Ready to look ugly

Actor James Seah is hot property now, but the hunk is game to take on unflattering roles

In the movie 1965, James Seah (above) plays a young, hot-headed thug.
In the movie 1965, James Seah (above) plays a young, hot-headed thug.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

Local actor James Seah seems to be everywhere these days.

In the cinemas, he can be seen in the historical epic and SG50 film 1965, where he plays a young, hot- headed thug. On TV, he has roles in both Channel 5 and Channel 8's blockbuster dramas of the years - playing an ambitious but spoilt young man in Tanglin and an army boy in The Journey: Our Homeland.

"I think I am very lucky," the 24-year-old bachelor admits to Life with a grin at a recent interview.

"It wasn't like I planned things this way, but it just happens that several of my shows are airing at the same time. It's good timing and I'm happy to be part of three, great projects about Singapore."

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

Tanglin is Channel 5's first-ever long-form drama with 199 episodes and follows the lives of several Singapore families living in the Holland Village area. The Journey: Our Homeland is the final part of the epic The Journey trilogy (2013; 2014), a sprawling period drama that follows different Singapore families from the 1920s to the present-day.

I was always an introvert and I think I had confidence issues. I was not an outspoken person, so to do something such as Star Search would just be a huge challenge. I ended up really enjoying it.

ACTOR JAMES SEAH on why he joined now-defunct talent TV show Star Search in 2010

Seah joined show business after emerging as a Top 10 finalist on the now-defunct talent TV show Star Search in 2010. He made his acting debut a year later in MediaCorp's Web series Let's Play Love, before disappearing from the media spotlight for two years to do national service.

He returned to the entertainment industry in 2013, landing small roles on shows such as Channel 5's police period drama Mata Mata and Channel 8's medical drama The Caregivers (2014).

The hunk has never been hotter property than now, but he considers himself "a newbie in the industry".

"Just because it looks like I have three projects all out at the same time doesn't mean I've gotten far. I want to work harder and, hopefully, I'll improve on my craft."

1 In 1965, you play the younger brother of Qi Yuwu's cop character. What was it like working with him?

I felt like he was an older brother to me. He gave me advice and would remind me to make use of this amazing opportunity and work as hard as I can.

There is a big fire scene at the end of the movie and he was holding me and telling me: "James, this is your moment, do cherish it." I'm grateful to him for being so caring.

2 Did you always want to be an actor?

I studied digital media design at Nanyang Polytechnic and wanted to do something related to design. But after I joined Star Search and tried my hand at acting, it changed my life completely. I found acting an intriguing art form of self- expression and decided to pursue this line instead.

3 Why did you join Star Search in the first place?

I wanted to challenge myself in the biggest way possible. I was always an introvert and I think I had confidence issues. I was not an outspoken person, so to do something such as Star Search would just be a huge challenge.

I ended up enjoying it, so I was lucky to have made it as a Top 10 finalist and be offered an acting contract. You could say Star Search was the turning point in my life.

4 Do you remember what it was like acting for the first time in the Web series Let's Play Love?

I was so fearful. There are so many crew people watching you and you feel pressured to deliver. And when you start to panic, you can't do very well. I learnt the hard way, but it was also good because you're forced to do things properly and not make mistakes.

5 Have you felt your star power rise in recent months?

Things are certainly getting busier, so that must be a sign of good things to come. I have a fan club called The James Bond, which has been very supportive of me at roadshows and publicity events.

6 The local TV industry is dominated by hot young male actors. What do you think is your edge?

I think it's my ability to play older characters. Many people have told me that I have a mature face, so maybe it's easier for me to carry older roles.

7 You are known for your good looks. Are you willing to uglify yourself for a role?

Sure, of course. I think it would be fun to create more complex characters like that than the typical good- looking good-guy role because it gives you the opportunity to showcase a different side to yourself.

Take The Joker character in the Batman movies, for example. Look at how amazing that kind of role is. I would want to play all sorts of roles.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I would want people to remember me for who I really am and not place any labels on me. I would also want people to remember me as an actor.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•1965 is showing in cinemas.

Tanglin airs on Channel 5 on weeknights at 8.30pm. The Journey: Our Homeland airs on Channel 8 on weeknights at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'Ready to look ugly'. Print Edition | Subscribe