Henry Golding is Becoming Our Bona Fide Romantic Lead

Together with Emilia Clarke, the 'Crazy Rich Asians' star is joining Paul Feig's next movie.

Henry Golding Crazy Rich Asians
Warner Bros.

Henry Golding has had a hell of a great year. He previously occupied the small screen as a variety show and travel program host, but 2018 marked a big-screen debut unlike any other for him. Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians hit the motherlode, staying atop the domestic box office for three weeks with audiences still going back for more a month after its premiere. Vitally, Crazy Rich Asians also serves as an impeccable reminder that representation can be life-changing. To be at the center of that kind of cultural movement is the ideal start to any movie career these days.

Fundamentally, Crazy Rich Asians is more about self-actualization than pure, straight-up romance. My review of the film highlights that Golding’s romantic lead is not actually the most central aspect of Constance Wu’s protagonist’s personal growth and affirmation.

Still, that doesn’t mean Golding doesn’t do a good job in the movie. He excels at depicting the magnetism necessary to be a promising lead. Golding just needs an opportunity to do more on screen, overall. He could have a real chance to shine in a less crowded film, which is what makes his newest project all the more exciting.

The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Golding will star alongside Game of ThronesEmilia Clarke in the upcoming Paul Feig romantic drama Last Christmas. Penned by Emma Thompson (yes, the Academy Award-winning actress and screenwriter) and artist Bryony Kimmings, the film will center on holiday love set in London.

This is literally all we know about the movie for now. Regardless of such scant details, we’re totally keen on seeing exactly what this potentially dynamite team can cook up. Last Christmas will mark Clarke’s return to the romance genre two years after Me Before You. Moreover, it will be Golding’s second collaboration with Feig following A Simple Favor, which premiered just last week (allowing him to star in two movies that grossed within the top five at the box office over the weekend).

There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the prospect of Feig, Thompson, and Kimmings’ team-up as it is. They make for an eclectic group once you consider how the mainstream appeal of Feig and Thompson’s varied works could collide with Kimmings’ more confronting arthouse offerings.

Last Christmas continues to evidence Feig’s attempts at branching out beyond the purely comedic trappings of his most famous movies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. And for full disclosure, it should be said that – for the time being – such efforts have been fruitful only to a certain degree.

Feig definitely tests genre boundaries in A Simple Favor, which is ostensibly a thriller although it has ample amounts of comedy thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, the film is funnier than it is exhilarating. If anything, the movie’s thorny, twisty plot primarily hinges on Feig’s known affinity for directing actors than groundbreaking storylines. Nonetheless, it’s a good start.

Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively lead A Simple Favor to electrifying results, finding nuance in characters who could have been a lot more two-dimensional. As for Golding, he is the third piece of the puzzle here and portrays enigmatic charisma effortlessly. In fact, A Simple Favor presents an avenue for him to explore different facets of his acting persona. Per Golding to THR:

“It’s such contrasting characters. You couldn’t get a nicer guy in Nick Young [from ‘Crazy Rich Asians’] and then a more mysterious man, who is unsure of his relationship between two women, in Sean Townsend [from ‘A Simple Favor’]. It really was a good test of breadth in terms of my acting skills. […] This is a good way of showing people that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan with ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ I’m here to carve out a strong career in the leading-man space.”

Being on board with Golding’s ambitions is a no-brainer, particularly because he and Feig work really well together already. The filmmaker’s proclivity for eliciting first-rate performances and captivating onscreen chemistry from the leads in his movies makes me believe that Golding and Clarke are in good hands.

On the surface, both of Golding’s feature film roles thus far have admittedly banked on his hunkiness to sell the love interests he plays. He is perfectly suited for the polished worlds of Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor. Both films are based on such heightened premises – albeit at different ends of the feel-good spectrum – and suspension of disbelief is necessary.

Nevertheless, Golding’s charms don’t appear flat and uncompelling in the films he’s chosen so far. He certainly keeps busy within the ‘wish fulfillment’ arena of the romance movie. Yet, he is naturally likable while simultaneously bucking stereotypes about Asians in film.

Me Before You

In comparison, Clarke’s casting feels discernibly less revolutionary, if only due to how much we see her as a leading lady anyway. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t also be celebrated, though. I’ve variously witnessed a vested interest in dissecting her acting abilities online, whether such commentators are studying her role in Game of Thrones or otherwise. Honestly, the hit HBO show hasn’t given her too much to work with since the show’s early seasons. That said, Clarke’s performances in feature films have actually been pleasant. Terminator Genisys is a giant mishap of a movie, but her steeliness is one of the better parts about it. Clarke brings a similar toughness to Solo: A Star Wars Story, just with a dash more mystery.

Contrasting all that, getting to see Clarke possibly play a softer character – to see the chinks in her armor as an actress again – would do her some good. She embodies unbridled earnestness extremely well in Me Before You, in spite of the film’s controversies. Me Before You truly is Clarke at her wittiest, sharpest, and most enchanting, even if she doesn’t have any dragons at her disposal. She may often be the leading lady, but there are still numerous distinctions for her to explore within her range.

Both Golding and Clarke are on the cusp of notable career shifts. For the former, his evolution into a great male lead — romantic or otherwise — is something to watch out for the more we see him on screen. In the case of the latter, her run on Game of Thrones approaches an end, and a sustainable filmography must be built. Although this doesn’t prevent Clarke from continuing a streak of imposing women, it opens the doors for different kinds of protagonists for her to play. Last Christmas seems like the perfect project for all that to happen.

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