PHOTO BY SHANE McCAULEY
Henry Golding is a natural globetrotter. He was born in Borneo and grew up on the beaches of Terengganu, Malaysia (his father met his mother, a member of the indigenous Iban tribe, while serving in the British military) before moving to the U.K. and then Singapore to pursue a career in broad- casting. “Acting was always a dream of mine,” the 31-year- old says. “But I also knew that I would have to be mentally ready and mature enough to undertake it.” He worked as a travel TV host for several years, most notably embarking on his bejalai—a rite of passage and journey for Iban men that included going under the needle for 10 hours to receive a traditional dragon head tribal tattoo—for Discovery Channel’s Surviving Borneo.
When director Jon M. Chu was casting the male lead for Crazy Rich Asians—an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling 2013 novel about ultra-wealthy Singaporeans—a mutual acquaintance recommended Golding. The actor scored the part of Nick Young, the sole heir to one of the nation’s wealthiest families, who scandalizes relatives when he brings home his middle-class, Chinese-American girlfriend (Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu). The film, which comes out August 15, features the first principally Asian cast in a Hollywood movie since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. “We knew this was such a special project,” Golding says. “We’d all been put together, Asians from all around the world with different backgrounds— British Asians, American Asians, Southeast Asians— who all have experienced some sort of non-inclusion, in a sense, from society. The love on set was insane.”
Golding continues to build his momentum with a star- ring role in next month’s Paul Feig–directed thriller, A Simple Favor. In the film, which unfolds like a goofier version of Gone Girl, he plays a flailing novelist who comes under the wing of his wife’s best friend (Anna Kendrick) after his spouse (Blake Lively) mysteriously disappears. And in the upcoming indie Monsoon, Golding plays a gay British-Vietnamese man who returns to Saigon to bury his parents’ ashes 30 years after fleeing the Vietnam War. “I wanted to make sure that I’m not going to get typecast,” he says. “I want the work to speak for itself. I want to have the title of a leading man, not just the Asian leading man.”