Actor Nick Shen Weijun has been missing from Singapore television scene because he has been promoting the dying traditional art of Chinese opera.
He left his full-time acting job at TV station Mediacorp in 2011 to focus on his business, Tok Tok Chiang Events Company, which he set up that same year.
The firm, which employs 10 full- time staff, organises programmes to spread awareness of Chinese culture and opera through public events, school workshops and community projects.
Shen, 39, who is the older of two sons, says he inherited his love of Chinese opera from his grandparents. "My grandma carried me in her arms to watch Teochew opera performances when I was one or two years old, and she always read opera scripts at home. My grandfather was a drummer for a Teochew opera troupe. I joined an opera troupe when I was 13."
I enjoy the feeling of being totally immersed in the role, like an artist totally into his painting or a writer who is deep in thought. I relish that magical moment. ''
NICK SHEN on why he loves acting
Now that his business is on track, the bachelor plans to ramp up his acting career.
His latest acting gig is in an upcoming StarHub-produced telemovie Zi Char, where he plays an ex-convict who finds a new lease of life through cooking at a zi char restaurant. Zi Char premieres next year on E City (StarHub TV Channel 111 and 825).
This year, he starred in Channel 5 mental illness-themed drama Left Behind (2016), Channel 8 drama My First School (2016) and a student film titled Mother, where his portrayal of a sacrificial son caring for his ill mother earned him much praise.
Shen, who got his big break after winning the Singapore chapter of the local television station's Star Search talent contest in 1999, is more than willing to help aspiring film-makers with their projects.
"I've starred in other student projects besides Mother. I take them on because I think these students are very passionate about their dreams. If it is a good script I will be willing to help out, even though the production may take take a longer time.
"This is a way that actors can contribute."
1 Why have we not seen you much on television in the last few years?
When I first left the TV station, I was offered a few roles, but they were bad character roles.
I didn't dare to take the roles because my events company worked closely with schools and I was worried that teachers and principals might form a negative impression of me from those roles.
Also, when I started the events company, it was really time-consuming. Now that my business is on track, I'm ready to take on more acting jobs.
2 What attracted you to the role of an ex-convict in Zi Char?
I like the role because the character, Xing, is persistent in pursuing his passion in cooking, even though he has a lot of insecurities and faces a lot of challenges.
He is also helpful to a blind girl, Qiu, who wants to learn how to cook. There are many layers to the character.
Just like his name Xing, which means star in the Chinese language, he shines the brightest in the dark.
3 How good a cook are you?
I picked up my cooking skills by observing my family members cook. My dad is a pretty good cook.
I also underwent training when I acted as a chef in my previous dramas, such as Romantic Delicacies (2009). I cook once in a while. The biggest feast I have attempted was whipping up a meal for a group of 12 family members and friends during Chinese New Year two years ago. I cooked a vegetarian meal, including fried rice, white carrot soup and a tofu dish.
4 What keeps you hooked on acting?
My aspiration from a young age was to be an actor. I get a lot of fulfilment and satisfaction from acting because I learn a lot from each role, the script, the cast and crew.
I enjoy the feeling of being totally immersed in the role, like an artist totally into his painting or a writer who is deep in thought. I relish that magical moment.
5 Why did you leave TV station Mediacorp?
I took up many courses, such as entrepreneurship. I wanted to try something else when I was still young.
I knew once my event company's business was steady, I could always go back to acting.
6 What are the challenges of promoting Chinese opera?
The younger generation is definitely not that interested in Chinese opera. That is why the Chinese opera workshop must be conducted in fun and interactive ways.
If we just perform an hour of opera, I think the students at the workshop will all fall asleep. I perform magic tricks and mask-changing to warm up the students, before I introduce the history of Chinese opera.
The world is evolving, Chinese opera needs to evolve as well.
7 What is your secret to looking so youthful?
What you eat is very important.
I will eat whatever packed food is given during filming, but on my own, I prefer to eat vegetarian food. I eat plenty of fruits, avocado and tomato. While I was filming, the crew saw that I was eating blueberries all the time. I also exercise whenever I have the time. I go to the gym. Brisk walking is also good because you practise deep-breathing at the same time.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
I would like people to remember me as someone who is willing to pursue his passion against all odds. I don't come from a well-to-do family. My mum suffered from cancer, which spread from the colon to the liver. She died about nine years ago. We did have financial difficulties.
• Telemovie Zi Char premieres next year on E City (StarHub TV Channel 111 and 825).