The "Crazy Rich Asians" movie, which opens on 17 August has a thing or two for Singaporeans to be excited about. For starters, it is based on a novel of the same title, written by Singaporean-American novelist Kevin Kwan, who was inspired by his childhood in the inner circle of Singapore's who's who; the Hollywood production boasts an all-Asian cast and it was shot at iconic locations around Singapore; and finally, our own local heartthrob, Henry Golding, plays the "super rich Singaporean boyfriend" aka the main dude in the show. To the uninitiated, Golding is a British-Malaysian actor who has called Singapore home for the past five years. You may have caught the 31-year-old as that adventurous, up-for-anything travel host for Discovery Channel Asia and BBC World News. Before that, Golding was a hairstylist who had moved from London to Asia to follow his dreams of working in television. "I had no idea about television. I just made that leap, went into it gung-ho. Pretty naïve maybe, but I worked hard and I got it," says Golding during a private interview in San Francisco.
Golding has been travelling for the past few months and we managed to catch him in San Francisco where he was a participant in Cartier's Social Lab, where the French watchmaker hosted a series of inspiring conversations for pioneering and fearless trendsetters who epitomise the spirit of its newly reissued watch, the Santos.
The Santos de Cartier watch was a 1904 model which Louis Cartier made for his aviator friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont. Dumont reportedly wore it for every flight that he went on.
Golding's relationship with Cartier goes way back to the first timepiece that he bought, a Cartier Pasha watch. When he came across this watch, he "fell in love with it completely".
"I called around and I think they were limited to about a thousand pieces. It was a Moon Phase Cartier Pasha," says Golding. Till date, he still has the watch, albeit safely tucked away like a precious token of memory. "I think it's a reminder. It's one of those pieces... Cartier does this really well. To me, it represents a time in life where I felt that I deserved something special and that was the watch."
The Pasha which now sits in his apartment in San Francisco has been replaced by the latest reiteration of the Santos de Cartier.
"My sort of collection of timepieces is rather slim or low profile so this new updated shape of the Santos is so much better for me. It still has that beautiful square face but it kind of just slips in and out of your sleeves," quips Golding. "It's not too bulky, not too large. It's just sexy, one of those things your eyes are instantly drawn to." Beyond the physicalities of the watch, there are some distinct characteristics that Golding shares with the watch.
"Definitely fearless," says Golding when asked about the word that would describe him best, while casually allowing the new, slimmer Santos play peekaboo with his shirt sleeve. "Fearless in the sense that I am not afraid to take a leap of faith," he continues. Evidently, when presented with the opportunity to transition from hosting to acting, Golding's answer to the role of Nicholas (Nick) Young, the main lead in "Crazy Rich Asians", was "Why the hell not? It's [going to be] fun ... [Nick] is very similar to my character. At the heart of him, he's an extremely kind and well-travelled guy. His priorities are love, family and money is this thing that he carries, it's his family's money," says Golding who described the audition process as "pretty good". He flew to Los Angeles to do a chemistry read with his female lead, the Taiwanese-American actress, Constance Wu, who is best known for her role as Jessica Huang in the American sitcom series "Fresh Off the Boat". Wu plays Rachel Chu, Young's girlfriend whom he met in America and she is totally unaware of her boyfriend's "old money" wealth and privileged background back in Singapore.
From left: Ermenegildo Zegna coat, sweater and trousers. Cartier Santos de Cartier pink gold watch with leather strap. Boss shoes. On the right: Ermenegildo Zegna Couture jacket and shirt. Ermenegildo Zegna trousers. Cartier Santos de Cartier pink gold watch with leather strap. Boss shoes.
Rumour has it that Taiwanese-Canadian model Godfrey Gao and Chinese-American singer Leehom Wang were also shortlisted for the same role, which eventually went to Golding. A huge portion of the main casts of this all-Asian Hollywood production is played by Asians with mixed parentage, or Asians who have spent their time growing up in non-Asian countries. This brought on some backlash on the internet about the roles not being played by a "full" Asian. "I think a lot of the criticism were coming from keyboard warriors. Sadly, it was coming from a lot of American Chinese," Golding shares. "It's coming from these Asians who have never been to Asia and/or never lived in Asian cultures; all they know is American culture. I am not saying that they are less Asian than I am, [but] we should be in this together. It shouldn't be about pointing fingers and saying that you're not Asian enough to play that. When it comes to white roles, Americans can play English, English can play German, African Americans can play Africans or vice versa. It has to be the norm; you can't be highlighting someone's race if it's a character. It's all stories we are telling and we need the best tools to tell these stories."
Unfortunately, Asians still get the stereotyped characters in the roles they play in Hollywood movies. And the token Asian role would most likely be that of a geeky, smart, good-at-math, and, usually a sidekick to the main character. "But now that has changed," says Golding. The characters in "Crazy Rich Asians" are so wonderfully lived and each of them has a different personality, not a stereotype, he shares.
Somewhat like what Marvel's "Black Panther" has done for black heroes, he notes. "It was amazing and totally blew open all cultural boundaries," says Golding. "And this is exactly what 'Crazy Rich Asians' is going to do for Asians. It's really the continuation and making it a norm not about highlighting a movie and saying that we should watch it because it is an Asian lead, but more so watching a film because it is a beautiful story and it happens to have Asian characters," says Golding. "There definitely has been a door opened especially with 'Crazy Rich Asians'."
Ermenegildo Zegna shirt and jacket. Cartier Santos de Cartier pink gold watch with leather strap.
Golding's own windows of opportunity opened all (almost) at the same time too. Right after "Crazy Rich Asians" premieres, he will star as Hollywood actress, Blake Lively's on-screen husband in the mystery thriller "A Simple Favor", which will open on 14 September. Later this year, Golding will be seen in "Monsoon", where he has taken on the role of a gay man who, after 30 years, returns to Vietnam from London, re-experiencing his hometown he never knew when he was younger.
For someone who has never starred in a movie before, bagging three international roles in one year is really something to celebrate but instead, the man who was born in Sarawak, remains grounded and is very grateful. "I can't really put into words how amazing it feels. I can say that I have been given such an opportunity and now I have to put in the hard work and show everybody that the faith has been put in for good reason."
Ermenegildo Zegna coat and sweater. Henry Golding’s own ring.
Off-screen, Golding is husband to Liv Lo, the Italian-Taiwanese model and yoga instructor. The two dated for five years before tying the knot two years ago in his hometown. And though Golding is very much comfortable in front of the camera, the world of acting has brought forth a totally different experience for Lo, who is "not used to seeing me fall in love with other people on screen." But lucky for them, the two of them have been spending time together even during his jet-setting schedule, doing promos for all of his movies.
"I think everybody in the industry kind of know that time away from people can have adverse effects so they have made some amends for that," he says. "Time with my wife is probably my most precious."
Photographs by Stefan Khoo
Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong
Styled by Gregory Woo
Grooming by Melissa Yeo/ NARS Cosmetics & OUAI Haircare
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