In this second half of my interview with Dawna Lee Heising, we delve much further into her acting credits, both past and upcoming. After returning to acting a few years ago, Dawna has built up some notable credits on her resume that include roles in Natural Born Filmmakers, Ten Violent Women: Part Two, Garden Party Massacre, and Gregory Hatanaka’s Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. The last one on that list, Dawna is particularly proud of being a part of due to the people involved on both sides of the camera, of whom she speaks very highly.
The above screen capture on Dawna’s very recently released acting reel, shows her as the evil Madame Ans in Jared Masters’ upcoming Blood Tulip. Dawna describes it as dramatic film, not a horror, except that she plays a horrific character. Just click to play it and read on for Part 2 of Dawna’s exclusive interview with Idol Features.
Promo for Part 2 of Dawna’s interview, recorded January 27, 2016
CHRIS: Let’s talk about your acting career now, because I know you’re focused more on that, these days. So, what were some of your earliest roles?
DAWNA: Well, I started years ago when I was going to UC Berkeley. I was Miss San Francisco Universe and I got discovered for Fantasy Island and played Miss Hawaii on an episode of that. In those days, there were only the three networks and if you look at my IMDb, I’ve got a bunch of credits where you may have heard of them. Like, what’s Bladerunner? (laughs) That was probably the first thing that I worked on. I played a prostitute in the scene where Daryl Hannah does a bunch of backflips. I played a lot of nurses and I played a lot of beauty queens. I remember I played the Governor of Hawaii’s wife in The New Gidget, and that was directed by Ted Lange of The Love Boat. It was really exciting in those days, but then I went back to school and got my MBA from Pepperdine University. I started working as a marketer and I eventually worked my way up to being a vice president of marketing and then I started four marketing departments of my own. So that’s where I learned everything that I know about publicity.
CHRIS: You mentioned you were Miss San Francisco Universe and I see you’ve worn crowns from several other pageants you’ve won, and I did want to touch on this. You were also Miss Chinatown Los Angeles?
DAWNA: Yes. At the time, I had dark hair. That was an incredible pageant to win. They sent me on a cruise to Mexico, they sent me to Taiwan and Hong Kong and so I’m really proud of my Chinese heritage. I learned a lot about it from being Miss Los Angeles Chinatown and my dad was obviously very proud.
CHRIS: I’m sure he was. So, back to your acting. Of your recent roles, I’ve read where you’ve said how much you enjoyed playing Melanie in Gregory Blair’s upcoming Garden Party Massacre, which is slated to be released this year. Can you give me some information about that one and your character?
DAWNA: Yes, well I came back to acting five years ago and I did everything that was offered to me because I needed to build up my resume. These last two years have been where I just really wanted to focus on acting, so I went back to acting classes. I have an AA in theater arts from Fullerton College and then I took acting at UC Berkeley also, so I am trained in it. I was with Sal Romeo’s theater company for 12 years, so I have studied acting extensively. I’m currently taking acting classes at South Coast Repertory with Emily Heebner and I’m learning so much. My first assignment is a monologue from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! Emily is a great theater actress and I’m really honored that she chose the Elizabeth Taylor role for me to do. I’m learning a Southern accent for the role ….oh, I’m not answering your question (laughs). So, Gregory Blair has been a friend for a while. He actually gave me my first part when I came back to acting. I had a cameo in his film Deadly Revisions, which has won about 20 awards at film festivals now. It stars Bill Oberst Jr. Also, Gregory wrote a couple of scenes for Natural Born Filmmakers and I play his ex-wife in that. He says that he wrote the role of Melanie (in Garden Party Massacre) with me in mind (laughs), which is a little daunting because when I first got the script …I mean, Melanie’s crazy …he was talking about me wearing green nail polish and wearing a wig ….
CHRIS: Now, is that the red and black wig I saw a photo of you in recently? DAWNA: Oh my god, no! (laughs) That’s another story entirely. In Gregory’s film, I’m wearing a different red wig. I look like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. I look terrible, but not as terrible as with that red and black wig, because that was a fright wig (laughs). As Melanie, I wear a purplish-red wig, so I look really different in that role and it turned out to be one of my best roles. I worked four days on Garden Party Massacre, and Roxy Shih was the producer. It was an indie film, but it was just like working on a network set. It was catered, everything was planned out and we had rehearsals, so I knew the role forward and backward, and the film is just so hilarious. We were all cracking up on the set. I can’t wait to see it. It’s still in post-production but I’m sure that it’s going to be hitting the film festival circuit soon and, if it’s anything like Deadly Revisions, Gregory will put it into tons of film festivals, and I can’t wait to promote it. CHRIS: Okay, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that one, too. You’re also in Natural Born Filmmakers as are a few other ladies I’ve interviewed; Vida Ghaffari, Debra Lamb, and Liane Langford. You’re credited as playing Donna Buonocore/Ariana in that one. Are they two different characters or alter egos? DAWNA: It’s two different characters. The character Donna is Gregory Blair’s (character’s) ex-wife and is Domiziano Arcangeli’s (character’s) current wife. I was lucky to be able to play that character. Ariana was a vampire queen and Domi was Dracula. It’s my first lead. Steve Oakley is the writer and director. CHRIS: Did you do any scenes with Debra, Liane, or Vida?
DAWNA: Debra Lamb came down from the Bay Area to stay with me during the making of that. We shot the final scenes together. I met Liane but I didn’t do any scenes with her. I only watched Vida film her scene, but I was the caterer during that one (laughs).
CHRIS: Tell me about your role in Ten Violent Women: Part Two.
DAWNA: It’s still being filmed, but I play Joanna and I’m one of the ten violent women. This is my second film with Ted V. Mikels, who’s a legendary filmmaker. I’m very honored and blessed to be in his films. I played a reporter named Tara Turner in the first film that I did with him, called Paranormal Extremes: Text Messages from the Dead, and I got into that film through my good friend Luc Bernier, and from there, Ted remembered me when he was casting for Ten Violent Women: Part Two. Ted decided to do this film because the first film, Ten Violent Women, has been shown on Turner Entertainment Channels and it’s been his most successful film. This one is about bodybuilders and female empowerment. I’m playing one of the bodybuilders and my friend Donna Hamblin is the star of the film.
CHRIS: I saw you interview Donna when you were in Las Vegas.
DAWNA: Yes! Donna is incredible. She’s one of my best friends now. I’ve gotten to know her family because she let me stay with her while we were filming this. That was for a week in Las Vegas. Donna is a great actress. Francine York was supposed to be the lead in Ten Violent Women: Part Two but she had to drop out for personal reasons. Donna got the script just a few weeks before they started filming, and it’s a huge dramatic role. I saw Donna do a lot of the scenes and she was incredible. She spent the mornings learning her lines for that day’s shoot.
CHRIS: Didn’t she start doing films fairly recently?
DAWNA: I don’t really know when she got started in films. I know she’s done a lot of theater. I do know she was a lead in Angel of Reckoning from Len Kabasinski, along with Jessica Kabasinski, and she’s also got a lead in his upcoming film Bite of the Mummy. Donna does lead roles now and I introduced her to Damien Dante, who’s the director of Jezebeth 3: Guns of El Diablo that we will be shooting in Wyoming this summer. It’s a western and I’m really excited about that because I’m playing the outlaw Crego and I’m going to learn how to shoot a gun and ride a horse. It’s a really gritty, coarse character and it will be a different type of character for me to play. We’re going to be filming in the same city in Wyoming where Longmire is filmed and that’s one of my favorite series.
CHRIS: What can you tell me about your role in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance?
DAWNA: I have to say that being in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance has really changed my life. It’s incredible because I had a really small role in it but it’s directed by Gregory Hatanaka and it had almost a $100,000 budget and it was shown in theaters across the country. It’s my biggest budget film so far. It just introduced me to a different world. I’ve done a lot of indie films so far and it was just so different doing Samurai Cop 2. I was really fortunate. I think I actually got the role because Gregory knows my cousin Nick Fujimoto, who’s Tak Fujimoto’s son.
CHRIS: Who is your character in the film?
DAWNA: I play a character named Reita, but I was lucky enough to have a part opposite Tommy Wiseau, who is really well-known for a film called The Room. In fact, he’s pretty legendary because of that film. My scene is shot on 35mm film, so that’s another thing that distinguishes the scene. And Tommy was just so nice on the set. He showed me how to use my sword, which is funny because I’m supposed to be teaching him how to use a sword in the scene. Because of being in that scene with Tommy, Joe Williamson, who was also an associate producer of the film, became my manager. Joe says it’s one of the scenes that really stands out because of Tommy and because of being shot in 35mm.
CHRIS: I see you have top billing in Colin Stewart’s Careers: A Martial Arts Story. Are you slated for some action scenes in that one?
DAWNA: I am playing one of the leads in it. It’s a love story, and it is a karate film. Lee Sasheen is going to be the lead in it and he’s a martial arts expert. We haven’t started filming yet. We’re still raising the funds and Kathy Krantz Stewart is the producer on that one.
CHRIS: I know last weekend you had a meeting with Aki Aleong about you appearing in his new film. So, what details can you give me on that, at this point?
DAWNA: Well, Aki has been my friend for about three years and he’s been a really close friend. I don’t really know how he first heard of me but he came to my house and showed me his film Chinaman’s Chance. He stayed the whole day and met my whole family. You know, because since we’re both Chinese, we have a lot in common, except that Aki is a major star! I played his wife in a film called P.A.S.S., which is directed by Alexander Wraith, and which stars Sean Stone, who is Oliver Stone’s son, and Bianca Bree who is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s daughter. Because we’ve known each other so long, I’ve been Aki’s publicist, as well as his friend. I have my MBA, so I know about publicity and I publicize all my friends, but with Aki, he made me the vice president for publicity for his company Mustard Seed Media Group. He’s going to be doing a film called The Final Chance and I’m playing a Marilyn Monroe-type character in that film. That’s what I know about it so far. I’ve done a couple of interviews with him, so far. He’s got the best personality. I hope everyone will look up my first two interviews with him because they were documentary style, covering his career. I don’t think a lot of people know that he was in the music industry. He just did Pound of Flesh with Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s an A-lister. He’s a wonderful actor but he’s also a great musician, and he’s one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. I was going to do another interview with him at the beginning of the week but he had to cancel it because he lives in Sylmar, which is at the foot of the mountains, and we’re having all the storms from El Nino now. It was raining so hard, Aki just told us not to come up. We were prepared to do it and I was going to bring my manager to meet Aki, but we had to cancel, so I don’t know anything more about that film. But I talk to him all the time because we’re friends.
CHRIS: It seems you have many films currently in various stages of production. As we speak, what are you currently working on?
DAWNA: Actually, I’m currently working on a film that I can’t really talk about (laughs).
CHRIS: Yes, I know that’s the case while you’re shooting scenes for a film. You can’t say much about the movie because you don’t know much yet, or they don’t want you talking about it.
DAWNA: Yes, the filmmaker doesn’t want me to say anything about it yet, but I can talk about my character. I’m playing a really evil character named Madame Ans …
CHRIS: Ah, is that the one who has the red and black hair?
DAWNA: Oh, my god, yes! You know, that’s a story.
CHRIS: Yes I saw a photo of you in that wig, and it’s not black with red streaks, it’s red and black, and the caption read; “She’s an evil character,” and several commenters thought you had changed your hair to that.
DAWNA: (Laughs) Yeah, she is evil and in the film she owns a brothel and she murders a couple of people in it. I had to learn a Dutch accent to play her.
CHRIS: Can you give me one of the lines she speaks?
DAWNA: Yes, I can: “So Helga, you vant to stab me vith your little plastic knife. Vell den do it! Gif it to me right here in der shoulder! Right vere da vorms haf already laid dere eggs!”
CHRIS: Wow. “Where the worms have already laid their eggs”?
DAWNA: (Laughs) Yeah! So, that’s the type of character she is and it’s a brothel and it’s really low class.
CHRIS: Now, was she speaking metaphorically or had worms actually laid eggs in her?
DAWNA: (Still laughing) Uh, worms had actually laid eggs inside of her. Yeah, it’s a really terrible character but it’s a great character for me to play because she’s one of the leads and it’s completely different for me and it’s a great acting role ….and I had to learn a Dutch accent so it’s going to be fantastic for my demo reel, which I’m working on. John Cox, who’s one of my best friends and is the head of Polymedia Entertainment, is currently putting together a new demo reel for me. So, you’ll be seeing this scene in my demo reel, but the character is supposed to be really ugly and really coarse. She’s supposed to be wearing an eye patch and smoking a cigar. I didn’t have a eye patch and I don’t know how to smoke a cigar, but I wanted to make this character as awful-looking as I could. So, I was the one who decided to wear this awful-looking wig
CHRIS: Ahh, so that was your idea.
DAWNA: (Laughs) It was my idea and I completely regret it! I wanted to make her look awful and I succeeded. The wig is red on the bottom and black on top, and it’s got bangs, and ….it’s just really terrible. I had to shoot some scenes recently and I had to shoot some inserts for it. My friend John does my pictures and said I just look incredibly evil with it, which is the whole purpose. I saw some rushes from the movie and I’m wearing a big kimono and I’ve got this terrible wig on, so I’m completely unrecognizable.
CHRIS: So for listeners who may have missed it, what’s the title of this project?
DAWNA: Well, I really can’t really talk about it.
CHRIS: Yes, I know. I was trying to trick you into telling me.
DAWNA: (Laughs) There are reasons that I can’t talk about it. Now that I’ve seen this wig, I’m kind of hoping that maybe it never comes out ….but it’s a great acting role.
CHRIS: You did mention that you’re currently taking acting classes. Would you like to drop the name of the studio or who you’re studying with?
DAWNA: Well, I’d like to drop the names of a couple of people because, last year, I decided to take acting really seriously, and I went back and started studying the Uta Hagen method with an acting teacher in Hollywood named June Barfield and she helped me with my scenes from a film called Salvation of One, which was by filmmaker Chandra Gerson and is going to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival this year. I also went back and started taking the Strasberg method with Michael Sewell. I’ve been working with him for about six months and I’ve been working with June Barfield for about a year. I also recently started taking acting classes with Emily Heebner at South Coast Repertory and I’m really excited about that because my husband and I have belonged to South Coast Repertory for about 10 years. We’ve been going to see plays there. It’s one of the best theaters in the Western Hemisphere and it’s known for its quality. I did take a workshop there maybe five years ago.
CHRIS: Speaking of theater, you did mention a stage production you were in entitled Murder at Thick City. Please tell me about that one.
DAWNA: I was in that at the beginning of 2015 and that’s another project that I was involved in that made me want to take acting really seriously. It’s a play by Gary Hardwick and directed by Nina Womack and we were rehearsing three times a week for about a month before we did this play. The lead in the play is Patrick Faucette and he’s a regular on Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots. He was incredible. He played the detective and I played a character named Layla …oh and I did a pole dance!
CHRIS: Oh, they had a pole on the stage?
DAWNA: Yes, they had a pole on the stage and because I play a stripper, or an ex-stripper, I actually did do a pole dance during intermission to entertain the audience because it was a dinner theater.
CHRIS: Oh, cool. That’s some intermission that would make me want to stay in my seat.
DAWNA: (Laughs) It was really fun and I had my mom there so she got to see me pole dance, and Gregory Blair came to see it. So, just because we did so much preparation for it, that made me realize how much work goes into giving a good performance. Acting takes work. It takes rehearsal and it takes preparation. The biggest roles that I’ve done, I’ve also gone to acting class to help me perfect it. Luckily, I found June Barfield and Michael Sewell and last year I took a class at Golden West College with Tom Amen and I rehearsed my scenes for Garden Party Massacre at all of those acting classes, so I’m pretty confident that Melanie is going to come out the way I imagined her.
CHRIS: Yeah, now that you’ve told me about it and your character, I’m really looking forward to seeing it. DAWNA: It’s going to be so funny! And Gregory is a perfectionist, so I know it’s going to be a perfect film. I mentioned, I’m going to look like Ursula (laughs)…with green nail polish, green eye shadow and this purple wig, but it’s one of my best roles yet.
CHRIS: So, with that, I’ll say what a pleasure it’s been, Dawna. In closing do you have any other shout-outs, plugs, or anything you’d like to say fans?
DAWNA: Well first of all, I’d like to thank you for this interview and I’d like to thank Vida Ghaffari and Joe Williamson for introducing me to you. This has been a great interview and I’m really impressed with how much research you did on me and what I’m doing and I hope that we will stay friends. I would like to say that I’m really excited about shooting The Final Chance with Aki Aleong. Aki is always incredible. I’m also excited about going to Wyoming and filming Damien Dante’s Jezebeth 3: Guns of El Diablo. I did Ballet of Blood with Jared Masters, who is an incredibly talented filmmaker. So far, I’ve done six films with Jared and I’d like to thank him for putting me in his films. When I first came back, to acting, he cast me in a film called Slink. I’m really grateful to him and I’m also his publicist. I am really excited about being a pert of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance and getting to work with great actors like Mel Novak, Tommy Wiseau, and Laurene Landon. It’s the biggest budget film I’ve been in and the most publicized. It’s been a real eye-opener and it’s brought me a whole new following. It seems like more people know me from that film. I got my manager Joe Williamson from it because he was one of the associate producers on it, and I’m incredibly lucky that Joe has agreed to take me on. I see really good things for the future now that I’ve been getting better roles. I’ve decided that I want more quality roles and Joe wants that for me too. My goal for this year is to be in bigger and better projects. I didn’t mind, doing smaller roles, especially for Ted V. Mikels because he’s a legend and doing the smaller role in Samurai Cop 2 because I’m lucky to work with Gregory, but I’m hoping this year brings me bigger roles in quality projects. I just got cast in a film by an amazing filmmaker that I’ve wanted to work with forever, but I can’t talk about it yet!
CHRIS: Well this has been an amazing interview Dawna, and ….oh, just one last question: Did you end up getting the role of the mother who shaves her son’s back hair?
DAWNA: No! You know, I can’t believe it because ….well, I shouldn’t say that (laughs), but they called me back twice and I went to the trouble of filming this audition, and John Cox shot it for me in his studio. It was a comedy, but it was so long ago, I completely forgot what that project was (laughs).
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.
I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Tristan Risk until I saw the movie American Mary, in which she played Beatress Johnson (yes, “Beatress,” not “Beatrice”), a stripper who had 14 surgeries to become a real-life