Henry Golding rose to worldwide fame when he starred in Hollywood’s Crazy Rich Asians, but how much is known about his half-Iban heritage and his birth in Malaysia?
Golding, who was born in 1987 in Sarawak as the youngest child to a Malaysian mother and British father, shared the story of how his parents met in Brunei.
In an interview with Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine, Golding said his mother, who was an au pair for an expat family in Brunei and his father then in the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, married several months after meeting there before moving to the UK.
Golding explained that his mother later decided to be in Sarawak, after feeling lonely in the British army quarters when her husband was away on duty.
“She learnt her lesson with Dad being away and she thought, ‘I want to be back in Sarawak with my child, where I have a family.’ So I was born in Betong,” said Golding, who has two elder siblings.
Golding remembers the family later shifting to Terengganu with his father working as a helicopter engineer, and said it was when he was around nine years old when they again moved to the UK.
Golding has had to deal with racism, including criticism by some that he was not Asian enough for his role in Crazy Rich Asians due to his Eurasian identity.
“Backlash? Yeah. No one knows the three-dimensional story of who I am. Or anyone is. And coming from such a grounded culture as the Iban, you cannot get any more rooted in Asian culture. We’re native. But then, because I have my heritage of being British as well, it always negates that,” he was quoted saying by Post Magazine in response to the movie-linked criticism.
Golding also confessed to having struggled in the past with his Asian heritage, but said that he has since overcome it.
“There was a stage when I was a little embarrassed about my Asian upbringing,” he said.
“Then it got to a stage where I was like, you know what, f*** that, it’s something to be happy about,” he added.
“I think just growing up. Leaving school. Then going to work and realising the world is so much bigger,” he said about the change in his own views.
At the age of 18 while still in Surrey, UK, Golding got a tattoo on his right arm with the words “child of Sarawak, son of Margaret and Clive” in Iban.
“My mum checked the grammar was correct, my dad helped design it,” he said, adding that this first tattoo of his was then followed by the two tattoos of an “extremely traditional” Iban motif called the brinjal (eggplant flowers) on his shoulders.
Ahead of his 2016 wedding to his Italian-Taiwanese wife Liv Lo, Golding decided to go for a “bejalai” ― an Iban rite of passage ― which was documented in a Discovery Channel Asia series called Surviving Borneo.
In Surviving Borneo, Golding received another tattoo by an Iban tattoo artist, with the painful process taking 10 hours to complete.
Since then, Golding has become famous after his first acting role in Crazy Rich Asians, and is often asked to pose for selfies together.
“That’s the one thing that is driving me up the wall,” he said.
“Some people don’t even say hello. They come up and say, ‘Can I take your picture?’ and I’m, like, why? And they say, ‘Oh, you’re that guy.’ And I’m, like, ‘Why do you want a photo of me if you don’t even know my name?’” he added, but said he obliges anyway.
Golding has also acted in Hollywood film A Simple Favor, and has acted in Monsoon, and is expected to star in two more movies called Last Christmas and Toff Guys.