Crazy Rich Asians: Henry Golding on becoming a leading man in his first film

By Imran Rahman-Jones
Newsbeat reporter

image source, Warner Bros

Henry Golding's first job as an actor just happened to be as leading man in a giant Hollywood romcom.

So far, the film's made over $160m (£128m) worldwide, and been loved by critics - it's got a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Its plotline is pretty much summed up by the title: Crazy Rich Asians.

And while there are some recognisable faces in the cast, you probably wouldn't have heard of its leading actor.

The Black Panther of romcoms?

image source, Warner Bros
image captionConstance Wu plays a woman visiting her boyfriend's parents for the first time - but he hasn't told her that he's from one of the richest families in Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians is "about family," Henry tells Newsbeat, adding: "It really is a love letter to south-east Asia."

The film's made headlines because of its cast, which is nearly all Asian.

That's significant because studios have seemed reluctant in the past to let ethnic minorities front films, although that is changing with blockbusters like Black Panther and Wonder Woman.

"We knew the importance of what this film would be to a lot of people," Henry says.

"We worked as hard as possible to make it special, and prove everybody - especially the studios - that people of colour can tell amazing stories."

image source, Getty Images
image captionKen Jeong, Constance Wu, Hanry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina and Jing Lusi

It looks like success has fallen to the 31-year-old star of the movie overnight - but he'd worked for years on screen before landing this role.

Back in 2013, when the book of Crazy Rich Asians came out, Henry was "running around Malaysia or Japan filming travel shows".

That was as a presenter on the BBC's Travel Show, based in Malaysia.

Before that, he'd worked in a salon in London.

image source, EPA
image captionDirector Jon M Chu learnt about Henry through an accountant

It was almost by accident that he ended up getting the film.

The producers were, as he says, "four days from submitting the final number of actors to the head of studio" - when an accountant who had worked with him five years earlier suggested Henry's name to the film's director, Jon M Chu.

He sent over an audition tape and was eventually cast as Nick Young.

image captionHenry Golding on the Travel Show last year

Still a long way to go

The fact that the filmmakers "literally searched the globe" before finding him is a story Henry also uses to defend himself against criticism.

He is half English and half Malaysian, which has led some people to question why a fully Asian man couldn't be found, given the character in the book isn't of English heritage.

"It's a justifiable conversation to be had. But I was the correct actor for this particular role," he says.

"The director looked at every single viable actor and none of them really brought what they needed to Nick Young. But I did."

Henry adds that it's a well-worn argument.

"For everybody who is of mixed race... you're definitely not considered white.

"You need to take pride in where you're from. I'm neither half white nor half Asian. I'm full both."

image source, Warner Bros
image captionLisa Lu (centre) plays Henry's grandmother in the film. She was also in The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago - the last Hollywood film with a primarily Asian cast

While he's proud of his Asian heritage, he doesn't want this to just be known as an "Asian film".

"Right now - very early days, where we need to be proud. Yes, this is an all-Asian contemporary story for the first time in 25 years".

But "not even having to mention that it's Asian. That's where we all need to get to".

image source, Warner Bros
image caption"Asian" is used the American way, to mean people of East and south-East Asian heritage, rather than from south Asia

East Asians still face their own stereotypes: the creepy genius, the geeky sidekick or the ninja warrior.

They're not often seen as sexy or romantic leads - especially the men.

This film tries to change that, with Henry and some of the other actors spending quite a bit of the film shirtless.

"It's hot in Singapore," he laughs. "You gotta take that top off."

image source, Warner Bros

He seems pretty comfortable with the attention - and it's partly why there are rumblings online for him to replace Henry Cavill as Superman.

Or even Daniel Craig as James Bond?

He laughs and says: "I mean... I'll represent the community as much as I can.

"That would be an honour."

image source, Lionsgate
image captionBlake Lively and Henry Golding play a married couple in A Simple Favour

Henry will next be seen as Blake Lively's husband in thriller A Simple Favour.

And a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, based on the book's sequel China Rich Girlfriend, has already been announced.

But Henry - who still lives in Malaysia with his wife - is still catching up with his new leading man status.

"To be honest, my life hasn't changed much apart from more work," he says.

"I haven't had the moment to settle down and enjoy it."

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