Hearts and Stars is Slate’s pop-up blog about celebrity relationships.
Why was a Malaysian TV show host with almost no acting experience cast as the hunky male lead in Crazy Rich Asians, one of the most hyped romantic comedies of the year? There’s one answer staring us in the face—the TV show host in question, Henry Golding, certainly looks the part—but that’s not the complete explanation. Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu has said that he heard about Golding through the grapevine, but what truly impressed him was Golding’s Instagram account. In fact, Golding’s online persona was significantly more impressive than the actual audition tape he sent in. “He had suddenly tried to act,” Chu told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And I was, like, ‘That’s not you, dude. It’s too serious. Just relax, be you.’ ”
Chu didn’t want Golding, the actor, for the role of Nick Young, the movie’s affable, effortlessly charming love interest. He wanted Golding, the real person—at least, as real as anyone can be seen through an Instagram filter. Golding’s social media presence doesn’t just exhibit a six-pack, suave accent, and easygoing vibe; it clearly also helped establish his credentials as a rom-com-caliber heartthrob. That’s because even before Crazy Rich Asians, Golding was already a star in a real-life romance, expertly curated for public consumption. In August, he celebrated his second anniversary married to fellow TV presenter and yoga instructor Liv Lo—a relationship that has been painstakingly documented both in the Malaysian and Singaporean press and on their own Instagram accounts.
Thanks to Crazy Rich Asians’ whirlwind press tour, many of the details of Golding’s life are already public: He crooned Marvin Gaye in high school, he worked as a hairdresser in London before changing careers, and he’s since traveled around the world for various television series. As for Liv Lo: She apparently studied mass communications at Temple University Japan and spent eight years modeling, but she’s best known today as a fitness guru and the creator of workout program FitSphere. Like her husband, whose casting in Crazy Rich Asians was mildly controversial because he’s half white, Lo is mixed-race, though she has a complicated relationship with her heritage; she’s never met her biological father, who is Italian, and prefers to identify purely as Taiwanese or as a third-culture kid.
Liv Lo’s account of her first encounter with Golding makes it seem like a highly cinematic meet-cute: It was New Year’s Day 2011 at a friend’s party. Here’s how Lo described it on Instagram:
I knew you had noticed me but didn’t introduce yourself. Disappointed, I tried all my craziest wildest efforts, including dancing on speakers, to grab your attention. If you weren’t going to speak to me, I knew I would have to. As I was leaving you walked behind me. Here was my chance. I had nothing to lose. I turned around and said “Hi, I am leaving and you’re never going to see me again.”
A few months later, Golding demonstrated his Youngian bona fides when Lo became stuck in Japan after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. “The city was at a standstill and no one could work or travel. People were so panicked they wouldn’t even drink the water,” Lo told Harper’s Bazaar Singapore. “But Henry got me out of the city to join him in the Perhentian [Islands] in Malaysia. […] The demonstration of character proved that he is a man of his word; that he is serious about our relationship and cares about me.” They got married in August 2016 after Golding proposed, with champagne, at sunset on a beach in Thailand. Sure sounds suspiciously like Nick Young: stalwart, romantic, and gallant to an almost corny degree.
Watching Crazy Rich Asians after having descended into the vortex of Golding-and-Lo trivia is a bit of a surreal experience. It is easy to forget that Golding is acting, so naturally does he play the part of the lovestruck partner on social media and on the big screen. The same qualities that make Golding so convincing alongside Constance Wu—the old Hollywood way of carrying himself, the low-key cosmopolitanism, that intent puppy dog gaze—are also on full display in the image of #MrandMrsGolding projected by Henry and Liv. It’s hard to imagine a real romance better marketed, intentionally or not, to boost the believability of a fictional one.