Interviewed by Bobby Tonelli.
In the four years since his Hollywood debut, Malaysian actor Henry Golding has been tied to two high-profile roles. The first, as Nick Young in the adaptation of the hit novel, Crazy Rich Asians, about the scion of a rich Singaporean family, was a little close to home, since Golding, 34, has been based in Singapore for the last decade.
The second, as ninja commando Snake Eyes is slightly different, as it marks the actor’s first foray into the action genre, as well as his first role based on a character from the successful G.I. Joe comic, toy and cartoon franchise. And his most physically demanding role to date.
“We had to be able to do all these stunts ourselves, we had to sort of put ourselves in a position where we could complete all of this choreography and make Snake Eyes the most badass he could possibly be. It’s been a hell of a ride!” recalls the actor who is now based in Los Angeles, as he speaks with Geek Culture over video.
And the pressure is on, as while Crazy Rich Asians had its global fans, the 40-year-old G.I. Joe franchise has its own vocal fanbase, and Snake Eyes is arguably one of the most popular, if not the most popular one from the toy line and comics, surpassing that of the all-American soldier Duke, sexy sultry Baroness, and maniacal Cobra Commander. The comic books, which were based on the toyline, also focused a bulk of the issues on silent, all-black cladded and deadly ninja.
In the past four decades, elements of the toys and comics have evolved, though the portrayal of Snake Eyes has remained the same – quiet, badass, mysterious and unlike other Joes, wields the Morning Light, a beautiful katana that cuts through enemies with ease. In the Marvel comics, the character was established as being a close friend to Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage, otherwise known as Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji), before they eventually fell apart and became arch enemies.
Surprisingly, this origin movie will establish its own telling of the relationship between the two ninjas, and won’t follow the comic book lore established in the 1980s comic book series that saw both men serve together in the Vietnam War, before Snake Eyes went on to study ninja arts with Storm Shadow’s family, the Arashikage Clan. In fact, both characters were the focus in two G.I. Joe movies, The Rise of Cobra (2009) and Retaliation (2013), but this reboot origin movie follows a new narrative from earlier incarnations.
This gave Golding greater freedom in defining Snake Eyes to a new audience, and for the actor, knowing the character’s origin is important to understanding who Snake Eyes is.
“We’ve never seen the motivations behind the decisions that he’s had to make, the tough choices, the mistakes of following the wrong sorts of people and that’s what we see in this origin movie,” shared Golding.
“We see the man before the mask, we see him struggle with identity and that’s something we all go through. Sometimes you have to make those really bad mistakes to understand and realign yourself to a greater good and that’s where we find our Snake Eyes – pre-Arashikage, pre-mask, pre-Joes. He’s hurt, he’s broke, he’s had one hell of a life so far so it’s really interesting to see how he picks himself up.”
This isn’t the first outing of Snake Eyes. The character made his first appearance in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and later on in the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation but had little screen time. With a full movie focused on the loved and almost biblical character, Golding found himself feeling a lot of pressure and excitement in carrying the role.
Reminiscing back to when he was first cast in Crazy Rich Asians – at Singapore’s Robertson Quay no less – Golding’s leap into the role required a lot of determination and focus to deliver the Snake Eyes fans would want to see.
“It’s crazy, it wasn’t that too long ago. It was probably three years ago when Crazy Rich came out, but this one was really special. This one was, a real dedication not only mentally, but physically,” revealed the Malaysian actor.
To establish his own take on the fan-favourite character, Golding tapped into, of all places, his past-career as a travel host, to build the complexity of Snake Eyes.
“My time spent with Channel News Asia and spending in places like Smoky Mountain in the Philippines and understanding that these orphans have to fend for themselves, they have to be able to feed themselves and they have to do things which aren’t savoury to be able to support and that’s something that we find with Snake Eyes,” shared Golding.
“From a very young age, he’s been on his own, he had to go through the school of hard knocks so to be able to have had experience in talking to those types of people who have lived that through their real lives, to be able to kind of soak that in and channel that into a character, I think it’s such a gift that I came into acting a lot later on in my career since I’ve experienced so much of that and hopefully being able to sort of pick at certain characteristics that I’ve that I’ve come across for certain roles.”
As Snake Eyes makes its way to theatres, fans can expect to get to know the man behind the mask and with a new G.I. Joe movie to come, Golding is looking forward to the day he is reunited with Morning Light, be it for another movie or as a parting gift.
“I wrote my name on one of the things! There was one hero sword and it was beautifully crafted, it must have taken some hours and hours, days upon days to create the sword. The last filming day was in Japan so for me to take it, I wouldn’t be able to get back to America in the first place!” joked Golding.
“They’d be like ‘What the? Samurai sword in your luggage?’ but I’m Snake Eyes! It wouldn’t work but I’m looking forward to the day that Paramount gives me my own Morning Light that I can hang up in pride of place in my home, so we’ll be waiting for that day.”
Snake Eyes releases in cinemas on 22 July 2021.