Henry Golding’s career has taken an unexpected turn in just the last six months.
Back in March, the English-Iban TV host was announced as the male lead of Crazy Rich Asians, an upcoming film based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan.
Then, over a month ago, Golding landed a lead role in another Hollywood film, A Simple Favor, acting opposite Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick.
“Completely,” the 30-year-old tells Star2 in a phone interview from Toronto (where A Simple Favor is being shot) when asked how much his life has changed.
“But this is the lull before the storm. This is before (the movies) come out because next year it’s going to be a big one. It’s two big studio movies and there’s going to be a lot of hype around Crazy Rich Asians.”
And Golding is not looking back, revealing he is now actively pursuing an acting career abroad.
“This is the course I’m going to be following. I’ve got some really strong agents and a manager behind me. I’ve got Fly Entertainment looking out for me in Asia. And I’ve got Paradigm in Los Angeles looking out for movie deals and what not.”
Golding, who grew up mostly in Britain, entered showbiz when he left London in 2008 and took up a job as a TV presenter on local variety show, 8TV Quickie.
He has since carved out an illustrious hosting career both in Malaysia and internationally.
Rite of passage
His most recent hosting job, Surviving Borneo, took him back to his hometown, Betong, Sarawak, where he kicked off his bejalai journey. Bejalai is the practice of travelling to far off places as a rite of passage for Iban men.
The six-episode series, shot over two months last year, chronicles Golding’s adventures as he travelled entirely on foot, with just a few bare essentials, to the mountains of Bario to spend time with the Kelabits in the deep interiors of Sarawak to seek out the nomadic tribe, the Penans.
In light of the new developments in his career, Golding says he will be signing off from hosting for now.
“I think this may be, for now, one of my last projects for a while. And what a project to go out with. It’s such an amazing personal story.
“I’ve been a travel host for the past six or seven years and this is my ultimate travel story. And it’s come up in the most appropriate time when I’m having such a paradigm shift.”
Did you have your own version of the bejalai when you were growing up?
Bejalai is a personal endeavour that’s not limited in terms of what it can be.
It’s really a time in your life where you reflect on yourself and learn something about yourself while going through something mentally and physically challenging.
My father left for the army before he turned 18. And so he travelled the world via that and became the man he is now. My journey (in 2008) was to venture out to Asia from the UK and go through different routes. It’s different for everybody.
Surviving Borneo sees you navigating the jungles of Borneo. What was that experience like?
It was myself and a hand camera and the people who accompanied me at different parts of the journey – my uncle, a Kelabit guide and a Penan couple.
The only time I had a crew and producer was when I was preparing to head out on these journeys. Eighty percent of the time, I was on my own. There’s no pretending, there’s no setting up anything which a lot of these reality TV shows sort of do.
I was mainly on foot. I’ve got a hammer, I’ve got the bare essentials. We bring rice and water, that’s about it. We brought a staple of carbohydrates but everything else we had to forage and hunt for.
Were there any moments during your bejalai journey you felt your life was in danger?
Not really. I mean, there were some strange moments in the middle of the night.
One night, I woke up and there was a scorpion the size of my fist at the foot of my (makeshift) bed, which was like a bamboo shelter that we made. That was not pleasant to wake up to.
There has been some debate over the casting choice for Crazy Rich Asians with some preferring a full Asian leading man. What is your take on this?
I think where we are in South-East Asia, there are so many communities that are of mixed races like the Peranakans, the Dutch settlers, the Portuguese settlers, especially in places like Singapore and Malaysia.
There are (some perceptions) where people think, “Oh, you have to be Asian-Asian to be considered Asian.”
But a lot of these American-born Chinese, they’ve never stepped foot in Asia; does that make them less Asian? Does it make me more Asian because I spent more time here and am aware of my culture and embrace my Asian heritage more than they? There is no right answer.
I just know that we made a kick-a** film and the character lends himself to being a very worldly person. It’s a story at the end of the day. The fantastic thing about movies is it’s about telling stories.
What’s it like working on the set of a Hollywood movie?
At first it was really daunting. The build up to it was more daunting than actually being on the set itself because everybody was so nice.
But you have this thing in your head, “Do I really deserve to be here? Am I going to be able to do this?”
And then when you get on there, for me it was really natural and it was a very intuitive experience.
You’re starring in a second Hollywood movie, A Simple Favor. How did the opportunity come about? What is it like working with Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick?
It came off the back of Crazy Rich Asians. Paul Feig, the director, was looking for an actor to play this lead role and his wife was a really big fan of Crazy Rich Asians and she knew that I was cast.
At the same time, there was an exec at Lionsgate who is aware of (me being cast on) Crazy Rich Asians who also mentioned my name.
Then, it came down to Paul and I having a Skype. He sent over scenes for me to self-record. And then I went down to New York and worked on a few scenes and then over to LA to do a screen test with Blake.
It’s been unreal. It’s my seventh day of filming out of 40. I was filming with Blake yesterday.
My scenes are all with Blake and Anna which is great because you get to have that one-on-one chemistry with these amazing actresses. I grew up watching them. It’s such a gift to be on something like that.
You and your wife Liv Lo just celebrated your one year anniversary. How do you balance marriage and work?
We message each other every day, we do video calls. Nowadays it’s not so hard. And I always make sure that there’s a flat for Liv in my contracts so she can come and visit wherever I am in the world.
We will always try to strategise when’s the best time for her to come over. (My director) Paul and his wife can’t wait for her to get over there. So it’s just making a healthy balance and keeping that communication strong.
Surviving Borneo airs every Sunday at 9pm on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551).