It’s been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club opened. For those who didn’t realize it, that was the last studio release to feature a predominately Asian cast. Crazy Rich Asians is this summer’s blockbuster romcom. It is based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name. The movie performed so well at the box office that a sequel was announced just seven days after its mid-week opening.
Crazy Rich Asians also treated audiences to a number of incredibly talented actors in remarkably fresh roles. Pierre Png plays Michael Teo, a dashing and (as one scene reveals) impressively chiseled, self-made man who can’t seem to rise above his own insecurities. Astrid, his beautiful wife, comes from money, the kind Michael can’t ever hope to match, no matter how many hours he works.
Although Png is very similar to Teo – a true blue Singaporean boy who served in the National Service and wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth – being insecure in his relationship is one area where the actor is drastically different from his character.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. I love an independent woman and if she had the ability to earn her keep and contribute to the family, why not?!”
Can you describe a typical day growing up in Singapore as a child?
“Wow! This question brings back many fond memories! I lived in a kampung (village) growing up. I lived there all the way till I was in my early adulthood – something you only read in books these days!”
“I was brought up in a very strict Catholic environment. My parents would make us say the rosary as a family every single night. My dad always told me to do what I needed to do and to do it well. Never mind what everyone else is doing. My mom just wants me to remain hardworking and to stay humble. As a kid, I’d cycle with the rest of the kids from the kampung, jump into the network of little canals and ‘explore’ wherever they might lead us to, jump into the vegetation to catch spiders and see whose fought better. There was so much fun, freedom and simplicity living in the kampung!”
How did you get into acting?
“Acting came about as a challenge while I was serving in the National Service (NS was a national obligation) in Singapore. I was egged on by a fellow mate to take part in Singapore’s most prestigious talent competition and was offered a two year contract with the TV station! My first job was a highly rated sit-com called Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd. And it was through that experience that I realized how much I enjoyed acting. I’ve since taken my craft seriously and taken cues from actors like Edward Norton, Robert Downey Jr., Denzel Washington, and Viggo Mortensen (just to name a few), who all had different and exemplary styles of acting.”
Did the National Service help shape you into the man you are today?
“Absolutely! The Army taught me how to break physical and mental barriers. I hate tardiness, so I never stand people up. I appreciate order, so give me a routine any day, and I never do things halfway. It’s either all or nothing! Dedication, resilience and responsibility – that’s what the army instilled in me and I live by those rules today.”
Why acting? Why is it so important that we tell stories?
“I live my life vicariously through the roles that I play and that is what I love most! Telling a story, whether happy or sad, eventful or just bland is something everyone at some point in their lives can identify with. A story can bring millions together, and it can touch countless lives! Look at what Crazy Rich Asians is doing for the Asian community, the waves it’s making and the buzz it’s created!”
Did you have to go through a lot of auditions or callbacks before getting the role of Michael Teo?
“No, I can’t say there were many auditions or callbacks, I was asked to read for three roles and when they decided I should play the role of Michael, I was told they had ‘found their perfect Michael!’ Michael is that one true blue Singaporean boy born and bred in Singapore. He was schooled locally, served his time in the army, and always had to fight hard by working his way to the top. My life has been quite the same as Michael’s. So really, getting the role of Michael Teo was, in hindsight, PERFECT for me!”
Are there still traditional roles for men and women in Singapore or are things changing?
“Things have changed and are still continuing to. Increasingly, we are seeing more women holding down CEO/upper management roles, and sitting on more boards. What use to be husbands being the sole breadwinners is changing, our workforce of women is strong, and some men are choosing to stay home and take on roles as house husbands.”
One of the main themes in Crazy Rich Asians concerns the conflict between duty to family and pursuit of passion. Which is more important to you?
“Family is everything to me and without their support I wouldn’t be able to pursue my passion. So they go hand in hand.”
The locations for “Crazy Rich Asians” were absolutely stunning!
“Yes they were, the scenes were beautifully shot and I must say Singapore never looked better!
Which was your favourite location?
My favourite location would have to be Gardens by the Bay, I love being one with nature and I personally enjoy being around plants. It’s a form of relaxation. The way this location was set for the movie was spectacular!”
The wedding was another spectacular scene. Such incredible fashions. Was there anything that just made your jaw drop?
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that scene, but watching it, yeah, the men were dashing and amongst the women, I’d have to say my screen wife Astrid stole the scene – classy as ever!”
Any closing words?
“The revival of the romcom is back and here to stay! Nora Ephron would be so proud of CRA!!!”
Pierre’s management is already in talks with interested parties in Hollywood. However, the actor is fine with letting things progress naturally. “I’m just gonna take it one step at a time.
Photographer: Michael Blank
Groomer: Crystal Tran for Exclusive Artists using Hanz De Fuko
Stylist: Tayo Fajemisin
Writer: Allen Foster