Henry Golding

The Golden Age of Henry Golding

The Persuasion star is embracing the multitudes of his post-Crazy Rich Asians career.

Henry Golding is calling from Paris. No — Rome? No, it's definitely Paris.

These days, he has a hard time keeping track, having landed in Rome to start filming The Old Guard 2 alongside Charlize Theron in late June before jetting off for a quick trip to the City of Light with wife Liv Lo Golding and their daughter, Lyla, to fulfill his duties as brand ambassador for luxury jeweler David Yurman.

Needless to say, Golding is booked and busy. Still, he joins our Zoom call exactly a minute early — ahead of attending a flagship opening event — the wince palpable in his voice when he apologizes for the early call time for me in L.A.

He may have joined our call camera-off, but even without seeing his matinee-idol face, his galaxy-level charisma is palpable. Perhaps that's why fans have clamored to see him as James Bond and why he's so easily dream-cast-able as every romantic hero ever. For anyone who's yearned to see him in a period romance, a Jane Austen archetype is an obvious choice: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, or, in the case of Persuasion (out tomorrow), Captain Wentworth. But Netflix's new Persuasion adaptation casts him as Mr. Elliot, the caddish bad boy who isn't what he initially presents himself to be, alongside Dakota Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis. It's an unexpected move to have Henry Golding in an Austen piece and not put him as the romantic lead, but the actor relished the chance to be charming, sleazy, and exercise his comedic timing.

"It was so much fun, because it gives you so much more room to play, and you know you're not gonna end up with the girl at the end, so you can kind of ham it up, almost — to enjoy and sort of wriggle and writhe within those scenes where he's trying to be schmoozy, and trying to seduce her and then turn her to the dark side," he says.

Henry Golding
Courtesy Henry Golding

Since Crazy Rich Asians catapulted Golding into stardom in 2018, he's had plenty of opportunities to show his versatility, choosing roles that were as interesting as they were wide-ranging. There was the hapless writer husband in A Simple Favor, the bullying bad guy in The Gentlemen, the action hero in Snake Eyes — all characters who varied not only in personality but also in the type of Asian representation they presented. It's the idea of color-conscious casting versus colorblind casting, of characters who are written and referred to as Asian, versus characters who happen to be Asian with their race and ethnicity going unmentioned. Golding, who is British-Malaysian, has played both types of roles — and has his own take on the matter.

"To be honest, it's always wonderful to be able to play proudly Asian characters on screen, but I think it's wholly important that Asians get to play non-racially distinct characters because that's where we see the progression, where we see a sense of normality to have faces like ours on screen," he says. "[It's] not having to highlight or explain a character's backstory, like, 'Oh yeah, his mom was Asian,' or, 'He comes from this long line of people who derived from this,' it's kinda like, 'Yeah, this is him. This is his name.' We don't need to force it down. I think if we're fighting for representation on screen, you're gonna get to a stage where representation doesn't matter. It becomes normal."

It's hard to overstate the impact Crazy Rich Asians — and by extension, Golding's career — has had on capital-R Representation in Hollywood or what it meant to Asian-Americans. It was famously the first modern film with an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead in Hollywood in 25 years, the last one being The Joy Luck Club, which came out in 1993 a few months before I was born. The first time I encountered Golding, he and co-star Awkwafina had come to the office where I worked at the time to discuss the film. You could practically hear the energy buzzing in the room that day, a hum that reverberated through most of Asian America. Whether we loved the film or hated it, one thing was clear — we were talking about it, and as the movie broke records, Golding became the Asian leading man.

Henry Golding
Courtesy Henry Golding

If anyone is capable of carrying our representation hopes and dreams on his broad shoulders, it's Golding, who seems to take most things in stride, including criticism. The idea of whether or not he, a biracial actor with a white father, is "Asian enough" to play a Singaporean man in Crazy Rich Asians is still a topic of debate to this day, a conversation Golding is refreshingly willing to engage with.

"It's funny, it's like, how do you define being Asian? You know, is there like a rating of like, 'Oh, okay, so you were born in America, you have Asian parents, but you've never been to Asia. Does that make you less Asian than people who are born in Asia or vice versa?'" he questions. "You know, there's always gonna be racism even within our own communities. We live in a very multicultural society, and there are many layers to identifying with the culture and identifying with your racial makeup, and sometimes being mixed, you tend towards one more than the other, but it doesn't mean that you can't embrace both."

The conversation surrounding Golding's casting was reignited a few months ago when Shang-Chi star Simu Liu spoke of his disappointment when he tried out for a role in the film and ultimately wasn't cast, sparking a discussion on the internet over whether Liu was viewed as "too Asian" for the role when compared to biracial actors like Golding.

"Simu's a funny one, he doesn't know when to keep his mouth closed," Golding jokes, pointing out that if Liu had gotten a role in the film, he might not have been Shang-Chi.

It's the same line of thinking he applies to his own career, which turned from BBC travel host to Hollywood star in a story straight out of a fairy-tale fable: As legend has it, director Jon Chu and the Crazy Rich Asians filmmakers were still trying to find their male lead at the eleventh hour, when an accountant on the team mentioned a broadcast host named Henry Golding she'd met years ago who was the perfect Nick Young. The rest is history. Golding doesn't know if he'd have eventually made his way to acting if Crazy Rich Asians never came along, but thankfully, we'll never have to find out.

"I think it all sort of worked out for a reason," he says.

Henry Golding
Courtesy Henry Golding

That "it is what it is" mindset has served him well so far, especially when it comes to his perspective on the future, and his ever-expanding CV.

"It's always gonna be that I'm never gonna be Asian enough. I'm never gonna be white enough. So to be honest with you, it's kind of like, 'you know what, I don't give a shit,'" he laughs. "I don't really give a fuck. I'm gonna do what I love doing. The people that feel proud of seeing me on screen, I'm gonna keep making them feel proud, and you know what they say, 'haters gonna hate.' So it really doesn't bother me anymore. It used to, I think there's always been sort of a sensitivity, but now I think life's way too short to give a shit."

Read on as he discusses his first kiss, his favorite Hollywood Chris, and going down the YouTube rabbit hole.

Henry Golding
Courtesy Henry Golding

What is the last thing you do before you fall asleep?

Oh my god. Um, I'm a YouTube fiend, so I just fall down the rabbit hole and watch ridiculous YouTube videos until it's way too late for me.

What have you been watching lately?

[Laughs] You put me on the spot there! What have I been watching lately? I was watching — I've been really into it because we were in Rome — I've been watching pasta-making. And then it goes into cycling the French countryside on Brompton folding bicycles. And then it'll jump to tree stump removal videos. And then, a couple of cat videos thrown in there for good measure. But I go everywhere, it's like wherever my brain tickles.

Henry Golding Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Henry Golding

Who is your favorite villain?

Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professional. Oh my god. The greatest on-screen villain.

What was the first album you owned?

Um, it was Ricky Martin, and well, it technically was a single, it was "Livin' La Vida Loca."

Do you still listen to it?

No, 'cause that was the only tape that I had, so it was on repeat, like, oh my god. Endlessly. It almost makes me feel nauseous, listening to it again.

Henry Golding Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Henry Golding

Do you have a favorite cheesy pickup line?

Oh, that's a tough one. There's plenty, but I think, to be honest, I don't think I've ever thrown out a cheesy pickup line. Usually, just a sweet and genuine hello is the best pickup plan.

If you were required to spend a thousand dollars today, what would you buy and why?

I think I would call up all my friends and be like, "Let's go meet at the oyster bar. Let's just have an afternoon of oysters and wine." That would be perfect.

Name one place you've never been but have always wanted to go.

Mongolia's been one place. The steppes of Mongolia have always been a romantic sort of destination for me.

Is there an outfit that you regret wearing?

There's plenty, we all have that faux pas. I think when I was younger in London, I just had this interesting sense of style. I wore a lot of American Apparel at that stage, so it was like the red scarf with the bright yellow t-shirt and tight jeans and things.

Can you describe a memorable dream you had?

There's one that I always remember where I was swimming in the deepest lagoon, and it was like the most serene and beautiful sort of feeling. There was this spotlight of sunlight coming from this cave, and it was emerald green in this lagoon.

Can you describe your first kiss?

It was to Celine Dion, the Titanic song, and it was with Emma in the U.K. when I was a very young chap.

Who is your favorite Hollywood Chris?

Chris Pang.

Henry Golding Polaroids
Polaroid Photo: Henry Golding

When was the last time you cried?

Probably one of those YouTube videos — I watch some heart-wrenching dog rescues. They always get me.

Do you have a favorite bagel?

A classic: lox, cream cheese, with tomato, onions, and capers on an everything bagel.

Special thanks to Polaroid. Booking: Talent Connect Group.

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