Henry Golding has said it is “not important at all” that he is taking on a role previously portrayed as white in the new GI Joe spin-off Snake Eyes because “the audience isn’t as dumb as people presumed back in the day.”
The Crazy Rich Asians star plays the ninjutsu-trained US commando in a new standalone prequel film about the character.
The original GI Joe comics portrayed Snake Eyes with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Golding, 34, who was born in Malaysia to an English father and Malaysian mother and raised in Surrey, takes over the film role from actor Ray Park, who played the character in previous films GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra and GI Joe: Retaliation and is white.
While his casting marks a departure from previous portrayals of the character, Golding says that it does not change the key element of the story.
Asked how important his casting felt in terms of changing preconceptions of what the character can be, he told the PA news agency: “Not important at all, to be honest with you. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.
“You have two cultures: Snake Eyes is from the States, Ursula Corbero (who plays villain the Baroness) from Japan. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to take an American and drop him off in Lithuania because they’re white, they’ll get along’. Not the case.
“We live in a very globalised world, so for me, it was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a no brainer’, somebody jumping into any type of other culture makes sense.
“Back in the day, you had to spell it out. It had to be ‘Oh, this white guy goes over to this Asian country’. Fantastic. We don’t need to spell it out any more, the audience isn’t as dumb as people presumed back in the day.
“I think in the sense of globalisation, for me it wasn’t even a question of, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s a diverse choice’. It really wasn’t. If we can have an islander play Aquaman, who was notoriously white and blonde haired, we’re in a good place.
“And if we can have a half Asian and half white guy play Snake Eyes, it’s like, ‘Who cares?’. As long as the story being told is brilliant, and the action is there just blowing people away, let’s have fun with them.”
The action role marks a change for Golding, who rocketed to fame as Nick Young in the 2018 box office juggernaut Crazy Rich Asians, followed by turns in A Simple Favour, opposite Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, Last Christmas with Emilia Clarke and The Gentlemen with Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey.
“I think for any actor to have the chance to play a physical role, definitely against typecast, of perhaps what you started with – in a rom com or anything like that, it just shows that given the right material, the spectrum is definitely infinite,” Golding says as he chats animatedly over Zoom.
“But for me, specifically, choosing the films that we have done very early on in my career was to provide the spectrum, and this definitely hit the action-explosive role that I was really looking forward to playing.”
Snake Eyes is released in UK cinemas on August 18.