Challenge playing Lee Kuan Yew

Lim Kay Tong took months to prepare for his role as the late prime minister in 1965

Cast and crew of 1965 (above from left): Lim Kay Tong, Mike Kasem, Sezairi Sezali, James Seah, Deanna Yusoff, Sun Yi En (little girl), Qi Yuwu, Randy Ang, Ng Say Yong and Daniel Yun. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT
On the the left are actors James Seah and Joanne Peh in a scene from the movie. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT
Cinema still: 1965 with Lim Kay Tong playing Lee Kuan Yew. PHOTO: UNKNOWN

Adrian Pang has been getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Lee Kuan Yew in The LKY Musical in the past week, which could potentially put a lot of stress on actor Lim Kay Tong.

Lim is also taking on the role of Lee, for the film 1965, which opens in cinemas tomorrow.

But the 61-year-old points out that the movie and the musical are "two completely different animals".

At a press event for the film held at Capitol Theatre yesterday, he tells Life: "The musical is about Lee Kuan Yew and I've certainly heard good things about it and I plan to see it. But my character in 1965 is part of a big ensemble cast and the role is only a small part of a mostly fictitious story.

"So there is a different context here. I think it would be very hard for people to make comparisons between the two projects."

Indeed, he appears for only about 10 minutes in total, which includes a re-enactment of the iconic press conference when Mr Lee announced that Singapore would be separated from Malaysia.

Even though the role was small, Lim took it very seriously and did all he could to prepare for it.

Over two months, he visited the National Archives Of Singapore at least five times a week, staying for hours at a time to study audio and film clips of the late Prime Minister of Singapore.

"I've never played a role where I had so much information and materials to refer to. I went on a trip to Japan and took his first autobiography with me, to get a better glimpse of the man and get into his head.

"The biggest challenge was finding the man amid all this information that was available to me and condensing all of that into the few minutes of screen time for the movie."

Directed by Randy Ang and Daniel Yun, 1965 looks at the underlying racial tensions and the turmoil in the months leading up to Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

It follows the fictional story of a police inspector (Qi Yuwu), whose cheery family life is thrown upside down when his young daughter (Sun Yi En) goes missing.

At yesterday's press event, Qi, 38, showed a clear bond with six-year-old child actress Sun, holding her hand as they walked into the room and carrying her in his arms for photographs. In between interviews, he would also ask her how she was doing and whether she needed water.

Perhaps, his paternal instincts are kicking in, given that his actress wife Joanne Peh - who also has a major role in the film as a coffee-shop helper - is due to give birth to their first child on Aug 6.

With a grin, he says in Mandarin: "She could be having the baby any time really, but I'm quite calm. We've done all the preparations that we could possibly do to welcome the baby, so it's just a matter of when the baby will come out.

"It will definitely signal a huge change in both our lives and that's exciting."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline Movie 1965 and the LKY musical are "two completely different animals": Lim Kay Tong . Subscribe