How Henry Golding went from rom-com heartthrob to Snake Eyes action hero
A "lively debate" took place within Paramount Pictures before the studio approached actor Henry Golding about starring in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. "I'll say accessibility was a really important characteristic that we were looking for with this particular movie," producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who was present for that debate, tells EW. "This is an origin story. This is something where [the title character] is supposed to be very vulnerable. And yet, he's also supposed to have a lot of... I'll say machismo."
Golding's machismo was the subject of that particular debate. He had previously appeared in Crazy Rich Asians, the globally successful rom-com, and A Simple Favor, the Blake Lively- and Anna Kendrick-led black comedy. Yet it was that first one, his "claim to fame," as Di Bonaventura calls it, that some involved with Snake Eyes were hung up on.
"He comes out of the romantic-comedy world," he says. "We had a list of people. You always put one together... We ended up saying, 'He's our first choice. Let's go to him.'"
From that first meeting, it seemed like the producers instantly forgot what they had been discussing. The 6-foot-1 actor is naturally a "big guy," Di Bonaventura continues. "He has a lot of physicality, and what I have learned over doing many, many action pictures is you can teach people action if they're athletic. If they're not athletic, good luck. You can tell almost by the way somebody walks. Henry had it — and also had the drive to do it, which was important to us because you're trying to do something with the G.I. Joe franchise which hasn't been done."
Career wise, Golding is always on the hunt for something different. It's why he went from the popcorn romance of Crazy Rich Asians to the mindf---ery of A Simple Favor to the calmer, more intimate Monsoon. "The last thing you want is to be pigeonholed," he says. So, when Paramount came knocking about Snake Eyes, that was on his mind: he wanted it to be different.
"When they approached me, I was like, 'Look, I don't want to make a cookie-cutter movie. It has to stand out,'" he said. Over the course of a lunch with director Robert Schwentke (RED, R.I.P.D.), Golding felt the vision of a large-scale summer movie that felt "much more like Mission: Impossible action, rather than your Disney action film." It's partly why he doesn't want to call the man known as Snake Eyes a "superhero."
"What's the the description of a superhero? Someone with super powers. The G.I. Joe universe is so grounded. Is it more of an action hero? I dunno," he thinks aloud. "This movie is very different to your traditional superhero movies. It's refreshing in that way."
Snake Eyes tells the origin story of the G.I. Joe character known for his signature helmet, his ties to the Arashikage ninja clan, his relationship with Storm Shadow, and his skills with the katana. After saving the clan's heir apparent, Tommy (Andrew Koji), he's inducted into the world of the Arashikage in Japan, where he trains to become of these elite warriors. Golding, too, had to train for the role and what he calls the film's "traditional swordplay."
"We all went through the Kenji school of hard knocks," he says, referring to fight coordinator and second unit director Kenji Tanigaki. "We had a phenomenal stunt team who were with us literally every day. We would do five hours of choreography and training. I would do an extra hour and a half of private training. Then, we would do a solid, like, two-and-a-half hours of script work with our amazing director. It was such a finely tuned machine. Everybody was just in sync."
Some days hit harder than others. He once described the early days of training as "literal hell," but he notes that, "going from working out maybe three, four times a week to working out every day for five hours, your body has to catch up." Golding had to catch up more than some of his costars. Iko Uwais, an international star of movies like The Raid and The Night Comes For Us, is "a legend" in Golding's eyes when it comes to martial arts. He also points to Koji, the star of the Bruce Lee-inspired series Warrior, who's "been doing Taekwondo since he was like 12 years old."
"You have to pick up these new skills so quickly," Golding mentions. "To not have a base level understanding of movement and combat would be really difficult."
It's safe to say whoever had reservations about casting Golding in the first place doesn't have those anymore. Although, Di Bonventura admits his natural "charm," the kind on full display in that rom-com of his, helped matters. "You're hard-pressed to find somebody more charming than him," he says.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is out in theaters this Friday.