How Henry Golding Became a Leading Man Overnight (Hint: He Didn't)
7/6/2021 • 4 min read
No actor working today seems to lead such a charmed life as Henry Golding. The Malaysia-born actor came out of nowhere to land a starring role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS, and he has developed his career with startling speed since then.
Golding has the looks of a model, and in fact, was a model in addition to being a TV host for a while, but he also has a willingness to play against type and to embrace roles that push him outside of the typical leading man box. Here’s where Henry Golding came from, and where he might be going after his starring role in SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS.
Golding's Formative Years
The child of a Malaysian mother and an English father, Gordon was born in Malaysia. He spent his early years there before moving to Surrey England, south of London, when he was eight. As a young adult, he moved back to Malaysia before setting up residence in Singapore. There he began to develop his work as an actor, and eventually landed a job as a TV host for travel shows that aired on the BBC and Discovery Network.
All of which paints a pretty simple picture, but the 33-year-old actor’s life is a bit more complicated than that. His early years were spent in an ex-pat community that wasn’t entirely Malaysian, and he actually resisted learning the language of his birth country for many years. He has described “never quite understanding a sense of home, “ and related tales of bullying he experienced in Surrey after moving to England when he was a boy.
Director John M. Chu, who made CRAZY RICH ASIANS, described a worldwide talent search that expanded because he felt like the initial casting efforts for that movie were on the verge of being "lazy." Golding's good looks didn’t get him the part; Chu had seen plenty of great-looking guys who wanted the role of Nick Young but didn't actually have the skills to pull it off. His relatable personality and sense of ease in front of the camera, as evidenced even in small Instagram videos, led Chu to begin the process of casting Golding in earnest.
The actor quickly set up big roles in Paul Feig's movie A SIMPLE FAVOR, which tweaked the nice-guy persona of his breakout character. “I don’t want to get stuck in romantic comedy,” Golding told GQ. “I love these modern dramas, but when I’m in make-believe, I want to be beyond that of this reality.” He also poured some of his own experience into MONSOON, in which he starred as Kit, a gay Vietnamese refugee who fled to England as a child, then returns to Ho Chi Minh City as an adult to pay respect to his family. Together, these initial film roles proved that Golding could do more than one thing, and cemented his place as a new leading man.
The Next Stage
Golding and Feig reunited for LAST CHRISTMAS, which played on the song by Wham! to build a story that earnestly engages with the holidays while also spinning Golding’s appeal into a new direction. And he built his villain chops in Guy Ritchie’s THE GENTLEMEN, playing an ambitious and callous drug dealer.
Then came SNAKE EYES. We’ve seen in projects like "The Mandalorian" that a name actor isn’t always playing the main character on set if that character is constantly masked. Not so with this G.I. JOE story. Golding told the LA Times that "as Snake, I’m on screen 98% of the time" He added that "we worked so hard to make sure that every single bit of fight choreography we could do ourselves," which should add a fierce sense of energy to his performance.
So what’s next for Henry Golding? His accent and British background — not to mention his cool ease in a suit and love of fashionable timepieces — has led to a supposition that he could take over the James Bond role in the near future. That is entirely unconfirmed, but he has already wrapped a very classic production: An adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” in which he plays Mr. Elliot opposite a cast that includes Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Suki Waterhouse, and Richard E. Grant. And he voices a key character in Paramount’s animated adaptation of the young-adult fantasy novel “The Tiger’s Apprentice.” Whatever he tackles afterward — whether the suggested sequels to CRAZY RICH ASIANS or a new action franchise — we know Golding will surprise and delight us.
SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS is in theatres now!
All images courtesy of New Line Pictures and Paramount Pictures.