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Henry Golding has only been a full-time actor for three years, but he's already packed a lot of firsts into his still-young career. In 2018, the Malaysian-born TV host turned big screen star was one of the leads of Crazy Rich Asians — the first major Hollywood romantic comedy in decades to feature an all-Asian cast. Jump ahead to 2021, and Golding is the title character in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, one of Hollywood's first Asian-led action blockbusters based on a major franchise. And Golding recognizes his good fortune to be in show business right now.
"I'm very honored to be a cog in a very big machine fighting for the good cause," he tells Yahoo Entertainment. "It would be amiss of me to acknowledge the giants we stand on who made it possible for me to do what I do. It's a fantastic time for opportunity, and I think this film definitely pushes us forward into another realm altogether." (Watch our video interview above.)
Based on Hasbro's eternally popular — if problematic — G.I. Joe brand that encompasses toys, cartoons, comic books and two previous movies, Snake Eyes is an origin story for one of the franchise's breakout characters: a ninja-trained commando whose face is forever hidden behind a mask. The new movie gives the future Joe a fresh backstory as an orphan who infiltrates the Arashikage clan as part of a revenge mission against his father's killer. In the process, he befriends — and then betrays — the man who eventually becomes his nemesis: Tommy Arashikage, aka Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji).
Snake Eyes is arriving in theaters ahead of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel movie to star an Asian superhero, played by Kim's Convenience star Simu Liu. And both films follow incidents of rising instances of anti-Asian violence across the U.S., which makes the featured presence of Asian action heroes in movie theaters resonate more than ever.
"It's a sad fact that there are still some very sad and lonely individuals that sort of love fear-mongering and are still racist and still biased to someone's creed and racial background," Golding notes. "But the good always overcomes the evil. So it's about standing up for yourself, standing up for your community, and helping one another."
Those sentiments are shared by his co-stars. "I think it's very important to keep showing the world these positive role models portrayed by people of all ethnicities and backgrounds — it's definitely what's needed right now," says Haruka Abe, who plays another clan warrior, Akiko. Adds Koji: "Hopefully the younger generation for them to see themselves onscreen and feel seen and heard is the main thing. Hopefully it just helps with empowering people and feeling seen and heard."
In G.I. Joe continuity, Snake Eyes eventually joins the team of real American heroes fighting to save the day against the forces of Cobra. (His future teammate Scarlett and future enemy Baroness both appear in the movie, played by Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó, respectively.) But first, he's got a grudge match looming with Storm Shadow — a match that's teased in the film's closing moments. Luckily, he prepares accordingly, donning the signature suit-and-mask combo that Joe fans know so well.
Donning those duds definitely put Golding in a superhero state of mind. "What I love about the movie is that Snake Eyes goes through the wringer to become the man that we all know and love," the actor says of his transformation. "It was this magical moment of walking to set with the entire suit, and everybody was just like, 'Whoa.' I'm 6 feet, but you feel 6-foot-5 in that thing. It's magic."
— Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove and edited by Valerie Volpacchio
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins premieres July 23 in theaters.
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