The Life Interview with actor Andie Chen: Ready for his next act

Actor Andie Chen has been aggressively managing his career and worries about feeling comfortable

When home-grown actor Andie Chen was crowned Star Search champion in 2007, he assumed that the television talent contest would put him on an instant path to stardom.

But that did not happen.

In fact, he would go on to struggle through a number of small parts on Channel 8 for the next two years before finally landing his first lead role in Channel 5's Fighting Spiders (2009) - and even then, he was discouraged from going after it at first.

"I really thought that I was all set after Star Search and that I would just go on to become the top actor in Singapore. But I wasn't getting the kind of roles to get there at all," says the 32-year-old, who wonders if it was because he was being overshadowed by better-looking hunks at the station.

"I'm very self-aware, so I know I'm not the type of guy you look at and go, 'Wow, what a looker'. But since I wasn't getting the right job offers, I decided I had to go and look for them myself."

Which is why he looked beyond the Mandarin Channel 8 to ask for an audition for the lead role of good-guy-turned-gangster Tony in English drama Fighting Spiders, even though he had been expressly told that he would have no chance.

I do not go through life just wishing for something. When I was young, I may have wished that I could grow up to become the next Brad Pitt or Chin Han. Now that I’m older, I choose to look at the cards that I’m dealt and make the best out of them.


"Apparently, the Fighting Spiders team had already found the lead and was just doing open auditions to fill some kind of quota.

"But I didn't care. I thought that if I had even a tiny chance to change someone's mind, then I would go for it. And I did."

To anyone meeting him for the first time, Chen's disarming frankness could come across sounding cocky. He admits that his words often rub people the wrong way.

"I've always been outspoken and assertive because I know what I want and I say it. But that doesn't sit well with some people.

"You know, celebrities are meant to have a certain kind of class in the way they behave, but I'm not like that. All I know is that I want to act, so everything for me is just about getting work."

Still, despite his more aggressive way of navigating what is widely considered a conservative industry here, he has risen up the ranks and become one of the most soughtafter leading men at the station.

After Fighting Spiders, he racked up a number of lead roles in major Channel 8 blockbusters, such as that of the geeky and endearing Yongjie in family drama Prosperity (2011) and a passionate revolutionist in period dramas The Journey: Tumultuous Times (2014) and The Journey: Our Homeland ( 2015).

In between, he also spent two years - from 2013 to 2014 - in Taiwan, where he landed a part as a prosecutor in legal drama Independent Heroes (2014).

At this year's Star Awards in April, he was up for Best Actor as well as for Best Supporting Actor.

Before the ceremony, pundits had been banking on him to pick up at least one of the trophies, given his strong performances as a blue- collar husband in If Only I Could (Best Actor) and as a simple-minded man in heartland drama Hero (Best Supporting Actor).

However, he lost both awards - to veteran star Chen Hanwei for Best Actor and to hunk Romeo Tan in the latter category.

He was disappointed and made it known in a post-awards interview with a local magazine, where he said he felt he was "being put down and ignored" so much by the TV company year after year that he may quit.

Some readers did not take well to his words and blasted him on social media for being a sore loser.

In hindsight, Chen says he does not regret what he said, but hopes that people do not read it to mean that he was being bitter.

"After the awards, I was very emotional. The Star Awards is like a report card for a Singaporean actor who does most of his work here, so of course I would like the approval.

"When that didn't happen, I was upset. Was what I said in the interview necessary? Probably not, but I was being 100 per cent honest. I don't want to take anything away from the people who won though - that's not what I meant."

He adds that he is not quitting any time soon and that he will try to be more careful about how he phrases his words in the future.

"I will still have my opinions and that won't change, but I'll try to say them in a more tactful way.

"This is the way it is. Channel 8 audiences are quite traditional and I have to respect that."

Perhaps he is willing to try playing by the rules because he is so bent on succeeding. Beyond acting and being in show business, he does not know what else he can do, he says. "I've wanted to act since I was 11 years old. I grew up watching Hong Kong TV dramas and I just loved all the characters, especially the villains. Once I decided that I wanted to act, I never questioned it."

He started performing in front of his friends and family for fun, before joining school plays and hosting mall shows for kids when he got older.

He cared little for academic life.

"For my preliminary exams, I flunked almost everything except for Chinese. My grades were always terrible and I never enjoyed studying because I never understood why I had to study. There was just no purpose," says the Nanhua Primary and Tanglin Secondary School student with a chuckle.

He found purpose when he applied to Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound & Video diploma programme after secondary school.

"There's no professional acting school in Singapore, so I felt like this was the closest to what I wanted to do. At least I could get some behind-the-scenes skills and work on productions, right?

"That was enough to push me to study hard. I had three months to prepare for an exam to get into the programme and I remember that the cut-off mark was 20. And I really made it through with 20."

He adds: "This is why I always tell my fans that if you just put your mind to something, you can do anything. Once you find that purpose, it's easy because you do it when you really want it."

After he graduated from Ngee Ann, he served his national service with the Singapore Armed Forces Music & Drama Company, before heading straight for Star Search.

His parents had their reservations about him pursuing a career in entertainment because they consider it "unstable", but they never stopped him.

"My father is an artist. He was slapped by my grandfather when he said he wanted to paint, so he understands my creative dreams," says Chen, who is the second of three boys. His elder brother, 33, works in the banking industry, while his younger brother, 29, is an entrepreneur.

As much as he has the drive to continue acting "forever", he is realistic about the profession. "This is a harsh industry and you are judged for everything that you do. You can be hot one day and forgotten the next," he says.

He has also had to deal with an auto-immune disorder all his life, which can cause severe facial rashes. He has kept the disorder in check by cutting out food such as peanuts, gluten and dairy products, as well as getting more rest - although the latter is "very difficult to do for an actor".

"I have worked for 16 hours without any rest before and, if my face flares up in rashes, that's very hard to deal with. I would also feel extreme fatigue and brain fog, so I really have to be careful.

"Otherwise, I may have to consider working behind the scenes."

He has been tinkering with content production on his own for the past two years by regularly posting video blogs on his eponymous YouTube channel.

While waiting for this interview to start at a cafe in City Hall, he recorded his thoughts of the day on his camera. Later, at the photo shoot, he chats with the photographer about tips on how to get better angles and lighting in his visuals.

Besides the clips of himself talking, he also shares online videos of his family members, who include his Taiwanese actress-host wife Kate Pang and their two children, three-year-old son Aden and oneyear-old daughter Avery.

He and his son have appeared together in a TV commercial for MasterCard in Taiwan. "My kid has to do his part and earn his keep for the family too," he quips.

Some may question Chen and Pang's decision to put their child in the spotlight at such a young age, but the couple have never been the conventional sort.

They dated secretly for a year after meeting on the set of TV drama Break Free (2013), before making headlines by suddenly announcing in November 2013 that they had not only tied the knot, but were also expecting their first child.

Pang, 34, who has reduced her workload significantly since becoming a mother, says: "We may do things differently, but it works for our family. Andie is an amazing husband and father, and he is never shy to show how much he loves his family. He is very open with his emotions and that's wonderful."

Chen admits that he is "so, so happy" with his life at the moment - so much so that it worries him.

"I have a beautiful family and I make an honest living. But because I am feeling so comfortable, I have to tell myself to keep looking out for the next challenge.

"I need to reach my maximum potential. I don't know what that means, but I know I haven't reached that yet, and I won't stop until I do."

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ready for his next act'. Print Edition | Subscribe