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While COVID-19 restrictions are easing things up enough to allow moviegoers the option of taking in certified summer action flicks like Paramount’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins in their local theaters, one of the interesting by-products is that it’s a film we were hype about for this year and last year. Part of that is because of the icon that is Snake Eyes and what he’s meant to the G.I. Joe franchise—I feel like I’ve wanted to see a Snake Eyes film since I was a kid, engrossed in the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero animated series. A ninja, dressed in all black like The Omen, who was also a whole good guy? Big hype.

The other part of our anticipation for Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins—a film which has to both tell the origin story of this franchise star while setting up the future of the G.I. Joe series—is that the iconic character is being brought to life by rising star Henry Golding. The 34-year-old actor, husband, and new father was just getting into the mainstream after playing Nick Young in 2018’s smash hit Crazy Rich Asians, and even delivered a solid performance amongst a gang of GOATs in Guy Ritchie’s 2020 action-comedy The Gentlemen. Putting an entire film on his back was the next logical step, but for Golding, the most important part in putting on the Snake Eyes persona was to do right by the character’s legacy.

“Every actor’s dream is to lead a studio film like this,” Golding told Complex during a recent Snake Eyes press junket. “Those chances are one in 100, one in a million even. To be able to even be considered for something like this, I knew that if the offer was there, I would dedicate my entire energy and concentration to getting it right.”

During this conversation, Golding talks about his journey to getting it right, from honoring the character’s past while updating it and giving it new life, to how he's dealt with being a new father who’s also becoming an action star.

This has got to be one of the craziest times right now, from finally getting the film out to the recent birth of your daughter. How are you dealing with everything right now?
It’s been an amazing ride. One, it’s great to be back on a film set. I just finished a movie in London. Coming back, of course, missing my newborn and my wife, but being able to finally share with the world this amazing movie that we filmed last year. It’s about time that people see this new venture that we’re launching for the G.I. Joe series.

With everything going on in the world, I feel like Snake Eyes has been one of the most-anticipated films for the last two years. It’s been so long since we’ve seen that one image of you guys in Japan with the banner. You were just starting to get your name out there after the success of a romcom like Crazy Rich Asians. Was a role like Snake Eyes something you were actively pursuing? 
Of course, every actor’s dream is to lead a studio film like this, and so those chances are one in 100, one in a million even. To be able to even be considered for something like this, I knew that if the offer was there, I would dedicate my entire energy and concentration to getting it right. That’s something that we pride ourselves in accomplishing was the ability to physically get into these character’s heads and bodies to be able to accomplish all of these crazy set-pieces. It was an amazing experience; what an opportunity. It’s such an iconic character.

It’s one of those characters that has been around my entire life. I remember when Snake Eyes started to become a thing, because of the cartoon. You talked about getting into the character’s body and mind specifically. What was it for you about Snake Eyes that drew you into that role?
It was our fresh take on his past. We really set out to give dimension to this fairly easy-to-explain character in past iterations of movies. We both know that humans are so much more complex than that. In the beginning of the movie, we meet Snake Eyes in a really vulnerable moment in his life, where he’s on the path of vengeance. He will do whatever it takes to accomplish what he feels is the goal, but it’s not until he realizes that perhaps those goals are misaligned, perhaps what he’s yearning for will not give him happiness at the end of it. We see such a great story and character arc for such a memorable character. That is what really drew me to it, and that was what was so important to get right. Or at least get a glimpse into and set the tone for the rest of the movies to come.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Image via Paramount Pictures

There’s a lot of grit with the Snake Eyes character. Physically, there’s a lot that Snake Eyes gets into during this film. How demanding was that for you? I imagine it was also a more intense experience than you’ve had in past projects.
One hundred percent. It was like going from zero to 100 instantly within that first week of training. It was like, “This is going to take some serious dedication.” We’ve got to break down our bodies to build them up, to be fluid, to be moldable to this amazing choreography that Kenji Tanigaki had in mind for us. And to continue that, not only on the first day of filming, the second day of filming, but for 50 days on set, day in, day out, as Snake Eyes, I’ve got to be on location and doing all of this stuff every single day and having to bring my A-game. Stepping up to that plate was something that I knew that I could do, but I had to prove to everybody else that I was worthy to have a title such as an “action star.” I wholly believe, through everything that we went through, that I earned [that title] for sure.

What was more demanding, the action scenes or the more emotional moments?
The amazing thing was, because we delve into the mental and human element of Snake Eyes, is that there were moments in this movie where he is completely broken as a human and completely distraught. And he’s faced with these realities, especially in one particular scene where he has to make a decision there and then of what is most important in his life now. Not what was important say a month ago, or moving forward, it was, “what is happening right now?” And then he has to make some hard-hitting decisions.

Flexing those muscles as well as these crazy on the rooftops of cars and car carriers and on motorbikes, man, it was so much fun. It’s a tremendous character to have with me.

I know you worked on a lot of the choreography, but how many of those bumps were you taking?
Everything. Every single thing you see. Of course, there are, I had an amazing stunt double, he took some tremendous big hits, but every single one of those choreographies, every time you see us get beat up, that’s us doing it because we really wanted that sense of the audience members understanding. You can’t fake that. As much as I could, I was there on them.

What was it like shooting in Japan?
We were probably there for about two solid months, I would say. Amazing country if you’ve never been. One of the most beautiful, diverse countryscapes, you could ever imagine. It was such a gift to be able to film there. We are so desensitized when it comes to these big-scale superhero movies of CGI and put in this and that. But it was really important, especially for Robert [Schwentke, Snake Eyes director] to be on location, because the Arashikage play such an integral part to the storyline. It would be such a mishap if we didn’t film in the location where that heritage, that mysticism was. And that juxtaposed to this neon city or Neo-Tokyo as you like, that is endless money’s worth of footage that you can only get being there.

Snake Eyes Trailer
Image via Paramount

Snake Eyes feels like a good kickstart for what could be the future of the G.I. Joe franchise. Have you thought about what Snake Eyes’ future would look like?
There are so many great ideas of what we can do with the character, especially, in terms of the aesthetic. The wonderful thing about the world that we’re creating—and what we haven’t seen—is that Snake Eyes is, at the end of the day, a guy just like you and me. He doesn’t have to walk around in his battle suit 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the end of it, there’s espionage in this world. To be able to meld into the masses… It’s important to adapt these very iconic outfits or visors or masks [for] the appropriate situation. There’s going to be a time and a place for the full battle suit—when he kicks ass and takes names later. But isn’t it more interesting when you have variety and such cool things like that?

In terms of what’s coming next, it’s really down to audience members to vote, really. They have to vote by going to the cinema saying that they enjoy this new take on the franchise, [and] hope for more. That’s really what it’s going to boil down to for the future of G.I. Joe.

I’m seeing Snake Eyes figures that are modeled after the film. How are you feeling about that? Are you going to start grabbing them for your daughter to play with when she grows up? Talk about being the face of the iconic Snake Eyes.
I’ve got to make that call to Hasbro to get a little shipment so I can, every time I go around somebody’s house, I’m like, “Here’s your gift.” And they’ll be like, “Another one? You just gave me one last week.” [Laughs.] But no, it’s such a joy to be of that world. I’ve loved the imagery of Comic-Con and all the celebration of that genre of things. I really look forward to the day that I’m able to attend it in person. [Ed note: This Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins panel did get to kick off SDCC 2021.] Now it’s a really tough time to do that, but I cannot wait to interact with the fans when the time comes and share with them my love for this franchise, with the old fans and of course the new fans.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is in theaters now.