It's the movie everyone is talking about, and not just because the books were so great. "Crazy Rich Asians" hits theaters today (Aug. 15) , and is the first film with an all Asian cast to come out of Hollywood in 25 years, since "The Joy Luck Club." Lead actor Henry Golding and director Jon M. Chu stopped by Seattle on a recent press tour, and we got a couple minutes of their time at the tippy top of the Space Needle.
Seattle Refined: Most romantic dramas don’t have the weight of what everyone is talking about with this movie – being the first all Asian cast out of Hollywood in 25 years. Are you guys hyper-aware of what this movie means?
- Chu: For me just growing up, not seeing – especially the Asian American experience on the big screen - was something, especially as I got older, was really realizing. And I was in the business, so I was like ‘I can do something about this!’ Of course there’s a great book, "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan that has a huge following, and it said everything I wanted to say without having to tell my own story. So we went on this journey, and I knew we wanted to put it on the big screen for the next generation to see.
Making a movie based on a popular book is kind of a double-edged sword, right? You know there's a built-in audience who is interested, but then at the same time - you can't let them down!
- Golding: Absolutely, yes. There’s a huge expectation. Kevin Kwan has created such an amazing trilogy and recently it’s just bounced back up to the New York Times [list], and it came out in 2013! And fans of the book have slowly been increasing, so the expectations have been getting more and more. And what we’ve found from the early screenings, everybody whose read the books and are massive fans have absolutely thoroughly enjoyed that all of these characters are being brought to life. And being brought to life in a very authentic way, through Asian voices, through the search that Jon and the team did for finding the right characters.
- Chu: We were very lucky to find a Nick Young who in the book was described as a perfect, almost John F. Kennedy Jr. type, from a royal family essentially, but living in New York and amongst the people. To find someone like Henry Golding, who literally is Nick Young...I literally found him on Instagram, I cyber-stalked him! It’s pretty incredible and makes my job a lot easier, and the whole audience falls in love with him.
You found him on Instagram?! That's amazing! Henry, how did you react when Jon reached out?
- Golding: News had gone around, Singapore was abuzz with the fact that Warner Brothers had bought the rights, Jon was directing, the book was huge! But at the time I was a presenter, doing things much like yourself, so I was in that frame of mind like, 'Oh no no no, that’s not me'. But it wasn’t until Jon reached out, and we had an hour-long conversation on Skype, and he convinced me like ‘We’ve seen your stuff, this character is so true to who you are as a personal. Will you read for me? Just take the first step.' And I trusted him. It was definitely the trust I had in Jon, and he had such a clear vision, and he was such an integral part in getting all the pieces put together.
- Chu: And I knew how important the Nick Young character would be for the movie. Like you said, however many - 300 pages 400 pages - to condense it to a movie, you need a character that people love immediately and who want to root for, and we got that all in Henry.
We chatted with Kevin Kwan when he came through on his book tour, and he said a lot of the details in the books are true to Singaporean life? Henry, you've lived in Singapore for a while now - is this the lifestyle you just see out and about on the streets everyday?
- Golding: I’ve been in Singapore for about six years now, living there. And that aspect of life, is there – but you have to understand that it's an extension of reality. Kevin has created these characters who are larger than life, so it celebrates all aspects of the culture. So the key real takeaways are the family bond is so strong, and is what takes precedence, and also - the food is phenomenal.
- Chu: And even the studio was like ‘There’s too much food in this movie’'! You guys don’t understand – that’s how we communicate! That’s how my parents say 'I love you' is through food!
Henry - is it true that this is your first acting gig?! Most people dip their toe in a new career, but you're jumping off the high dive!
- Golding: Yeah he tricked me. His first couple of emails were like, ‘I’m still casting a couple of the roles for the movie, I’d love to take this discussion further.’ I’m like, sure it’s a little cameo, a reporter or something – but he had Nick in mind. So I had to pull up my big boy pants and dive in.
I have a feeling you're going to be skyrocketed to fame here as soon as the movie comes out. How are you preparing?
- Golding: I have no idea how this is going to come out. All I know is that we’ve done something so special, and it's going to mean a lot to people. A lot of people are going to hook onto this film, and put it where it needs to go, and that’s in the front of all these Hollywood decision-makers to tell more stories, and all these beautiful things – if that means sacrificing a little bit of my personal life, than that’s going to be the case.
- Chu: And it’s already happening. Last night we went to this after party at the screening, and all these girls came over grabbing at him – I thought I was at a Justin Bieber concert! And he's such a nice guy, we were walking on Venice Beach, and every 15 feet he’d be helping somebody. A woman fell and he’s helping the woman, he finds an iPhone and brings it to the hotel - I'm like 'Dude, we gotta go to lunch!' But that’s why we love him so much.
I saw a post on your Instagram Jon, about how both you and Henry had to cut your honeymoons short for this movie?!
- Chu: Yeah! So a year and a half ago when we asked him to come and audition, he was on his honeymoon. He had to leave his honeymoon two days into it, and then now – I got married on Friday, so we didn’t go on a honeymoon cause I had to go on a press tour with this guy. Our two wives are commiserating together.
"Crazy Rich Asians" is the first of three books. Is this movie going to be the first of three movies?
Chu: I really hope so. I know we would love to do it, get into more of the stories, tell more of those things, and we have a great cast to get into it with. It depends on the audience. If they come out and demand it, then we will and I think we’re all willing to jump. Not just our movie. Other movies with different perspectives, Asian lead characters, are on the frontlines and they’re in these studios not green-lit, waiting to see how we do.