The very first movie I remember watching in a cinema had an ensemble of Asian characters. Its lead character, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), didn’t have any supernatural abilities, but she was hell bent on doing the right thing. That movie, the now revered Disney animated classic Mulan, introduced Mulan as well as its band of characters as intricate human beings striving to be better, greater. That’s one of the reasons I grew up knowing I could do the same.
However, it’s no secret that Hollywood is struggling to translate that success into live action. More often than not, adaptations of foreign materials come with their shares of whitewashing controversies. As a result, those of us who are coloured have more difficulty finding not only representation of ourselves in mass media, but also one that indicates that our world isn’t one-dimensional. Relating to characters onscreen is important, not only for us to feel like we belong, but also for others to see and understand us.
This is one of the many reasons why Crazy Rich Asians is significant. What seems like just another entry in an endless stream of rom-coms is actually part of something much bigger. It hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already visible. Being the first Hollywood film in the past two and a half decades to feature an all-Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians is set to leave its mark in film history.
No wonder its 31-year-old star, Henry Golding, was sitting pretty comfortably when I met him. He had the laid-back manner of a man justifiably assured that his work would speak for itself. Some may have even said there was something distinguished about him, unless that was just the persona of Nick Young seeping into the photo shoot. With an impressive résumé that includes hosting gigs for ESPN, National Geographic, BBC, Fox, and NBC Universal, Golding showed no sign of stopping.
He’s likeable on-screen, and that likeability is apparent in person as well, in part because it’s layered with humble assessments of himself. Golding was easygoing and down-to-earth, as we discussed everything from racial representation in mass media to life after marriage, to his past experience as one of August Man Malaysia’s very first “Men of the Year”.
What drew you into Crazy Rich Asians?
I think the book is a fantastic escape for a lot of people. It’s one of those vacation books that is easy to read. An enjoyable one that tells the story of love, riches, and exotic places. I mean, we’re familiar with Singapore, but for somebody reading it for the first time, who has never been there, he’ll have this imagination of how it is. I think just the richness of the characters as well.
Do you think it’s important for Asians to be represented in mass media?
The skewed view is that Asians haven’t been represented in mass media. But the Chinese market, the Hong Kong films, they have a history behind them. And they’re proud of it, and we should be proud of it. It’s only when it comes to Hollywood that we’re underrepresented. But media coming out of South East Asia is very much locally tuned. When it comes to Hollywood, there’s such stereotype when it comes to roles for leading men. There’ve been very few Asian leading men. John Cho has been changing the game, he’s one of the first whom I noticed. Obviously, there are Jackie Chan, Jet Li. Now, I think, is the time that we’re very much not blind to colour I’d say? To race, to culture. It’s becoming more of an open world. A lot more people are open to having different stories told through different perspectives. It’s black perspective with Black Panther, and Asian perspective with Crazy Rich Asians. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
I think the biggest challenge really is adult-ing, man (laughs). Like taxes, it sucks. That’s my biggest challenge, it’s just the necessary evils. That’s literally the bane of my existence. But from a day-to-day basis, I think it’s juggling your work and your personal life. Because, it can sometimes be heavier on one side or the other. It’s just making sure that I take the time to just clock out from work and concentrate on my friends and family .
Who’s your first ever celebrity crush?
I think it was Mariah Carey (laughs).
How has pursuing different career paths in the past reinforced your decision-making process in present day?
I think I’ve always been very open to opportunities. I think once you open yourself to them, you often find what drives you, what you’re naturally drawn to. You can never grow in life with only one goal, one tunnel vision. Because something might just sideswipe you, and you’ll be like, “How haven’t I tried this?”. Your passion changes, you know? What you’re passionate about when you’re young might not be what you’re passionate about ten years down the line. And that’s normal. I always feel that there’s a chapter, which turns over every five or six years. After that mark, you’ll always be searching for a big change. It’s just a natural progression. Yeah, you get so attuned to doing what you’re doing. Five years down the line you’ll be like, “I kind of need a change now”. Yeah, something fresh, something new.
How has marriage impacted you?
Yeah, I think you look towards the future a lot more. Planning financially. Your decisions, when you make them, you have to think for the both of you, not just yourself. It just made me a lot less single-minded. You have to be really considerate of the other person.
You were one of our “Men of the Year” back in 2009, how was the experience like for you?
Yeah, I remember that, the “Men of the Year” cover. It was the second year that you guys were running, right? Back in 2009. I remember August Man Malaysia was the first to recognise local faces in a group on their cover. I love that cover actually, I still have it somewhere.
What’s the rest of the year going to be like for you?
We have a lot of press events coming up. We have two movies coming up. Crazy Rich Asians is coming out August 17th, and A Simple Favor comes out on September 14th. In mid-May, I’ll be heading to Vietnam to film for my third movie, Monsoon. No release date for that as of now, but we’ll be finishing that in mid-June. But for the rest of the time I will be flying around, promoting. I’m excited to see how well the movie will perform. It’s a fantastic show and I think people are going to be really surprised and enjoy it.
Photography by Dominic Phua / Daydream Studio
Styling by Ibnu Aswan
Grooming by Melissa Towpich