”Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins”, now on digital, stars Henry Golding in the title role of a tenacious loner who is welcomed into an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage after saving the life of their heir apparent. Upon arrival in Japan, the Arashikage teach Snake Eyes the ways of the ninja warrior while also providing something he’s been longing for: a home. But, when secrets from his past are revealed, Snake Eyes’ honor and allegiance will be tested – even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him.
We caught up with rising star Golding to yak about how he got involved in the project, his training for the project, and how he felt about bringing to life such an iconic character.
So how has it been working on this project?
Henry Golding: It’s been insane! It’s been phenomenal. It’s been six months of my life, (laughs) it’s crazy and like a month and a half of intensive sort of Katana work and all general sorts of martial arts. But it’s been an amazing journey. And the footage that we are getting out of this is unreal the actual physicality of the movie is unreal.
Do you feel a responsibility becoming the character of Snake Eyes?
HG: Oh for sure. I mean it’s G.I. Joe’s greatest character ever created. So to be given the charge of, I wouldn’t say reinventing, but visiting his character in a very fresh sort of lens and storytelling ability. We have the ability to give him more of a backstory, and I think in the past sort of ventures that have been for Snake Eyes and G.I. Joe, there’s always been a sort of a shroud of mystery, or there’s always been a sort of convoluted history of his origin of why he was silent, or why he was with the Arashikage. So it’s nice to be able to set in stone, in our movie, what we think his journey was.
Did you have any reservations about taking on a character so iconic?
HG: Of course. I was in two minds for sure. I think any actor would be. It’s not a role to take lightly, because of the responsibility of you needing to be able to be that physical character. And my martial arts training was very limited, I did a little bit of boxing and Muay Thai, so luckily I could move. But the type of sword work and sort of wire work that we’ve done with Kenji (Tanigaki – Fight Coordinator) is so different. I don’t know if you are familiar with his last movies Rurouni Kenshin, it’s a big samurai series from Samurai X and he did those movies. And they were like, oh we got this guy who is doing choreography, and I’ve seen those movies, I’ve seen the type of martial arts that they do, and it is the most insane Katana work I’ve ever seen on screen and that’s what he wanted to inject into this.
So for me when Paramount approached me, I was kind of like, it’s not a role that’ll be easy, where I’ll turn up and learn my lines and let’s go. It’s more like, can I physically be able to lead a movie like this? And so it really was like if we don’t push ourselves and we don’t try our hardest and step out of our comfort zones, we will never achieve the greatness that we would ever think of ourselves accomplishing. So it was an undertaking not taken lightly.
And what were those first few days like in the training?
HG: I cried. (Laughter) The training broke us. And I remember going home at night and just completely aching. And there was a moment where I was like what the fuck am I doing, this is insane. I was literally like that the first four days, I was on the phone with my agent, like cancel everything, I can’t do anything, I need to stay here and I need to concentrate cause hopefully it gets easier. But this has been insane.
Has it gotten easier?
HG: It has, a tremendous amount. (laughter) We were doing two hours of script work every day with Robert and then three hours of training choreography and then I would go in for an hour with a personal trainer. So that was my day for a month-and-a-half, nonstop. And now, learning the moves and applying them to choreography is much easier and it becomes more fluid and looks more manageable. And we got videos from day one to like day twenty-five and it’s such a stark difference.
And how about the experience to film here in Japan?
HG: I mean it’s priceless. The amount of beautiful locations that we’ve been to, we were in Himeji for three or four weeks, we were shooting in Gio-ji Temple, we were over at the Himeji Castle, we have been in Osaka at these amazing temples as well. The Arashikage compound is made up of all of these different locations kind of stitched together. It’s a production value that you could never create on a lot.
This is amazing already being here at Warp Station Edo Kurosawa and all the Japanese greats shot films here, and this is historically an amazing kind of cinema factory. But to shoot on location in Japan, doesn’t get done often, especially not for foreign films. And so we were in Osaka and we closed down an entire two streets of businesses to get these really beautiful shots, restaurants and lady bars, all sorts of weird things. But we were there and it was a pinch me kind of moment. And because this film is so rooted in Japanese culture, it was important to give it that authenticity because if we just shot on the lot and pretended that it was Japan, people know nowadays. And so you can’t recreate that, you have to be here in Japan.
Q: Can you talk about working with the rest of the cast?
HG: Oh they’re all horrible. (laughter) I had a horrible time with them all. (laughter) They are fantastic. I mean, we’ve got Ursula (Corbero), who is like the life and soul of everything. Samara (Weaving) has been fantastic, Andrew (Koji), my co-conspirator, who plays Storm Shadow. Haruka (Abe), who is a little firecracker, Tak (Takehiro Hira), who is the new Ken Watanabe, mark my words. (laughter) Peter Mensah, who I have watched throughout the years, that mother**ker doesn’t age, We’ve got an amazing cast put together with such unique characters, especially the characters that we play. Each one can have their own little spinoff and I’m sure that’s essentially what we are looking to do, have a Baroness and Scarlett or a Storm Shadow thing. But this is really the foundations of where to take G.I. Joe and I would say it’s a framework that I hope that they continue with the future G.I. Joes.
Did you talk to Jon M. Chu (director of G.I. Joe: Retaliation) for advice?
HG: Of course. Jon M. Chu has huge photos of Snake Eyes in his house.
(laughter) From the very beginning, when I first met Jon, I came over to his house and I was like holy sh*t, that’s cool. And it’s Ray Park in the Snake Eyes outfit, two huge photos in his room. And he’s like, it blows my mind that you are playing this character that I’ve worked on. And knowing me from Crazy Rich and seeing me grow, he was so proud and excited. I’ve been feeding him some things that we are up to and he’s so jealous that we are filming here in Japan.It’s like every director’s dream to have Japan as their sort of playbox and sandbox.
After Crazy Rich Asians, you really understood the importance of strong representation in cinema, how does Snake Eyes continue that lesson forHollywood?
HG: Well, Snake Eyes is a white guy, blonde hair, blue eyes. (laughter) And they are like yeah, the whole story is about fish out of water. And in my head I’m like, you do realize that countries, or different ethnicities are totally different to everybody else. So you could be from Japan and go down to Malaysia and you are a fish out of water, you don’t have to be white or black or Asian or opposite of color just to be a fish out of water. I think people take it so literally. So coming from Crazy Rich Asians, where the magnifying glass was identifying these little moments, I think for this film, we are celebrating a Japanese culture, in a way that really imbues it with a sense of ageless beauty. The Arashikage as a clan stays true to a very old mentality of decorum and kind of trying to keep an old way of life alive. I never really thought of this as an Asian power kind of movie like Crazy Rich Asians, but I feel as though it unexplainably puts people at the forefront that you wouldn’t necessarily think as heroes or as people who could do it.
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