Henry Golding, playing a gay man in Monsoon, doesn't shy away from the representation conversation
Henry Golding isn't one to shy away from potentially uncomfortable conversations, especially if they are conversations worth having. It's one of the actor's admirable qualities. The 33-year-old star of Crazy Rich Asians and the upcoming Snake Eyes found himself at the center of a lot these discussions through his new movie Monsoon.
Golding plays a gay man, Kit, who returns to his birthplace in Vietnam after fleeing with his parents to the U.K. as a child. He's definitely not the first straight-identifying actor to take on an LGBTQ role in Hollywood and most likely won't be the last, even as castings of this nature typically come with criticism, more so now regarding cisgender actors taking on trans roles. What feels refreshing is a willingness on Golding's part to engage with that kind of criticism.
Speaking with EW over the phone from his Los Angeles home, having moved from the U.K. last August, Golding recognizes "it's an extremely layered conversation."
"I think it really comes down to understanding each and every angle when it comes to a topic like that," Golding says. "It's understanding what the struggles have been, why there's a camp that says gay characters should only be played by gay people versus the camp that says actors should be able to mimic or become who their character is. Representation needs to be truthful on screen, but then does that limit artistry? It's a merry-go-round of conversation and I think neither really… how should I put it… neither are right, neither are wrong."
Golding came across Monsoon, written and directed by openly gay filmmaker Hong Khaou (Lilting, Spring), at a time when Crazy Rich Asians hadn't yet become a worldwide phenomenon and propelled Golding's name into the limelight. The actor was committed to cultivating a "spectrum" of different roles at the start of his "fledgling career," as he puts it. The story of Monsoon was about a struggle to find one's identity. After the passing of his parents, Kit returns to Vietnam in search of a place to spread their ashes, while also hoping to find some connection to his birthplace. "He understands he's Vietnamese, but he's grown up in this second culture of being in the U.K.," Golding explains. "When he comes back, he presumes he'll feel at home, [like] coming back to a loved one. And when he does, it just doesn't feel like that. He doesn't understand the language. The chaos and the symphony of noises around the streets of Vietnam are so overwhelming for him."
Golding felt an instant connection to the material. He was born in Malaysia, but grew up in the U.K. and then moved back solo to Malaysia in his 20s wanting to return to his "motherland." "I felt that same feeling of alienation," he mentions, "of not feeling welcomed as you'd imagine yourself to be."
According to Golding, Khaou auditioned "hundreds of Asian men" of all sexualities for the role of Kit, but his personal story was so similar to the character's that he became the right fit for the job. Still mulling the topic of taking on a gay role as a straight man, Golding ponders what the right answer is. "Do you not take that into account," he says of his personal connection to the story, "or do you go with an actor just because he follows the sexuality of the character? I don't know. It's a very interesting conversation."
Ultimately, Khaou saw Golding as the right fit. Golding was impressed by how Kit's sexuality, the way the filmmaker wrote it, almost took "a backseat" — meaning, "it's just a matter of fact," he adds, which was "done on purpose because Hong truly is a believer of normalizing" this representation. "What Hong really wanted to portray was the fact that [Kit] didn't understand his history, he didn't understand his belonging, but one thing he did understand was his sexuality. That was his solitude."
While filming on location in Vietnam, shortly after Golding shot A Simple Favor, he shared a few rather intimate scenes with costar Parker Sawyers, who plays Lewis, an American clothing designer now settled in the country. Golding says a chemistry with Lewis was struck from the very beginning. Khaou gave them "little direction" and the character relationships "flowed seamlessly on set."
Now, Golding is in a place where Crazy Rich Asians earned more than $238 million at the global box office with talks of a sequel, and he finished filming the title role of the Snake Eyes, a potential new franchise starter for G.I. Joe, in Japan. Also, lined up is a voice role in the animated film adaptation of Tiger's Apprentice. He has a platform to have more meaningful conversations that could potentially have a bigger impact.
When it comes to Kit, Golding says he "may never come to a conclusion" about whether it's right or wrong for him to tackle such a role. "I think within art, if you approach it with respect and you have an understanding of the subject and the lives that this is about, then I think you're creating a piece that hopefully teaches people or pushes the conversation into the right direction." More actors in Golding's position could learn a thing or two from that approach.