His lips were sealed. When Henry Golding landed the role of absurdly wealthy Nick Young in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, “I only told my dad because it was so under wraps,” says the British-Malaysian actor, 31. “I knew if I told my mom, she’d be chatting away with everyone in Malaysia!”
Gossip travels even faster onscreen. In the film — the first to boast an all-Asian cast in Hollywood since 1993’s Joy Luck Club — Nick brings his American girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu) home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. But guess what he conveniently forgets to mention to her? Yep, that he’s a billionaire more desired than any superstar. Now, nearly 10,000 miles from home, Rachel must face gold-digger accusations and the disapproval of his fearsome mom (Michelle Yeoh).
The host of BBC’s The Travel Show opens up to Us.
Us Weekly: OK, be honest: Were you a fan of the book before this?
Henry Golding: I knew of it, but I hadn’t read it. It wasn’t until Jon [Chu, the director] started following me on Instagram that I was like, “Oh! Maybe I should read this book just in case something happens.” I read it on a six-hour flight. It’s such a page-turner.
Us: This is your film debut — congrats! Were you nervous?
HG: Of course! I had grown up watching Michelle Yeoh — and then I had these beautiful scenes with her. During preproduction, I was like, “We should meet for coffee!” I was so nervous going in, but she was so welcoming and full of advice, like a mentor.
Us: Nick had a privileged childhood. What was your upbringing like?
HG: My parents were well traveled, so I always had a broad perspective on the world. There were never issues with race or sexuality. They allowed me to be free. I leveraged that independence and security in myself into this character.
Us: How does this film break Asian stereotypes?
HG: When you start watching, you forget it’s all Asian. It’s secondary. You watch because of the story and travel on a journey with these characters. It shows you can tell wonderful stories with Asian characters.
Us: Because you’re mixed race, there was controversy with your casting. Is it fair for people to be upset?
HG: Absolutely. Hollywood has a history of whitewashing. It’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life, never feeling at home in Asia or the U.K. It’s always going to be a discussion if I’m eligible to play Asian roles, if I’m able to play English roles. It’s just about owning it.
Us: Nick’s mom holds him to incredibly high standards. Relatable?
HG: My mom and I have a beautiful relationship. She’s the cutest mom you could ever think of. She’s so wise and sensible. I’m the youngest of three, so I can do no wrong in her eyes. I can be a little bit naughtier than everybody else and she’ll forgive me.
Us: The fashion is so over the top. Does your closet resemble Nick’s?
HG: No! If I had the bank account Nick has, I’d be at Tom Ford and Dior daily.
Us: What else would you buy with Nick’s money?
HG: Some ridiculous, lofty New York penthouse overlooking Central Park!
Crazy Rich Asians hits theaters Wednesday, August 15.