The Snake Eyes star — and new dad — opens up about breaking barriers in Hollywood and learning to slow down after a relentless few years

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After winning over hearts — and audiences — as the sweet and dashing Nick Young in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding was wary of losing momentum.

Following the movie's release, the Malaysian-born Brit starred in a string of blockbusters, including A Simple Favor and Last Christmas, and the 2019 indie film Monsoon, which garnered him critical acclaim.

"You're always kind of like, 'When am I ever going to get another project?'" Golding, 34, who moved to L.A. in 2019 with his wife, Liv Lo, 36, a Taiwanese-Italian fitness entrepreneur, tells PEOPLE in its latest issue.

The star — who was away for months in Vancouver and Japan in late 2019 and early 2020 to shoot his upcoming film Snake Eyes (out July 23) — didn't get a chance to settle into his new home until the pandemic forced him to take a career break.

For more on Henry Golding and his life now with baby Lyla, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

"You can plan and plan and plan until you're red in the face, but it only takes a pandemic to be like, 'Nope,' " he says. "It [made me] understand that you can't get time back. Sometimes you got to say 'No' and make those hard decisions for the better of your personal life — and your soul."

Acknowledging how difficult the pandemic was for many throughout the world, Golding says he found his silver lining in the precious time he was able to spend with Liv, who gave birth to their daughter, Lyla, on March 31.

"We were able to focus on family time and really explore the West coast together and be present for the entire pregnancy journey," he says. "Money can't buy that. I've realigned what's important in life."

Becoming a father has also pushed Golding to think more deeply about the kind of world he hopes to raise his daughter in.

"I have an Asian American baby, and I hope that I've helped lay a foundation where she grows up in a society that accepts you for who you are," he says. "It's important to lend a voice where possible."

As one of few Asian men landing lead roles on the big screen, he's also determined to continue breaking barriers in Hollywood.

henry golding and lyla
Credit: Henry Golding/Instagram

"It's really about if the characters are written with justice: Are they three-dimensional? Is there a backstory? Is there a reason why they're from this certain country or of this certain ethnicity?" says Golding, who plays the titular character in Snake Eyes, a ninja warrior originally written as a white man in Larry Hama's comic book series. "We don't want to be the butt of the joke. It's not funny anymore."

The actor went through extensive sword and fight training to perform his own stunts in the film, and he's proud of how authentic the final product is.

"We really put ourselves to the test and spent hours upon hours in the gym with the most talented stunt guys in the business," he says. "We wanted to give it a sense of groundedness and to kick off an origin story with an immersion into a real world that we physically lived in."

Raised by a Malaysian mother and British father, the star says traveling with his family helped him gain a greater perspective of the world. Now, he hopes to do the same with his daughter.

"Lyla's already got one country on her little passport. We'll be collecting them and taking note for her," says Golding, who's been in England since May filming Netflix's upcoming film adaptation of Persuasion (alongside Dakota Johnson).

After spending some time in the U.K. with Golding, Liv and Lyla returned back home to L.A. — and the new dad is itching to reunite with his family.

"It's wonderful to get back into the saddle, [but] now there are other challenges when being away, and that's obviously being away from my brand-spanking-new baby daughter," he says.

"As soon as I finish this [movie], I'm going home. I know that this is the nature of the job, and Liv absolutely understands that as well," he adds. "There's no use pining over it because I'm here to work for us, but it doesn't stop me sort of yearning to be home. I can't wait until I get back."