Watch out world, with the release of two big movies—Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor—in as many months, Henry Golding is about to go supernova. We caught up with the local actor turned Hollywood star in a road trip out to Joshua Tree and discovered that good things really do come to those who wait. (Also, it never hurts to have a charming British accent.)
Digital exclusive: Click through the galleries below for exclusive images of Golding at Joshua Tree.
“You’ve been knocking on the wrong door,” says Henry Golding with his English lilt. The words roll off his tongue like a gentle purr. Wearing a caramel-striped banlon top tucked into brown chinos, he’s as handsome in real life as he appears on movie posters; albeit, this morning, sporting a roguish charm with tousled hair. “I live upstairs.”
It’s 8.15am on a sunny Saturday in Los Angeles and I’ve been rattling on the front door of Golding’s downstairs’ neighbour for the last 20 minutes. Luckily, no one has answered.
“My manager just texted me,” Golding continues, giving me a generous hug. “She said you were outside and not sure if you were at the right place.” His eyes smile when he flashes his cheeky grin. It’s as warm as it is honest. “It’s so good to see you, I can’t remember the last time we saw each other.”
The first time I met Golding was in Singapore, some six years ago on a photo shoot. As it turns out, it was his first magazine shoot in Singapore after moving over from Malaysia. With half-English and half-Malaysian Iban ancestry, Golding stood out with his distinguished good looks, stature and that proper yet self-effacing British charm. Chivalrous not chavvy. Rakish not rudimentary. Bright not boring. In short, he had presence. And naturally, he quickly became a popular local personality and scored a hosting gig on BBC’s The Travel Show. When he married Liv Lo, the gorgeous model, TV presenter and yoga instructor of Italian-Taiwanese heritage in 2016, Golding’s star continued to rise.
But when it was announced last year that he had secured the lead role of Nick Young in the highly anticipated movie, based on the widely read book, Crazy Rich Asians, it came as a surprise to many. Does he even act? Is he Asian enough for the role? Is he Singaporean enough for the role?
“I can’t believe it’s taken me more than three months to lock you in for this cover,” I tell him, as we drive out of Los Angeles. “I had to get approval from your Singapore agent, who put me in touch with your US manager and I then had to get clearance from Esquire US too. It’s been a long time coming.” We’ve been on the road for over an hour now. Outside, towering white metallic windmills cover the roaming Californian hills. “I know,” says Golding, digging into berries that we packed for the road trip. “Sorry about that. My schedule has just been crazy.”
Ever since we found out that Crazy Rich Asians—a movie about Singaporeans, written by a Singaporean, shot in Singapore and backed by Warner Brothers—was going to be released in the second half of 2018, we’ve been hunting down Golding for a cover. But he was MIA. In fact, he was spending so much time in LA that he ended up shooting a spread for Esquire US before Esquire Singapore—both of which are out this month. So, to avoid ruffling any feathers, we had to check with US editor Jay Fielden to make sure it was okay for Golding to front our cover in the same month they had him planned for their pages. They offered syndication. I declined, wanting to secure exclusive content. “He’s our own local star”, I reasoned. “We need our own images.” They concurred. Everything was green lit. And now, finally, almost four months in the making, I have Golding in a car with me as we journey east—meandering through sunburnt valleys on our way to Joshua Tree National Park.
ESQ: Is this a bit of a pinch-me moment right now? You’ve done three movies in the last year, and with the release of Crazy Rich Asians in August and now A Simple Favor in September, life has really changed for you.
HENRY GOLDING: You know, I haven’t really taken the time to sort of step back and really assess and look at everything and just kind of appreciate it. I’ve had my head down trying to work and trying to prove myself. We want it be a long prosperous career so we’re taking steps towards that. So it doesn’t feel like it’s a big break. It feels like I’m working, it’s just become… my career. It’s become my calling. But then, once in a while, I’ll like ‘Woah, what the hell is going on’. Just last year, I would never have imagined any of this happening.
ESQ: When did all this start for you? You auditioned for Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians. How long ago was that?
HENRY GOLDING: Well, Jon Chu the director got in touch with me the first week of January 2017. That’s when we started talking.
ESQ: He reached out to you?
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah, he reached out to me.
ESQ: Great. Because he had seen you presenting on TV?
HENRY GOLDING: Actually, my name got passed to him through a Malaysian lady who was working in the accounting firm. Her name was Lisa Kim and she’s like: ‘I met this guy five years ago in KL, hosting some events. And if anyone’s Nick Young, that’s Nick Young. I don’t know what he’s doing right now but you need look him up’. So word got around the office. They were already in the eleventh hour trying to find a Nick Young. I mean, they literally saw every male Asian actor on the face of the planet. Literally sort of looked everywhere. But Jon kept saying he hadn’t found the guy yet. And Nick Young is such a critical lynchpin to the whole story. We have to feel something for him. He has to be very genuine.
ESQ: Did you read the book, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan before the audition?
HENRY GOLDING: I read the book when I realised Jon started following me on Instagram. Weird, because I knew everybody had gone through the auditions. I was asked to audition three or four times, but I turned it down because I was like: ‘You know, I’m sure I’m not suitable. I’m a presenter. I’m sure they want an actual actor who they can market. They are not going to get somebody new’. So I kinda turned it down.
“I’ve always thought: ‘I’ll get into movies one day’, but I didn’t know how or when. But I just knew that when the opportunity arose, I’d be ready for it. As in, I’ll be able to commit.”
ESQ : You turned it down?
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah. And it wasn’t until Jon got hold of me and asked me to read for him, that I started really considering the role. We had this amazing 45-minute Skype session. And then I was like: ‘Hell, everything seems to be pointing in this direction’, so why fight it? I taped, sent them over. And then I had a chemistry read with Constance Wu [who plays Nick’s love interest, Rachel Chu] in a room filled with 13 people or something. Which was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. And then I went back and went on my honeymoon. I was in South Africa when they contacted me and said: ‘We got to bring you back. Warner Brothers wants a screen test’.
ESQ: So you cut your honeymoon short?
HENRY GOLDING: I had to leave after four days. I was in South Africa. Luckily we had some friends, kind of doing the same thing. So my wife went with them and continued with the trip. I went over to LA.
ESQ: And Liv Lo, your wife, has been super supportive…
HENRY GOLDING: She has been nothing but amazing. Of course there was a transition period where it was weird for her to see me with anybody else on screen. It’s like openly watching your partner cheat in a sense. I couldn’t say anything apart from, you know, it’ll get better. Like, you realise that what you see onscreen isn’t what happens behind the scenes. Trust me it’s not romantic at all. It’s work.
ESQ: Did you find the transition from presenting to acting difficult? I mean, you’ve done a little bit of acting before…
HENRY GOLDING: To be honest, I haven’t done much acting at all. There were a couple of cameos and things, but nothing serious.
ESQ : Have you taken acting lessons?
HENRY GOLDING: You know, three or four years ago, I actually took like a month of acting classes. Six sessions of Meisner technique in Singapore. But then I got the job with BBC hosting The Travel Show, so it wasn’t the right time to pursue acting. I’m always very conscious about timing. I don’t like rushing into things too much.
ESQ: But acting was something you were always drawn to?
HENRY GOLDING: Actually, for my entire life, I’ve always thought: ‘I’ll get into movies one day’, but I didn’t know how or when. But I just knew that when the opportunity arose, I’d be ready for it. As in, I’ll be able to commit. I’m so enamoured by storytelling and movie making. Acting in general. I have a fascination with it.
It’s a scorching 38 degrees in Joshua Tree. A relentless desert heat beats down, scorching skin and psyche, and I have Golding dressed in a full fur coat and sporting killer LV monogram hiking boots.
“This coat is intense,” Golding pipes up.
“They’re from the last LV collection by Kim Jones,” I tell him. “You’re going to look baller hanging out of the trailer door with it on, trust me.”
“That’s fashion,” Golding responds with a chuckle.
“Hashtag. That’s fashion.”
Golding throws on the fur coat, steps into frame and, immediately, transforms into a rough-and-tumble renegade— brooding and badass—hanging out of the faded pink trailer door; his left thumb nonchalantly hinged into the waistband of his trousers.
There are boulders to the back and a tangle of cacti to the front. It’s a long way from home for this trained hairdresser turned TV presenter turned Hollywood actor.
ESQ: I imagine they’re very different, but what thrill do you get from acting that you don’t get from hosting?
HENRY GOLDING: The difference is the focus. It’s like meditation. It’s like you have to be present. You can’t think of anything else apart from what’s happening in front of you. And just bouncing off somebody else and reacting to it and there’s no room for any other thought. And you just get locked into the zone. Everybody just doesn’t exist.
ESQ: What did you learn filming Crazy Rich Asians? Who did you learn from the most?
HENRY GOLDING: Jon Chu. He’s become like a brother. He is amazing. He’s got this way of unfolding the story. He works with the actor. He is open to suggestions and he has such a distinct taste for music and movement and, I suppose, the picture itself. Acting wise, I think Michelle Yeoh who plays my mother Eleanor in the movie. My scenes with Michelle were really nice. Super subtle. It was a genuine experience.
ESQ: Do you have a favourite scene from the movie?
HENRY GOLDING: There was one scene with just me and Michelle. We find ourselves in my old room at Tyersall Park and we just have this moment together. You connect and you see why Eleanor is the way she is. You see how much she loves her son. And like, on the other hand, Nick’s struggle of filial pressure.
ESQ: There was a lot of chatter about who should play Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians. All the fans had their own expectations. And there was this talk about whether you were ‘Asian enough’ or even ‘Singaporean enough’ to play Nick. What are your thoughts about that conversation?
HENRY GOLDING: It’s totally relevant. I think people have so much more power in influencing films these days. Before, what the studio says, goes. Did you see that stuff with Scarlett Johansson?
ESQ: What happened?
HENRY GOLDING: She just got dropped from a transsexual role. When she was announced, the trans community was like: ‘You can’t steal our roles. We can’t play straight people, so why are you taking our roles’? So she left the project. People have such power and, you know, people raising the question if I was Asian enough… I think it was fair. I am half-English. And there’s no denying it.
ESQ: Personally, that was the last thing on my mind. You are part Asian and you look Asian. I mean, if you looked very non-Asian, then okay, I understand the conversation.
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah, I’ve always thought I looked more Asian than… Eurasian.
ESQ: Surely the main criteria must be finding someone who embodies the charisma of Nick Young and can pull off a British accent? And you actually have a British accent. I thought those things were more critical…
HENRY GOLDING: But, you know, people will always have their opinions. The people who mainly commented on the announcement haven’t got a clue what the book’s about. Haven’t got a clue about who the character is. They just saw whitewashing, they just saw: ‘Eh, he isn’t even full Asian!’ That’s crazy.
ESQ: But all that aside, this is such a historical movie. Because of Asian representation. I think everyone is expecting this to be a vehicle for more Asian leads.
HENRY GOLDING: But then you have to take that with a pinch of salt. Some people are saying: ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t really represent Asians’. Of course not, it is a movie based on fictional characters of stereotype.
ESQ: And it’s meant to be fun and comedic.
HENRY GOLDING: Exactly, so some Singaporeans are saying that it is not representative of Singapore. Sure. But you do see Singapore in the most beautiful light. What Jon captured in Singapore is going to blow your socks off. It looks absolutely stunning and insane. Trust me, tourism is going to take off…
ESQ: I feel like, regardless of anyone’s take on the movie—love it or hate it—it’s going to be good for Singapore. And it’s going to be good for Asian actors. Period.
HENRY GOLDING: It’s going to be tremendous. Massive. To an unbelievable length. And I hope my career helps dictate that as well. In terms of breaking stereotypical roles and playing characters that are non-Asian. Or specified of race. Like my character in A Simple Favor. Sean Nelson is my character’s name and he’s married to Blake Lively which is, you know…
ESQ: Amazing. An Asian actor playing a character that, on paper, was not necessarily intended for an Asian actor.
HENRY GOLDING: Exactly. So you know, with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively on the project, hopefully it will really spotlight the movie.
Only in LA will you find a support crew at a magazine shoot that is populated by actors.
Our fashion assistant Ty is an actor-slash-stylist-slash-producer; our videographer Pedro, besides creating short films and features, is a budding actor; and on set for the day, just because he wanted to help out and be part of the action, is Logan, who plays teenage Kevin in NBC’s hit show, This Is Us.
We’ve just finished lunch and we’re getting Golding ready for the cover shot.
Ty helps Golding into a leather jacket; Pedro is perched atop a rusty slide to my left; and Logan is holding the merry-go-round still as I position Golding into place. Actors helping actors.
ESQ: What is it like spending more time in LA now? What’s the vibe working in a city full of dreamers?
HENRY GOLDING: The city is created upon the foundations of Hollywood right? So everyone is pretty much in the industry. Somehow, or related to it. But we [there he goes again, ‘we’ in reference to his team, instead of ‘I’] are in a very fortunate position to have had a nice small body of work very early on in my career.
ESQ: Do you find Hollywood intoxicating?
HENRY GOLDING: I’m older, I’m not going to be running around doing loads of drugs, getting shit-faced and not be able to turn up for work. I’m married. This, for me, is going to be work. And I’m going to be really down on it to ensure: one, that I’m marketable; and two, I’m not only acting but creating and telling stories. Also executive producing and putting together projects. The full total package. I’ve had countless meetings around town, but it’s good to have Crazy Rich and A Simple Favor as a point of reference. To have something that people can go like: ‘Oh, I heard about that project’. It’s tough cold calling. Like I’ve said, my experience has been unique in that sense. And everybody has a different experience.
ESQ: How did you land that role in A Simple Favor? Was that something you auditioned for or did they approach you?
HENRY GOLDING: So I wrapped Crazy Rich and I was in Bali. I was actually pinned for a movie, which was shooting in a couple of months, but then we got interest from Paul Feig. My agent called me and he was like: ‘Hey, Paul’s been asking about you. He’s got a movie shooting in Toronto. We told him that you were pinned for this movie. He was like: ‘I need to meet Henry on Skype immediately. When he wakes up or when I wake up. Let’s do it’. So we jumped on Skype, had this amazing conversation and auditioned. Next thing, I was flying to New York to do a director’s session with him. Then I was going to LA for a screen test with Blake.
ESQ : Sounds like it all happened really fast?
HENRY GOLDING: It was really exciting. I watched all of Paul Feig’s films, from Bridesmaids to The Ghostbusters—he’s been such a flag bearer for women in the industry. And so it was like a no-brainer. I was like: ‘Of course. If they want me, I’m in’. But, you know, it was actually his wife, Laurie Feig, who first told Paul about me. She’s a big fan of Crazy Rich Asians and I caught her eye. And so, that’s how it happened.
ESQ: Tell us more about the movie. It’s a suspense thriller?
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah. It’s a mystery involving Anna Kendrick’s character, who plays this picture perfect mommy- blogger, and this ethereal vixen in the form of Blake Lively. My character Sean Nelson is married to Blake. Anna and Blake’s characters become best buddies through their sons at school. Sort of how opposites attract. Then Blake’s character goes missing. It is about Anna’s character trying to track down and see what’s been happening with Blake’s character. It’s pretty crazy.
ESQ: And, on top of that, you’ve just finished filming your third movie, Monsoon, where you play a gay character tracing his family’s history in Vietnam. Out of the three movies, which are you most excited for people to see?
HENRY GOLDING: Crazy Rich Asians, for sure. But then, you know, each movie is so different. I’m so excited for all three. Crazy Rich is such a fun colourful, joyful movie. And then you move on to Paul’s film, you see a dark and deeper side of me and it’s like a whole different range. And I’m with two of the most amazing actresses in Hollywood at the moment. And then Monsoon, the script and the feel of the director and my character personally is just super subtle; very introspective. And it was amazing to be able to, because my character was gay, completely switch my mind. Not my mannerisms, because he wasn’t outwardly flamboyant or anything, he was just a normal guy. But he has a male love interest. So just to explore that.
ESQ: How did you find that process?
HENRY GOLDING: You know, it was funny, because after A Simple Favor, my wife was talking to me and saying: ‘You’re making out with a lot of women’. So, she’s like: ‘The day that you come back to me and you say you’ve got a gay role, then I’ll know you’re really acting and I know it’s a job’.
ESQ: (Laughs) And then Monsoon came along?
HENRY GOLDING: Yes. Literally, when I got the script, I’m like: ‘This is the fucking script. This is amazing’. And she loved it.
ESQ: You’ve done a romantic comedy in Crazy Rich, suspense thriller in A Simple Favor, and an indie film in Monsoon. Are you being strategic in choosing roles, early on in your career, to show off your range?
HENRY GOLDING: Absolutely, completely. I’ve got a fantastic team at Paradigm and my manager, Megan Silverman. We’ve carved out this trajectory, which we hope to continue. We are taking our time looking at materials. We are at no rush. You know, the most powerful thing you can say in Hollywood is ‘no’. Because it shows that you’re being sensible and you have a strategy. The next big project needs to be an exclamation point on the last three.
ESQ: What kind of projects are you looking forward to doing next? What genre?
HENRY GOLDING: Ideally, I would love to do something in sci-fi. That’s my personal favourite realm of storytelling. I’m a massive fantasy book fan. Everything from Matthew Stover to David Gemmell to, you know, just all of The Expanse series. I’m a massive sci-fi fan. Event Horizon is one of my favourite films of all time. I think Warner Brothers have the rights to Event Horizon, and if they do a second, holy shit, I mean… I would love to do it.
ESG : You’re the first one to put your hand up…
HENRY GOLDING: Oh yeah, I’m in there like swimwear.
ESQ: You’re in there like swimwear? (Laughs)
HENRY GOLDING: (Laughs) I would love to do anything with sci-fi. But ideally something with meat to it. You know, all these big studio franchises, they are fun and you get whisked away into the role for several years, but that’s what you have to do. You become that character for the rest of your career, pretty much. But before that happens, I just want to get my fill of other great stories.
ESQ: You love telling stories, that’s why you’re an actor. Otherwise why are you doing it?
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah, exactly. Hopefully people take my career trajectory in a sense that, if you work hard at what you do, you can pretty much do anything. You just have to put in the preparation and then seize opportunity when it arises. I think the sky is the limit. For aspiring actors, my advice is to just keep on going and who knows, they might just find themselves on the same weird path as I am.
ESQ: Which actors do you look up to?
HENRY GOLDING: Andy Serkis is phenomenal. Every single character that he has ever played is so different, from Black Panther when he was Ulysses Klaue to his Planet of the Apes stuff. I don’t know, he just has this visceral thing about him.
ESQ: What about someone you really want to work with next?
HENRY GOLDING: Dwayne Johnson is on fire right now. He’s like a billion-dollar machine in his own realm. I would love to work with him, but you know what they say, never meet your heroes. I think working with your heroes will be something totally different. Because you’re there to work. So, people are in their own frame of mind to get into whatever role they need to inhabit.
ESQ: Yeah, because when it comes to your heroes, you’ve already imagined or dreamt about that meeting…
HENRY GOLDING: Yeah, you think like: ‘Oh my god, they are going to love me and we are going to be best friends’. But I do love Paul Newman. His old stuff, just crazy. I liked all of his films. But career wise, I think more so like your Will Smiths, your Kevin Harts, your Tom Cruises, who create businesses. Not just act, but they put together deals. But when it comes to working with actors, ideally… I mean… nice actors. (Laughs)
ESQ: Because what you see onscreen and what you see off screen are very different things…
HENRY GOLDING: Of course. I just want to work with good people. There’s a saying that always comes up: ‘Life is too short to act with difficult actors’. You don’t want to be unhappy on set. Let’s do fun things.
ESQ : Would you ever want to direct?
HENRY GOLDING: At some point, for sure, definitely. I would love to give it a go, but it’s such a technical thing. There’s lot to learn, so definitely more movies before I cross that path.
ESQ: I’m excited for you. Your life is going to totally change with these movies. And, let’s be honest, as bad as stereotypes are, if anyone is looking for an Asian male lead, you’re now going to be one of the first names to come up.
HENRY GOLDING: For sure. Or if you just want to broaden the colour palette of your film. (Laughs)
Golding stands on top of the abandoned metal slide and throws his hands up in celebration; angling his face to soak in the warm afternoon sun. We’re done. It’s been a long day at Joshua Tree—hugs are exchanged, the actors take a group picture and the SUVs are repacked for our drive back to LA.
But as we’re about to head off, the wife of the property manager pulls Golding aside for a quick request: “Are you the actor from Crazy Rich Asians? I’ve read the books and I’m a huge fan. Do you mind if we take a quick picture?”
“Of course,” obliges Golding. “Not a problem.” The charm offensive is on. His eyes smile as he flashes his cheeky grin. That purr in his voice is still as strong as it was in the morning.
The day after our shoot, Golding flew to New York to record an episode with The View; attended director Jon Chu’s wedding later that same week, and embarked on a two-month long promotional tour for Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor.
No doubt, it’s a been a crazy ride to landing Crazy Rich Asians; but with a mind set on developing a lasting career, dashing looks to melt the heart of fans and the talent to boot, this journey west into Hollywood that started with a journey east into Singapore has only just begun.
Creative direction: Norman Tan
Photography: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling assistant: Ty Headlee
Photography assistant: Jalen Turner
Post-production: Pedro Correa
Shot on location at Bungalow in the Boulders, Joshua Tree, California
This article was originally published in the September issue of Esquire Singapore.