Glass meets Crazy Rich Asians star Pierre Png

WHEN it comes to the portrayal of Asian characters, Hollywood has been criticised time and time again for its whitewashed casting and cliched characterisation. But this weekend has revealed just how successful representation can be with the box office triumph of Crazy Rich Asians. The movie made $34 million in its five-day opening, becoming one of the most successful romantic comedies of recent years.

The film follows Rachel (Constance Wu), an Asian-American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s relatives, only to discover he is heir to one of the wealthiest families in Southeast Asia. As one of Hollywood’s first pictures to feature an Asian ensemble cast, the movie has been hailed as a watershed moment for cinematic representation, set to subvert several stereotypes and open up Hollywood to a new demographic of acting talent.

One such talent is Pierre Png, the Singapore-born actor and comedian who first rose to fame in the MediaCorp sitcom Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd. He has since starred in both English and Mandarin dramas, making his film debut in the 1998 Singaporean musical comedy Forever Fever. His work has seen him receive numerous accolades, notably Best Actor nods at the 2014 Singapore Star Awards and the prestigious 19th annual Asian Television Awards. Glass caught up with Pierre to discuss Hollywood, comedy and career highlights.

Pierre PngPierre Png. Photograph: Michael Blank

How did you get into acting? Was it always something you were passionate about?
To be quite honest – it was by fluke. My bunch of mates serving together with me in the Army dared me to take part in a talent search to find Singapore’s next best thing. And I came out tops. I am so grateful because ever since then I’ve had so many doors open for me and so many opportunities I would never have dreamt of. Since that win, my passion for acting has grown tremendously.

You are about to make your Hollywood debut with the Warner Bros Picture Crazy Rich Asians. How was making this film different from previous projects you have worked on?
Wow! Just being on a Hollywood set alone is different already. The respect that people show for each other’s craft is amazing no matter what role you’re playing in the movie. There’s so much camaraderie and everyone has that one goal in mind – to do the job and do it beyond expectations. It’s a great atmosphere to be submerged in, a very difficult culture from the way things work in Asia.

Pierre PngPierre Png. Photograph: Michael Blank

Could you tell us a bit more about Crazy Rich Asians and your role in it?
I play Michael Teo. He’s a true-blue Singaporean who’s born and bred here. He graduated locally and signed on a career with the Army. He fell in love and married Astrid Leong. He left the Army to set up a tech firm hoping to prove to his in-laws that he’s more than just an “Army-boy”. Their marriage is put to the test when Astrid suspects Michael is having an affair. Whether or not they stay together and weather the storm, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Where does comedy come into your career? How do you think acting and comedy have influenced each other within your work?
My very first acting gig after that talent search was a sitcom that ran for eight seasons, and it was all comedy! I started out as a high brow but fumbling architect whose older brother was a very famous contractor who spoke colloquial English we call Singlish. So, doing situational comedy was how I started my career. Although I mostly do TV dramas these days, I continue to inject a lot of humour into my work. In fact, I’m forever grateful I started my career doing sitcoms because I learnt how to be serious and funny at the same time.

Pierre PngPierre Png. Photograph: Michael Blank.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in in your career?
Mastering the Chinese language (so much so that my work depends on it now … nervous laughter) considering it is not my mother tongue. I am of Peranakan descent. We spoke mostly English and Malay. I spoke very little Mandarin, only in school. After graduating, Mandarin was non-existent in my daily life. In 2016, I decided to tackle my biggest fear by the horns and did a Mandarin musical (木兰少女) that ran for 36 shows.

What have been your greatest achievements so far?
Career-wise – landing the role in a Hollywood movie. It’s especially meaningful that I’m playing a Singaporean with strong Asian values for the world stage. Second to that was winning two best actor Awards at the Asian Television Awards (English) and a local Televsion Award show (Mandarin) in 2014.

Are there any projects you would love to work on in the next few years?
I would love to be involved in more international projects, and work with directors like M Night Shyamalan, Mel Gibson, James Cameron and of course, Jon M Chu again.

by Rachel Parker 

Photographer: Michael Blank

Groomer: Crystal Tran for Exclusive Artists using Hanz De Fuko

Stylist: Tayo Fajemisin

 

Clothing Credits:

Yellow sweater: look by Alexander Wang, shoes by Pierre Hardy

Burgundy jacket: look by Perry Ellis, shoes by Cos