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Down Serangoon Road

Joan Chen in Serangoon Road

Publication Date : 19-09-2013

 

Meet four of the stars of HBO Asia’s period drama who come from Singapore, Australia and Indonesia

 

Pamelyn Chee, 33
Actress Pamelyn Chee does not have big, doe-like eyes. Thank goodness. "I think because of my small eyes and the way I am, I'm luckier as I'm not typecast when I go to

Channel 8. I've done a variety of different roles for them and I'm grateful."

Chee, 33, adds: "There're so many pretty girls that having a different look might help sometimes."

In Channel 8 hit drama The Little Nyonya (2008), she played a liberal, educated woman. And in 2010, she took the lead role of firearms expert Vivian de Cruz in the Channel 5 action drama Point Of Entry.

But it is as spunky, aspiring sleuth Chen Su Ling on HBO Asia's period drama Serangoon Road, which premieres on Sunday, that she might gain a wider fanbase, given the pre-debut exposure it has in publications such as The Hollywood Reporter.

The character is a strong one, whose socio- political views often clash with those of the traditional Peranakan family she comes from. Su Ling does administrative work at Cheng Detective agency, owned by Patricia Cheng (Joan Chen). When Patricia's husband dies, Su Ling becomes an assistant to Sam Callaghan (Australian actor Don Hany) to uncover the truth behind the death.

Speaking to Life! after wrapping up her final scene in Serangoon Road, she tries to convince reporters that she is more Chinese than people think she is.

She says: "People have said that I'm very 'ang moh pai' (Hokkien for Western-oriented face).

But she adds with a laugh: "I spend a good part of my life speaking Mandarin to most people.

"I'm so superstitious. Most Chinese grow up with that and to rid yourself of it is pretty much impossible. I am more superstitious than my mum.

"Being in this line, you have to respect the place, so I do things such as offering prayers, incense and fruit."

Her mother is a retired property agent and her retiree father used to run a small business.

Just like Chee, her Serangoon Road character also goes against the grain, getting involved with Caucasian CIA agent Conrad (Michael Dorman).

In real life, Chee and Dorman have become good friends, bonding during filming and have even adopted a little ritual.

"We play a game where I bring him a song every time we come in for a scene, which kind of sets the tone for how the characters feel, and then he does the same thing," she says.

"For example, there's a scene where he comes back from Vietnam and visits me, and the song I picked for him was Lou Reed's Candy Says mixed with some Antony Hegarty."

She chose that mix because "there was something about that remix that was magical and dreamy - like two butterflies dancing, completely lost in each other, full of hope despite the sadness - which completely described the scene."

But an off-screen romance is out of the question for Chee and Dorman as she says "we're such good friends now that I cannot see him in a romantic way".

Ask if she is single and she turns coy: "I'm single if the right person is available. Let me find this right person."

With her Serangoon Road co-star Chin Han finding work in Hollywood - the Los Angeles-based Singaporean had a role in The Dark Knight (2008) and will star in the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier - is she also thinking of trying her luck in Tinseltown too?

Chee, who studied at New York University, says frankly: "Everybody wants to go to Hollywood but what does that mean? They work very differently in New York, compared with Los Angeles.

"The good thing is that in Singapore, you're not stereotyped, but the grass is always greener on the other side. As actors, you are nomads, you want to travel just to see what it's like. It doesn't matter if you fail or succeed."

For now, she says she is happy working in Asia, she says, with quality drama shows such as Serangoon Road.

"I really want to work on great productions with good people who care, that's a priority. The work will speak for itself. Actors care a lot more about that than you think," she says.

"We're not all vain. We're not all trying to be famous."

Don Hany, 37
The Sydney-born actor is a familiar face in his home country. He started out on Australian TV playing the brother of a cafe owner in soap opera Breakers (1998), before moving on to TV movie Heroes' Mountain (2000) and TV police drama White Collar Blue (2002 - 2003).

In 2007, he starred in Lucky Miles, a film about illegal immigrants in Australia that won the audience award for Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival.

That same year, he was cast as the lead in East West 101 (2007 - 2011), a critically acclaimed TV series set around the major crime squad in Sydney.

For his role as Detective Zane Malik, he was nominated for Best Actor twice at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award, in 2008 and 2009.

In Serangoon Road, he is in the lead role as Sam Callaghan, the son of an Australian officer who is dishonourably discharged after being caught up in the Malayan Emergency. He is then hired to work as a private investigator for detective agency owner Patricia Cheng (Joan Chen).

Hany is married to Australian actress Alin Sumarwata. They have a two-year-old daughter.

What was one of the best things about working on Serangoon Road?

One of the amazing things was the enormous access to human resource that you don't have in Australia. We had a huge backlot and a couple of hundred extras every day to fill this place and make it look like Singapore in the 1960s, which you couldn't have managed to do in Australia with this budget.

Did you learn anything new about Singapore while filming the show?

I was here a few years ago presenting a TV travel show and I learnt that you can get sex-change operations here, which I think is called gender re- assignment. And I found out you have a soapbox in the park where the police can come and listen to what you say.

But I didn't know about former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the history of Singapore, and the tensions back in the day between the different peoples. Filming this show has changed my impression of Singapore hugely. I did a lot of research for the role so I got a much deeper, more profound understanding of the country.

Rio Bayu, 28
This handsome Jakarta bachelor lived in New Zealand for 10 years before moving back to Indonesia in 2004, aged 19, to pursue a career in acting.

His breakthrough role was as a detective in Dead Time: Kala (2007), the critically acclaimed Indonesian tribute to film noir. He was then cast in works including Indonesian horror flick The Forbidden Door (2009) and regional action-horror movie Dead Mine (2012), HBO Asia's first original feature film.

It was his role in Dead Mine which led him to be cast in Serangoon Road, the cable channel's first original TV drama. In the new series, he plays Inspector Amran, the first Malay inspector in the colonial-run police force who is always at loggerheads with Australian protagonist Sam (Don Hany) due to personality and cultural differences.

In April, he appeared in Indonesian film Java Heat about a suicide bombing, which stars Hollywood actors Mickey Rourke and Kellan Lutz. Bayu played a police detective who tries to solve the mystery identity of the bombers.

What is the toughest thing about playing Inspector Amran?

One of the most challenging parts is the accent. I had to speak with a Malay-Singaporean accent, which was fine, but I had to keep reminding myself to do it (his real accent sounds Kiwi). Sometimes you switch left and right and it gets confusing.

You used to be a model before getting your first job as an extra on a TV soap in 2004. Do you miss modelling?

No. Modelling is definitely not my thing but I had to start somewhere. If my mates in New Zealand knew, they would give me hell. But you have to do what you have to do. From way back, my intent was to go into film.

What do you do on your days off?

I watch a lot of movies in the cinema or on DVDs. I like documentaries. I've seen a lot of documentaries and I recently stumbled upon The Act Of Killing (a 2012 film about the Indonesian anti-communist purge of 1965-66), which I thought was really good. Also, I usually gain some weight whenever I'm not working.

Alaric Tay, 33
He is no stranger to Singaporeans, given his memorable turn as the skunk-haired, nasal-toned reporter Andre Chichak on TV news parody programme The Noose.

Tay, married with a four- month-old son, has acted in 18 Grams Of Love (2007) and Perfect Rivals (2011). He has directed a number of shorts, including When We Were Bengs (2006), which won an award for Best Experimental Film at the 2007 ReelHart Film Festival in Toronto, Canada.

In Serangoon Road, he plays Kang, a former communist with serious gambling problems who becomes an unlikely friend to lead character Sam (Don Hany).

What was it like working with (Chinese actress) Joan Chen?

She's just so lovely. But the funniest thing is, everyone knows she speaks perfect English but for some reason, the first time I met her, she decided to speak to me in Mandarin. Mandarin is really not my strong suit so I found it so funny.

I think she was trying to build that rapport with me and thought it would make me feel comfortable. Straightaway, I felt at home with her.

What about (Singaporean actor) Chin Han?

He is really a very "chillax" guy. He likes to chat about scenes coming up and, like Joan, is always open to discussion and wants to talk more about the show and the character.

He likes to chat with you so that there is a lot of collaborative work between the cast members and that's really great. It makes you feel comfortable working together and it gives the show a certain level of quality because we didn't just go into the roles without properly understanding them first.

Your role is quite different from your usual comedic parts. Was it difficult doing something so different?

Hopefully, people will see me with a fresh pair of eyes and see that I'm not forever the funny guy. Doing drama is a lot more challenging because comedy has always come so naturally to me. In drama, you have to be more subtle.

For example, when you show pain in comedy, you can exaggerate and do it in a really funny, big way, but in drama, you have to show that in your eyes and your face but keep it under control so that it looks real.

Serangoon Road premieres on HBO on Sunday at 9pm (Singapore).

 

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