Embracing country bumpkin role

Tosh Zhang and Cheryl Wee star in period-romance flick My Love Sinema.
Tosh Zhang and Cheryl Wee star in period-romance flick My Love Sinema. PHOTO: MY LOVE SINEMA

Tosh Zhang was concerned over how uncool his character is in My Love Sinema, but says he took on the role as he loved the story

For the first time, home-grown actor Tosh Zhang is leading a movie without the other Ah Boys To Men co-stars in tow - and he is feeling the pressure.

Best known for playing the stern but compassionate Sergeant Ong in the popular Ah Boys To Men films (2012, 2013, 2015), the 27-year-old star will be seen this week in the period-romance flick My Love Sinema as a lovelorn cinema assistant pining after a teacher (played by Cheryl Wee).

The new film also features actors such as Jeff Wang, Dennis Chew and Tay Ping Hui, but none from Zhang's usual Ah Boys crew, such as Maxi Lim or Joshua Tan.

"I'm definitely feeling the stress because the boys are not around to share the burden of the box office with me. The pressure is huge," says Zhang in a telephone interview with The Straits Times.

Still, it is important for him to always "try new things, even if they seem scary", he adds.

His initial concern about taking on this film had nothing to do with leading the movie solo though. The hesitation, he says, stemmed from how "uncool" his character is.

In the film, he plays Kheong, a country bumpkin who, although kind-hearted, is socially awkward and a pushover.

Zhang says: "I feel like with every role you do, it solidifies the perception audiences have of you. Fans believe you're that person you play.

"Before this movie, I was adamant that I take on only cool or charismatic roles because that was the image I wanted to present to viewers. But after I read this script, I decided to take it on because I loved the story so much."

He has also come to realise that doing something "out of my comfort zone" has its benefits.

"I gained so much more from this experience than I expected. It wasn't very hard to portray Sergeant Ong because I had been a sergeant during national service.

"Kheong is a more complex and layered character. I felt I had to dig deeper to get inside his head. I feel I've grown as an actor," he says.

The bachelor certainly hopes that audiences will take to this new side of him - but if they prefer him as Sergeant Ong, he is okay with that too.

"The other Ah Boys and I - we used to get quite upset because we thought we'd get typecast as army boys forever.

"But (director) Jack Neo told us we should consider ourselves lucky to have even a single memorable role in our career. That speech changed my outlook," he says.

Some of the other Ah Boys have also gone on their own acting journeys - Lim and Tan, for instance, are starring in the new Channel 5 television drama Fine Tune.

Zhang adds: "So we embrace our Ah Boys background. Of course, I hope that audiences will also like the other roles that we embark on, but I feel very thankful to be given so many opportunities at all."

• My Love Sinema opens in cinemas today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Embracing country bumpkin role'. Print Edition | Subscribe