Snake Eyes has always been one of the most recognizable, popular characters in the G.I. Joe franchise, and now we’ll find out how he got there. The brand new film Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins hits theaters July 23 and io9 was lucky enough to talk to the man behind the mask, Henry Golding, about the character’s mystique, costume, go-to research materials, and so much more.
Though 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013's G.I. Joe: Retaliation feel relatively recent, Snake Eyes is a fresh take and reboot of the popular Hasbro franchise. Here, director by Robert Schwentke takes the “Real American Heroes” and brings the franchise to Japan. That’s where a warrior named Tommy (Andrew Koji, Warrior) takes another mysterious young warrior (Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) under his wing to become a member of his Arashikage clan of ninjas—the two will become Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, respectiveley. In the first trailer, which debuted during the MTV Movie Awards, you saw all that along with other G.I. Joe favorites: the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó), Scarlett (Samara Weaving), and a very, very recognizable mask at the end. But, you probably still have some questions about what the movie is. io9 sat down for a video chat earlier this week with the man who can provide some answers—Snake Eyes himself, Henry Golding.
Germain Lussier, io9: Snake Eyes has always been iconic because of his mystique. He was just this quiet badass and the backstory didn’t come until later. Now, from the trailer, it’s obvious this movie is going to demystify that in a very definitive way. Were there any worries about losing some of that mystique and how does the movie use the mystique?
Henry Golding: Absolutely not. I think he, as a character, is so complex, that peeling back the layers, you can only go so far until you hit the Snake Eyes kind of wall. He’s so mysterious in his ways. We catch up with him at the beginning of this movie where he is motivated by things that are so self-destructive that we need to understand them to see why he is so mysterious, and to see why he’s so closed off in ways that we can’t explain. So to be able to kind of balance that was the real goal. And so to give enough to the audience members, to give enough to the fans to sympathize with the decisions that he has to make within this movie, to realize that the mistakes he makes, the choices he brings to the table, the lessons he learns, really affects the man that is behind the mask. So for us, it was so important to be able to kind of peel back at least a few layers because we can’t just have an unexplainable character. You know, mystique is fantastic, but it only brings you so far because the questions will always be there. But does it reveal more questions? Answers lead to more questions. That’s what I’ve learned for this entire thing, is that there will never be enough answers to demystify this guy. He is so complex.
io9: So how closely does the movie draw from source material like the ‘80s comics and how much is it kind of its own thing?
Golding: Well, we had Larry [Hama] on board as [executive producer]. The legendary Larry Hama was a big guidance in being able to tell his story. And so creating a backstory for not only preexisting G.I. Joe fans and lifelong G.I. Joe fans to appreciate, but also a brand new generation of fans around the world. You got to understand, G.I. Joe really was popular in America but now we’re looking on a global scale. How do we make it so that it is approachable by little kids on the playground in Indonesia or in Vietnam or somewhere? We needed to make it approachable and understandable and not have them have to go back to read Silent Interlude to understand like, “Snake Eyes was like this because of this”’ No. We needed, of course, to have a starting point. Is that the definitive, all questions answered, starting point? Definitely not. We can’t do that. But of course, we’re introduced to the lore of G.I. Joe and its throughlines, which is “What is G.I. Joe without COBRA?” I mean, of course, COBRA plays a huge part in this—and the players we’re introduced to: Scarlett, Baroness, Tommy, Hard Master, Blind Master, Akiko is one of our new characters. It’s not too much to get everything convoluted, but it’s enough to get you hungry for more. That was the goal.
io9: Did you have any kind of go-tos for yourself and your character research? Was it just talking to Larry or was it anything else?
Golding: It was it was a bit of both, really. It was talking to Larry, understanding what he wanted to create, not what he created for someone else. It’s what he, as an artist, wanted to create and the reasons why he made the decisions he did. I think it was important that I myself, as an actor, concentrate on what I know as the character at this point, because if I’m thinking about things that never happened in my reality, they don’t help me at all. But I know we’re trying to get to here by the end of the movie. So what is happening between these two points? Where it goes? Anybody’s guess. But what I need to understand is what are his motivations in this moment? Where have his decisions from his past led him and why?
io9: One thing the trailer shows that it does lead is to the costume. I mean, obviously, we want to see your face as the star, but it’s Snake Eyes. His mask is a star too, so what can you tell me about the costume?
Golding: [It was made by] Iron Head Studios. They do pretty much every single huge costume design out there. And they, together with our amazing wardrobe team, created the all-new Snake Eyes costume [Holds the toy up to the camera]. It’s fantastic. The first time I put on the mask was just like, “Holy cow, this fits like a glove.” And so it’s a modern take on the costume. But I think the joy in the movie is seeing the inspiration from the Arashikage—you see Snake’s costume through the movie change very sort of slowly and slightly—but you see those inspirations mirrored in the final suit.
io9: This is kind of Paramount’s reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise and obviously, we don’t know what will happen until after this movie comes out. But how much do you tentatively know already about what could happen?
Golding: I’m in the dark as much as you are. I know for a fact that they’re already in the works. Speaking to Lorenzo [DiBonaventura], our producer, they’re already thinking, because we can take this anywhere—but depending on how Snake Eyes does in telling specific stories will tell us where we want to take and how to expand the universe. Because if we jump into just a huge G.I. Joe universe and introduce 12 characters, people are going to be like, “Oh well yeah. Okay, that guy’s cool. That guy does this thing.” But they don’t know anything about them. So to be able to build the characters from day one, I think, is the real gift.
io9: What was your G.I. Joe IQ coming into this movie? What did you do to dive in?
Golding: It was hitting all the blogs, hitting all the fan sites, all the Wikipedia pages, the G.I. Joe Wiki pages. [The website] Hiss Tank, I’d listen to those guys. I luckily got my hands on two copies of Silent Interlude and that became sort of bedtime reading for a long time just to really sort of understand who he becomes. But my real concentration was, again, I can’t think beyond. At the time we were filming, I was like, “He has such specific motivations at the beginning of this movie before he becomes the man that we know, that we need to concentrate on these.” A lot of people are like you can water down your character’s thought process or you concentrate on exactly what we’re trying to achieve here. So that’s kind of what I did, but I can’t help but sneak in [some history]. It’s so rich.
io9: Last thing, will we get Timber in this movie or not?
Golding: That’s everybody’s last question! I’ll put it this way. This is G.I. Joe. [holds arms out wide] This is Snake Eyes’ movie [holds up single finger]. This is the journey we’re going to take [gestures to all the remaining space]. Is Timber in that? Let’s hope so. There’s no ruling it out. And I think, you know, Snake Eyes [with] his trusty companion, I think that would be a special, special moment. So we’ll see.
Here’s another special moment, an awesome new featurette from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.
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