Henry Golding talked about the sensitivity of playing a gay role.
When it was first discovered that Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding would play a gay role in the Peccadillo Pictures film Monsoon, LGBTQ fans were excited. Then, the trailer that released earlier this year was similarly praised. But as the topic of straight actors playing gay roles has increased in fervor, Golding has received several questions about his place in a gay film. Now, as the movie prepares for its theatrical release, Golding is opening up about the topic.
In the October cover of Attitude Magazine, Golding stated that he’s aware of the subject’s sensitivity. For Golding, however, he says his Monsoon role may be gay, but that’s not the main focus of the character or movie.
“We live in times where it is a sensitive topic to have a straight actor playing a gay role,” the actor acknowledged. “From my point of view, with this particular role, it was the fact that his journey wasn’t hinged on the fact he is gay. It’s almost like, yes, he’s a young gay man, but the bigger issue is who he is as a person. I’m going to accept this role because of the journey it represents in this man. It’s not a journey into his queerness. It’s a journey into his history.”
In Monsoon, Henry Golding plays a Vietnamese-British man named Kit whose family fled Vietnam during the Vietnam-American war. Kit has not returned to his birth country since he was six years old. That is, until the events of the movie when Kit returns to Ho Chi Minh City and reconnects with himself while on a personal journey involving love, friendship, and happiness.
In his interview, Golding went further to say that actors should be kept in check on why they take up roles, LGBTQ and otherwise.
“I feel as though when it comes to important historical figures, characters that are defined by being from the community, you really need to take a moment to think, this is important for the LGBTQ community to be a part of.”
“The question has to be asked of me: why did you even consider this role? This should be the case. It can’t go unquestioned because there lies a problem in itself. You need to hold people responsible for their decisions.”
“They’re conversations that need to be had. You can’t turn a blind eye, you need to keep people in check, that’s the most important thing.”
Straight Actors, LGBTQ Actors, & LGBTQ Roles
While Golding’s correct that all actors (and casting directors) should be held responsible for their decisions in the auditioning and casting process, it’s also important to acknowledge the greater issue here. The real reason that straight actors in LGBTQ roles are so significant is that these actors are celebrated and awarded for playing LGBTQ roles. Meanwhile, LGBTQ actors are often barred from playing straight roles and told to stay in the closet.
When it comes to the prior issue, out comedian and actor Billy Eichner recently said such while speaking to Deadline (in an unrelated interview). Eichner noted that actors who come out as LGBTQ are often not considered for straight roles (which often are bigger, more mainstream, lead parts). Instead, LGBTQ actors are largely considered for LGBTQ roles.
“We applaud them. We put them on the cover of magazines. We say, thank you for living your truth, and thank you for being brave, and you’re such a role model for our gay kids. And then instantly, that actor gets taken off so many casting lists in the business.”
“I’m doing this rom com, about a gay male couple that I wrote and I’m starring in for Universal, that Judd Apatow is producing,” Eichner said by way of example. “I was privy to casting discussions, and I would see when the casting lists were circulating, about which actors to call in for which role. There were so many straight actors on every list to play gay characters. And then, at the beginning before I raised my voice, for the straight characters in the movie, there were never gay actors on the lists for those roles. I saw it with my own eyes. It’s not a two-way street.”
But again, that’s after LGBTQ actors brave the hurdle of coming out in the first place. And with Hollywood needing to make money in conservative areas like Middle-America or China (the second biggest box office in the world), entertainment experts often warn LGBTQ actors and talent to stay closeted. For instance, Justice League star Ezra Miller stated in 2017 that experts told him he’d “made a mistake” by coming out.
“Folks in the industry, folks outside of the industry. People I’ve never spoken to. They said there’s a reason so many gay, queer, gender-fluid people in Hollywood conceal their sexual identity, or their gender identity in their public image.”
“I was told I had done a “silly” thing in… thwarting my own potential to be a leading man.”
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Meanwhile, Star Trek: Discovery star Wilson Cruz noted earlier this year that there’s a special energy that comes with an LGBTQ actor portraying an LGBTQ role.
“I think what an LGBTQ actor brings to an LGBTQ role is different; there’s just something innate and lived-in that comes across, but that’s not to say that a straight actor cannot give a powerful performance,” he confessed.
Cruz then added, “What is worrisome to me is when a production will hire a straight actor to play that role because of some notion that because they’re a straight actor that it’s that much more difficult to take on this role. So it’s awards bait.”
“These are our lives,” he explained further. “These are experiences for a lot of people. And if you’re a straight actor playing these roles, I think it’s important that you acknowledge and understand that.”
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For Henry Golding, it sounds like he was right that his Monsoon role does not focus on the fact that he’s LGBTQ. But at the same time, Golding has already fallen into the “awards bait” phenomenon. Earlier this year, Golding was celebrated for his performance by art-house critics/festivals like Outfest 2020. So, this entire issue is complicated.
But what do you think? If you want to see the movie for yourself and see if Golding deserves praise, a pass, or criticism for his part in the film, you can watch Monsoon when it comes to the UK on September 25 or in the U.S. later this fall.