Best Supporting Actor

The Life Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actor nominees

Best Supporting Actor nominees: (Clockwise from top left) Benjamin Chow, Oliver Chong, Andy Tear and Sean Ghazi.
Best Supporting Actor nominees: (Clockwise from top left) Benjamin Chow, Oliver Chong, Andy Tear and Sean Ghazi. PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, THE FINGER PLAYERS

Benjamin Chow, 28

Benjamin Chow, 28. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Nominated for: Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress (Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

Previous wins: Best Supporting Actor for the 2015 production The LKY Musical (Metropolitan Productions, Singapore Repertory Theatre)

His first nomination and win at The Straits Times' Life Theatre Awards was for playing the charismatic left-wing leader Lim Chin Siong, friend and later antagonist to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Now, Chow is nominated for playing Prince Tun, the royal antagonist to Cheryl Tan's aspiring concubine Yehenara in Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress by Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Prince Tun was also granted a heroic moment of redemption on stage as he tried to help the empress fight Western colonial forces.

Chow's real-life tenacity coloured his character. Just before a show, he cut his right hand so badly he needed eight stitches and had to modify his actions on stage.

But he says: "Having to use my left hand actually helped me to make better choices in some of the scenes, for example in the scene where Prince Tun threatens Yehenara. He doesn't try to scare her with a feint; he grabs her by the chin and invades her space. Honestly, I don't know why we hadn't just done that before."

Oliver Chong, 40


Nominated for: ITSY: The Musical (The Finger Players).

Previous nominations: Fifteen in various categories. Nominations for Best Supporting Actor include for the 2008 production Flare (The Finger Players and Cake Theatrical Productions), nominations for Best Actor include for the 2014 production Art by Nine Years Theatre and for Invisibility/Breathing (2010) by Cake Theatrical Productions.

Previous wins: Best Original Script for Roots (2012) by The Finger Players, tied for Best Actor for Roots with Nelson Chia in A Language Of Their Own (Robin Loon and Casey Lim/Singapore Arts Festival 2012). Off Centre, a work Chong directed and staged with Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay in 2015 won Siti Khalijah Zainal a Best Actress award.

In ITSY: The Musical, theatre veteran Chong played a sick boy whose pain warps a dream-world peopled by nursery rhyme characters. Writing, set design, directing, he has done it all, but says playing a child on stage gets "increasingly stressful".

"I am afraid I really am not looking any younger. I was just glad that I was playing in a bigger theatre and the audience were further away," he says of the musical, which was staged at the Victoria Theatre last year.

Andy Tear, 42


Nominated for: The Pillowman (Pangdemonium) Previous nominations: None

A drama teacher with Stamford American International School, Tear has been performing professionally in Singapore since 2005, but this is his first nomination at the Life Theatre Awards. In one long, riveting scene in Pangdemonium's The Pillowman, he played a physically and mentally twisted serial killer, Michael, whose actions doom both himself and his writer-brother.

Eleven years ago, when director Tracie Pang first staged the play for the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), Tear was in the ensemble. He played the father whose abuse shaped the serial killer.

"I've never played two characters in the same play before, except maybe Shakespeare," says the actor, who is often seen in the supporting cast of SRT's Shakespeare in the Park. "Suddenly, I was seeing the play from an entirely different perspective. Michael's morals and everything have been shaped by this horrific treatment."

Sean Ghazi, 49


Nominated for: La Cage (Wild Rice) Previous nominations: None

Malaysian actor and first-time nominee Ghazi is nominated for his first musical role here in almost 20 years. His stage career here started in 1998, when he played the lawyer and love interest of the lead actress in A Twist Of Fate.

"What I like about musical theatre, when it's done well, is that everything has to come out - acting, musicality," says the actor.

He is nominated for his portrayal of nightclub owner George in Wild Rice's restaging of the musical La Cage. In real life, he programmes musical acts for restaurant-theatre Bobo KL in Kuala Lumpur, but what really helped him get into the role was the salt-and-pepper wig he had custom-made in Indonesia.

"A wig is an instant transformation and I felt I had to up my gravitas for this role," says the actor, who was cast opposite well-known Singaporean actor Ivan Heng playing the cross-dressing diva Zaza.

Heng had the flamboyant costumes but Sean says La Cage "is George's dilemma", about reconciling his son's sudden desire for a traditional family with his long-time relationship with Zaza.

"One of them quite clearly is the peacock, which is why maybe everybody thinks this is a supporting role. But it's actually two leads. I wanted George to hold his own."

Three out of the four nominees for Best Supporting Actor at this year's Life Theatre Awards played anti-heroes. Andy Tear was a serial killer in The Pillowman, Benjamin Chow was a royal rival for the throne in Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress and Oliver Chong played a boy gone bad in ITSY: The Musical. Only Sean Ghazi offered a lighter perspective as a nightclub owner in La Cage.


Correction note: This story was edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2018, with the headline 'Playing anti-heroes'. Subscribe