Stage actress plays bad girl in TV debut

Cheryl Tan is a scheming university professor in Faculty.
Cheryl Tan is a scheming university professor in Faculty.PHOTO: MEDIACORP

Theatre actress Cheryl Tan's portfolio is dominated by wholesome roles - from playing Juliet in Romeo And Juliet to the innocent Ivy Chan in Beauty World.

That is about to change with the 28-year-old's latest role in Channel 5's new drama, Faculty. Departing from her nice-girl image on stage, she plays Dr Sylvia Soo, a professor who resorts to underhanded means to outlast her peers at the university.

Describing Sylvia as "strong- minded" and an atypical female, Tan says she enjoys playing the character, who is "extremely like her"- aside from the questionable choices she makes in the series.

"She's surrounded by political animals. You can say they force her to behave in a certain way or you can say she chooses to give in to some stuff. It's quite fun," says Tan in an interview with The Straits Times.

She can also identify with Sylvia as she, too, was a teacher. The Malaysian, who is from Malacca, gave singing and acting workshops back home.

"I am pretty scary when I teach, if you ever encounter anyone who has done choir work with me, they'll let you know," says Tan, who is based in Singapore for this project.

The bachelorette was invited to audition for one of the student roles in the show, but the producers decided to cast her in the lead role instead as they were impressed by her performance. Faculty will be her debut as a television actress.

Making the switch from theatre to television is not an easy task, Tan says, adding that she still has a lot to learn.

"There are filming conditions - you don't know what's going to happen, when it's going to be noisy, when the weather is going to be right, so you have to learn to be centred on yourself and not get distracted," says Tan.

Apart from that, she has been trying to learn the fame game from her fellow actors on set. "It's about learning to do the business side of things - such as taking care of your appearance, going to parties and events, making connections and finding out how to stay on top of opportunities," says Tan.

The actress plans to explore more television work in Singapore, as her theatre career has reached a standstill of sorts - having booked only one musical theatre production for the year.

"Theatre work is unstable. It's a cliche, but it's true. You don't know who is going to be producing what and when," says Tan, who appeared in her first play in Malaysia at the age of 15.

The youngest daughter of a stockbroker and a teacher, Tan graduated from Wesleyan University, a United States liberal arts college, where she did a double major in music and theatre.

While she appears concerned for her future, her work here has received rave reviews. She bagged the lead role of Juliet in last year's Shakespeare in the Park and the role of Ivy Chan in a 2015 production of Beauty World.

She has also done stints in children's theatre, playing the titular characters in Singapore Repertory Theatre's productions of Red Riding Hood in 2013 and Rapunzel in 2014.

While she hopes to land more television roles in Singapore, Tan's first love is still musical theatre - which is what she grew up with - and the actress intends to return to her roots in Malaysia.

"I'd like to focus on educating young Malaysians in the arts and empowering them to make their own stuff. I think that will be an awesome way to spend my 50s to 80s."

•Faculty debuts on Channel 5 on Monday at 10pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Stage actress plays bad girl in TV debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe