve interviewed probably almost everyone in the horror scene in Hollywood! (laughs). So, I can interview in my sleep now. Probably not as extensively as you. I’m just really impressed with all the research that you do. But, I’ve only been interviewed maybe 10 times so I’m kinda nervous.
CHRIS: (Laughs) Ah, okay. Well, you don’t seem like it, you’re great. By the way, have the roles ever been reversed with Vida? Has she interviewed you?
DAWNA: I don’t think so but we’ve acted together. We’re really close friends, I talk to her all the time. So it’s like we interview each other because we’re both in the business (laughs). She introduced me to my new manager, Joe Williamson. I’m so excited to be with him.
CHRIS: Yes, I know Joe. He’s a great guy and has referred some actresses to me for interviews, such as Vida and Michelle Tomlinson. So, are you still the Hollywood correspondent for More Horror magazine?
DAWNA: Yeah, actually Seth Metoyer is wonderful. I do love interviewing people and I won an EOTM Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host for Eye On Entertainment, but the last two years, I’ve really put a lot of effort into my acting career. Now what I really do is interview for the films that I’m in. Seth has just been wonderful in helping me promote those films.
CHRIS:Eye On Entertainment is a show that you founded?
DAWNA: Yes. That’s a show on Time Warner Cable and I use it to publicize the films I do that aren’t horror. A lot of people think I’m only in horror, but I’ve done a lot of films that are comedies or dramas, too.
CHRIS: Yes, a lot of indie actresses get the label “horror actress” or even “Scream Queen,” even though they’ve done a variety of genres. Have you ever been referred to in the media as a Scream Queen?
DAWNA: Um ….I probably have been. I would be honored to be a Scream Queen but I think you really have to have a body of work to be a real Scream Queen. I haven’t been in any of the legendary horror films, so I wouldn’t call myself a Scream Queen but I would be honored if anyone did call me that.
CHRIS: Who have been some of your favorite people to interview?
DAWNA: Oh, there have been so many but I have to start with Bill Oberst Jr. He was probably one of my first interviews and he is so nice. He is the nicest person I’ve ever met, and he plays all of these evil characters completely unlike him (laughs). Another one is Domiziano Arcangeli. I’ve interviewed him quite a few times and I’ve been lucky enough to act with him lately. Domi is incredible. He was discovered in Italy by Helmut Newton when he was 12 years old, so he’s had just an incredible career. And my latest interview has been with Bill Moseley. He’s a legendary figure in the horror industry and I was so impressed with him. He has a degree from Yale. I actually met and got to know him during an interview I did for Bobby Easley and it was a really interesting film where they were doing voices and Bobby used those green toy soldiers that kids play with. He did an entire film based on that, called The Devil Dogs of Kilo Company. I met Bill, Kane Hodder, and Marshal Hilton on that interview. I don’t know how he found me but he asked me to do that interview last year and of course I was really excited to do it. I was so impressed with Bill Moseley, he was so fun to interview and he’s got a great personality.
CHRIS: Well, I’d like to return your compliment and say you’re also a great interviewer. You’re very personable, fun to talk to, and seem genuinely interested in the people you’re interviewing. So now, I’ll ask you this and I won’t ask for any names; but have you even interviewed anyone who made wish you hadn’t asked them for an interview?
DAWNA: Actually I can mention one person. I covered the Emmys when I was first starting out, and when you cover the Emmys, you have to be prepared for everyone who comes along. So, it was the first year of Breaking Bad, and I had no idea what Breaking Bad was. Now I’m a big fan, but it was the first year and Aaron Paul was nominated for something, so I interviewed him and ….I have to be honest; I had no idea who he was. I had no idea what Breaking Bad was and so I was trying to do this generic interview, because he was nominated for something! (laughs) And, at the end of the interview he said to me; “You know, you should really watch Breaking Bad.” (Still laughing) So, I didn’t regret the interview, it was just where my ignorance of the subject came out!
CHRIS: (Laughs) Ahh, okay. Well, it wan’t a bad interview because he was a bad subject, but rather that you just didn’t know him or his show. I thought you were going to say he was like his character on the show when you interviewed him and said something like; “Yeah! Emmys, bitch!”
DAWNA: (Laughs) No, no, he just kinda reminded me that I should have watched the show and known who he was! (laughs) CHRIS: But despite you not knowing who he was or the show was, he was great, wasn’t he?
DAWNA: Oh, yeah, yeah. And you know what? Bryan Cranston, he was nominated for Breaking Bad also. Aaron Paul was an interesting interview but Bryan Cranston was so wonderful and so nice and so warm and so giving. There’s a picture that I have with him on my IMDb page and you can just tell how nice he is, He’s got this beautiful smile. He’s one of my favorite people. I’m now a big fan of his and of Breaking Bad.
CHRIS: Yeah, the whole cast on the show were just amazing.
DAWNA: Yeah, I’m also a fan of Anna Gunn, who played Skyler, Brian Cranston’s (character’s) wife in it. I think she’s a fantastic actress, but ….I really disliked her character so much! (laughs)
CHRIS: Oh yeah, there were a lot of characters on that show I hated.
DAWNA: Yeah, you know and then I found out that there’s a Facebook page that’s devoted to hating Skyler (laughs). Not her (Anna), just the character she played.
CHRIS: Well, that’s testament to her acting skills. So, let’s move on to your modeling. You have an extensive modeling portfolio, especially bikini modeling. What’s your workout routine like? …because you don’t get a body like yours from sitting on the couch.
DAWNA: Oh, thank you. Well, I’m a swimsuit model because I’m 5’4″, and I obviously couldn’t be a high fashion model. I’ve been modeling swimsuits my entire life. I have to exercise every day and I have to diet in order to stay in swimsuit shape. Next weekend, I’m driving down to Oceanside to do a shoot for Bikini magazine. I’ve been starving myself just getting ready for that shoot (laughs). During the weekdays, I have pole dancing classes and I also go to the extra flexibility class or a class called vertical bar.
I exercise for an hour and a half. I go to a studio called Urban Aerial Fitness and I want to give them a plug because they’re close to my house and my good friend Natalie Hamilton is one of the owners. I have the package where I can go every weekday and unlimited classes. So, I go in the mornings as much as I can. In days that I can’t go, I have all exercise machines in my house so I do my own workout because I definitely have to work on my stomach and my arms.
CHRIS: You also have a pole in your home too, don’t you?
DAWNA: Yeah, I have a pole in my home, but now that I’m going to Natalie’s studio, I take pole dancing plus an extra fitness class.
CHRIS: Have you ever gotten to show off your pole dancing skills in a film?
DAWNA: Yeah, I was in a video called Edge where I pole danced. I did pole dance in Natural Born Filmmakers, but it was cut out ….and I also did in Ten Violent Women: Part Two but I’m not sure if Ted (V. Mikels) is going to use it or not, because it’s really about bodybuilders.
CHRIS: I’ve seen several videos of you on Youtube pole dancing so I’ll say to any readers out there who want to see Dawna Lee Heising pole dancing just Google those words and you’ll see that she’s great.
DAWNA: Oh, well thank you! Actually, Natalie put together my routine I’ve been doing since I started, which was maybe four years ago, and now I finally can climb the pole and invert but my skills are nothing compared to my teachers. I mean, you should see them. I think pole dancing is going to be an Olympic event.
CHRIS: Yes, there has been talk of that.
DAWNA: And it should be because there are so many incredible things you can do with pole dancing. A goal of mine is to be half as good as my teachers (laughs).
CHRIS: But do you think pole dancing will ever shake its “stripper” stigma?
DAWNA: I’m hoping it will. Actually, when I first started pole dancing, I did it for a director named John Luksetich. He wanted me to do a film with him and he wanted me to learn pole dancing. So, I started it as an exercise class. I had no idea strippers pole danced! (laughs)
CHRIS: Really!? Well, I guess if you hadn’t been in a strip club, you wouldn’t know ….and I suppose most men wouldn’t talk about it around women, so…yeah, that’s understandable.
DAWNA: (Laughs) No, I’ve never been to a strip club. I mean, now, I’m fully aware that strippers do pole dance. Oh, I actually I did play a stripper named Dandelion in a TV series called Long Distance directed by one of my favorite directors, Paul Hart-Wilden. He’s been really wonderful and we filmed that in a strip club, so I finally did see a real strip club.
CHRIS: You’ve done photo shoots at many outdoor locations; beaches, cliffsides …what have been some of your most memorable photo shoots?
DAWNA: I started out doing bikini modeling years ago, and I happen to live in Huntington Beach, which is a great site, but there a beach south of here in Corona Del Mar which is famous for its scenery and it’s a famous site for swimsuit modeling. I’m really lucky to live so close because I’ve done numerous shoots there. These days, I mainly shoot with my good friends John Cox and David McNeil. I’ve known them for years. I do bikini shoots probably every other month
CHRIS: I see you don’t do nudity, but I assume you constantly receive offers to do nude shoots?
DAWNA: Yes, I do. You know, coming from an Asian family, I just don’t do nudity I obviously don’t mind modeling swimsuits and now I’m modeling for a magazine called Tease, so I don’t mind doing lingerie either, as long as I’m covered up.
(Stay tuned to Idol Features for Part 2 of Dawna’s interview, in which we delve more into her acting roles, the films she’s done and has upcoming, and include her new demo reel.)
Dawna interviewing Vida Ghaffari for More Horror magazine at the premiere of Natural Born Filmmakers at the 2015 Action on Film Festival last September
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.