On the surface, it’s a little weird that here’s Henry Golding, a man with, indisputably, movie star handsome looks, coming off the enormous success of Crazy Rich Asians, and now his first big action movie is Snake Eyes. Now, the “weird” part is Snake Eyes, the character, is a member of the G.I. Joe team that is best known for always wearing a mask and never speaking. Look, I’m not a businessperson, but if I’m casting Henry Golding, he’s going to speak and audiences are going to see his face. And, rest assured, in this origin story, that’s exactly what audiences are going to get. When I asked Golding what happens if he does 10 of these movies, if eventually he’ll have to wear a mask and not speak, he is delighted by that idea and jokes that would be an “easy job.” Touché.
Snake Eyes is, strangely, being marketed as a spinoff movie, when in reality it’s the first entry of a complete reboot of the G.I. Joe movie series. The events in Snake Eyes have nothing to do with the previous two movies. The origin of Snake Eyes in the Larry Hama comic books from the ’80s depict Snake Eyes as a white guy who, injured during the Vietnam War and losing his ability to speak, travels to Japan and trains to be a ninja alongside his sometimes friend, often times foe, Storm Shadow. As Golding explains, he’s now talked to Hama at length and, back then, the pressures from above, in the end, gave us the good guy who is white, and the bad guy who is Asian. Now, with Snake Eyes, the film, that aspect can be corrected. Snake Eyes, in the movie, is still very much an American, but now he’s an Asian-American who travels to Japan, as we see an updated version of that origin story.
Golding also made some news a couple months ago when he inserted himself into the New York City mayoral race by tweeting at then-candidate Andrew Yang, calling him “a twat.” Yang had just tweeted about the unrest in Israel, a very complicated situation, for what appeared to be political gain. Golding hesitates before getting into this because, as he says, he doesn’t like talking about politics publicly, but then explains what was going through his head that day and why he decided he couldn’t just stay silent about this.
I’m trying to picture, after the massive success of Crazy Rich Asians, someone saying to you, “Hey, you know this character most known for not speaking and wearing a mask at all times? What do you think?”
Of course that’s the first thing that goes through everybody’s head, and that’s something that I had to sort of take into account…
I assume early on they said, “You’re not going to wear a mask much and you get to talk.”
Exactly. We meet him right at the beginning of the film as sort of a mystery, as a bit of, I suppose, a no-namer. He’s been wandering around with this thought of vengeance with trying to do justice with these injustices that have happened to him and his family. This being the start of something huge, you need that foundation to get behind a character like that.
So what was your familiarity with G.I. Joe in general? Because outside of the United States, it’s not as popular as it is here. I feel that’s accurate, right?
It’s 100 percent accurate. But for me, I would catch the Saturday morning cartoons. They would have them broadcast once in a while, probably in some of Malaysia or in the UK. So, of course, we were highly aware of it. And the comics really traveled. My brother was a big comic book fan. Mainly sort of the Marvel stuff, but he had a couple of the Transformers and G.I Joes…
Right, they would team up and fight each other.
As a kid you’re like, oh my God, this is the most insane comic book ever! So that’s what I kind of knew of as G.I. Joe, but then it wasn’t until, of course, later in life when the movies came out, that you’re aware of how huge a G.I. Joe was, especially in America, and how much it means to the past.
Speaking of the comics, the Larry Hama Marvel stuff was pretty amazing.
No, it’s true. He puts so much meaning into these endless characters, that pretty much an infinite amount of G.I. Joes keep popping up. “Oh, there’s this guy who does that. Oh, this guy who does that.” But for him, he really fleshed out these characters. Talking to him was amazing.
Oh, you talked to him?
He was on set with us.
Oh, that’s great.
I’ve been in a couple of Q & A’s with him. With fans who ask him, “Oh, why did you choose this?” Or, “Why did you create this?” Sometimes he’s just like, “Well, that’s what was in my head at the time. There’s no meaning behind it.” So some of what fans would presume is really sort of intricately thought out moments, were sometimes Larry just thinking off the top of his head. That’s the magic of comic books, is that you roll with this character building, and you create, and you layer, and you build. So yeah, Larry’s an absolute genius.
During filming did you ask him for advice on how to portray Snake Eyes?
To be honest, no. Not really. I think what we really discussed was why he made the yin and yang of the characters of Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. What he felt was necessary. Why, originally, did he have the Asian character as turning into the bad guy?
What did he say to that?
There’s a lot of pressure from up above. A lot of these decisions sometimes come from outside of his control. So, it’s interesting to hear about some of those pressures because at the end of it he worked for a studio and worked for a publication. So, to be able to define a relationship between two men from different cultures, it was easier to sort of say, “Right. This is the white guy. This is the Asian guy. Put them two together and let’s see what happens.”
Speaking of that original origin of “the white guy and the Asian guy,” people have been pretty on board with you playing Snake Eyes, right? Even as a kid, Snake Eyes, a ninja, just being this white guy didn’t make a lot of sense.
It’s also the fact that we are in such a global world right now. Our culture is so meshed. Cultures are so meshed in a kind of transient and weird way. We don’t have to identify purely with the fact that it’s black, or it’s white, or it’s Caucasian, or it’s Asian. You can be Caucasian and still feel out of place in somewhere like Europe where you have no standing. But, back in the comic book days, when Larry was making it, the only understanding of this would be, “Oh, let’s take a white guy and let’s bring him to Japan so he can learn the way of the ninja and then come back and take the secrets and whatnot.” But you could do that with anybody not from Japan now. So, for us, it wasn’t as important to make that distinction of race. We wanted to make it so much more up-to-date. I think that’s the way that we went, and I think that’s the future.
So what happens if you wind up doing 10 of these? The last seven, are you just going to have to wear a mask and not talk? That aspect of this character has to go away, right?
[Laughs] That’d be the easy job!
You’re in the suit, you’re doing it all, but you don’t have to talk. Yeah, I guess that makes your job easier.
Then you’ve got to think, would you really think they wouldn’t come up with some sort of voice box? If they can create a synthetic voice for anyone in the world, do you think that maybe he’ll opt for once in a while saying something through this little helmet that he has? Unless he took the vow of silence, that’s different.
I feel like the vow of silence could come in handy in real life, too. Just, look. I’ve got the vow of silence. I’m sorry.
He will be on a silent retreat throughout the majority of the second film or the third film.
It’s interesting people have it in their head Snake Eyes can’t talk. When I first had the action figure, the comic wasn’t out yet, there was no cartoon yet. He spoke a lot in my backyard.
I would assume, going forward, since you’re a famous movie star, they’re going to want you to say stuff. I don’t think they’re going to make a version where you don’t get to talk.
Do you want to be the writer of the new Snake Eyes films? Because I like the direction you’re going.
Also, why is this movie referred to as a spinoff? I don’t think this is a spinoff. This seems like a complete reboot. Am I accurate?
It’s 100 percent just wiping the slate clean and setting the tone in the movies going forward, with this sort of very grounded in reality kind of tone.
Yeah. The tone is much different.
You have the magic of the movies, and the magic of Cobra and G.I. Joe, but in the real sense of it is this journey of a human kind and issues that they come across.
When I spoke to Jon Chu for In The Heights, who directed G.I. Joe: Retaliation, he said you two spoke a little bit about you joining the G.I. Joe universe. What advice did he give you?
It was a crazy set of circumstances. He found me for Crazy Rich Asians. I would stay in his guest room coming over from Singapore. And I was staying with him in LA, and he would have Snake Eyes on his wall.
He has a cinema room. Then I came to him and I was like, “Dude, I think that they’re considering me for the role.” And he just looks up at his wall and he was like, “That guy?” But, yeah, that was this weird roundabout of circumstance, which just kind of put us both together in multiple ways.
I promise I’m not trying to get you in trouble. As a New Yorker, I noticed when you tweeted at Andrew Yang. Again, as someone who lives here, I get it, but I also want to know where’d that come from and why’d that happened?
You are an actual twat.
— Henry Golding (@henrygolding) May 11, 2021
I usually don’t talk about politics… but I think accountability for your supposed sort of heroes and people you look out for is something very important in this day and age. I think it was a slightly reckless tweet to put out at a very sensitive time. I think it is such a layered and complicated issue that’s happening over there, that you cannot and should not tweet, in a position that you are in, something like that for the sake of the mayoral run. That was my, simply put, condensed version of that in a very naughty, bad tweet.
I believe you used the word “twat.”
But that was my meaning. I shouldn’t have… Maybe I should have bit my lip, but I’m glad I didn’t. I think it rose a lot of questioning to people with, “Hey, you can’t do that. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
People seemed pleased you did that.
You’ve got to understand, I’m definitely not used to usually putting my nose in that business because I’m a very straightforward kind of guy. But I thought that was a step too far with somebody from, especially, our community trying to do good. I understand. Perhaps it was a misstep, or whatever it was. But I think, I hope, it made him – well, made the party or whatever it is – just think twice about what you spout because it does have really negative effects. Islamophobia is real. Antisemitism is absolutely real. So do not stoke those fires either way, that’s what I say.
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