With a crazy-successful film, revved up acting career, supportive mixed-heritage family and a strong woman by his side, we think so
It took a lot of convincing by director Jon M. Chu before Henry Golding agreed to be in what would become a US$200 million blockbuster. But after his breakout role as the fabulously rich and impossibly chiseled Nick Young from Singapore in Crazy Rich Asians, the Malaysian-British heartthrob landed a succession of plum roles in Hollywood, opposite some of the industry’s most bankable actors.
Next up: Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the ’80s Wham! hit of the same name, with Game of Thrones dragon lady Emilia Clarke, and Monsoon, an upcoming drama where he’s set to play a Vietnamese-British man returning to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh city) for the first time after fleeing during the Vietnam War. It’s quite the detour for someone who started professional life as a hairdresser in London.
Born to a Malaysian mom and an English dad, Henry moved to England with the rest of the family when he was five years old. At 21, he moved back to Malaysia where he started getting his breaks on TV.
Did your family expect all this showbiz success from you? To be honest, not much (laughs). I never knew what I was getting into. My wife (fitness professional Liv Lo) found this very surprising. I was a journalist like you. I was a travel host for BBC and Discovery Channel for a long time, like seven to eight years. So for this role offer to come up from Jon Chu, he really slapped some sense into me, for lack of a better expression, because I was so hesitant in auditioning. He was like, “You are right for this role and you can pull this off; believe in yourself.” And that was it, the switch was made, and this is all I think of now.
Is it true that you had to cut short your honeymoon for Crazy Rich Asians? Yeah (laughs). Many sacrifices were made. I was in South Africa on one of my many honeymoons with my wife. We were in Cape Town for four days and having this beautiful time. Jon was like, “I have to pull you. Warner Brothers really wants a screen test. This is the last thing I am ever going to ask you. I promise you this is going to be worth it.”
How was your own wedding compared to the movie’s wedding scene? Was it a “lavish Asian wedding”? Aren’t they all? They are the most ridiculous events. There’s always pressure with weddings. You start off by saying, “Oh, I will have a small wedding. I will just bring my close friends.” Then the list starts growing, like I have to bring this guy because his parents are going to be here with my parents. It just grows and grows.
You’re Malaysian-British while Liv is Taiwanese-Italian. Talk about mixed heritage! That’s globalization. There’s no stopping it. And it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is. You always find something in common and love is a universal prospect.
My wife grew up in Tainan, in the south of Taiwan. I grew up on the east coast of Malaysia and also in Surrey, just south of London. To have these intersections in life, I think it is magnificent and it’s only going to get stronger and stronger.
Do you encounter more or fewer obstacles because of your mixed heritage? I encounter more. But the wonderful thing is no one is ever right and no one is ever wrong. It’s all about perspective — something that I had to grow up with, being not white enough or not Asian enough. Then coming to an industry where, now, the climate around Hollywood is that you don’t have to be blonde, blue-eyed and bursting with muscles to be in a movie anymore. You want diversity and you want somebody with an interesting story, which is missing in Hollywood. I hope that I play color-blind roles and perhaps it leads me in directions that would have never been guessed. It’s a new generation of possibilities and wonderful stories to be told.
What are your challenges in Asia? I think we all have preconceptions of not being enough for a society – not being handsome enough, tall enough or not being light enough in skin tone. In Asia, I go there, and I think, “I am back in my motherland, fantastic”. They are like, “Do you speak Malay or Chinese?” “No, I can only speak English.” “Oh, you are definitely not Asian.” So that’s always been a struggle, but I never let it get me down. I concentrate on my strengths and my passion has led me to acting. I hope that I am going to have an illustrious, long career.
What you mentioned are also themes in the film — not being enough and following your passions. How did they resonate with you in terms of creating your character? There’s a fine line between passion and familial responsibility, and you have to be able to straddle that. To take both aspects and respect both would be ideal but sometimes we don’t get that chance. Sometimes, following your passion is frowned upon by family members like in the case of Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and Rachel (Constance Wu).
Did you encounter that when you became a journalist? Luckily, I come from a very understanding family. Coming from parents who are a mixed-race couple and who, back in their day, were not exactly met with the most welcoming of aspects. They fought through their struggles. So they imprinted on us to be the person you want to be and that as long as you are good to people, you stay healthy and you don’t do harm unto others, you will be happy in whatever you do.
What was it like to go from interviewing people to being the one interviewed? A little strange (laughs), but I am used to it. I know how hard you work and how long it is to wait around. I try to give as much energy and make it fresh. It wasn’t the hardest transition. I love talking to people and sharing stories, especially when you have a movie such as Crazy Rich Asians to push out and it means so much. Sharing comes easily to me. I hope you feel that. It’s been an interesting one — not asking the questions but answering them. It really has been fun.
This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Smile magazine.