Call Answered: Tan Kheng Hua: "Crazy Rich Asians"
I love the variety of actors I get to interview, but I especially love learning about actors from other countries. When Tan Kheng Hua was offered to me as a possible interview, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about Kheng's experience as a Singaporean actress who is about to make her American feature film debut in the new comedy Crazy Rich Asians, which is being released this August.
Known to Singaporean and Malaysian audiences, Kheng was introduced to American audiences in Netflix's Marco Polo as "Empress Dowager." Now, Kheng is making her American film debut in Crazy Rich Asians, which is a new comedy about a woman, "Rachel," (played by Constance Wu) who gets caught up in family drama when she finds out her boyfriend "Nick Young" (Henry Golding) is from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. Kheng plays "Rachel's" mom, "Kerry." Crazy Rich Asians will be released on August 15, 2018!
1. Who or what inspired you to become an actress? Acting came late in my life, as a young adult in Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. I was looking for an early morning elective class to free up certain school days so I could hang at the mall like any young student ;) and I found Acting 101. It was scheduled at some unearthly morning time like 8:30am and so it had loads of vacancies. Perfect, I thought. I fell in love the minute I went to the first class. I was the only foreign but English speaking Asian student in a class of die-hard American acting enthusiasts. We had a very hot, but focussed and effectively graduate student teacher, and together, in that little hut in the beautiful campus of Indiana University, we all fell in love with each other, and the craft and made beautiful emotional love with scenes from all sorts of plays, and from our own imaginations. knew I loved to act but being a full time actor? that was too strange for me at that time. I came back with a very good GPA and a BSC, got a corporate job for nearly ten years and ran off into the theatre every chance I got. It was only when I was 30, after coming back from a glorious tour of a stage production in Perth that I decided to give acting my full attention and I quit my job. I gave myself two years to have "fun" indulging my passion rather than fulfilling my duties, but look at me now - 55 years old and I never went back to a corporate job.
2. When was the moment you decided to pursue acting full time? What was your family's reaction to this decision? My parents are the coolest parents ever. From the minute their children became adults, they have always looked at us as the "experts" in the household, simply because both my mum and my dad never had a high education. They always trusted us. And in return, we never asked them for much and always made sure our decisions worked for us. So when I told my mum and dad I was going to quit my corporate high paying, big benefits job to act for awhile, they basically said "Good. Now you have more time to rest and to go on holiday with us."
3. This August, your new film, Crazy Rich Asians is being released. The film, based on the global bestselling book, is about a woman ("Rachel," played by Constance Wu) who gets caught up in family drama when she finds out her boyfriend "Nick Young" (Henry Golding) is from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. You play "Rachel's" mom, "Kerry." What made you want to be part of this film? I love to act. "Kerry" is a great character. The production company with an amazeballs track record. The director Jon M Chu is such a great talent and a wonderful leader, surrounded by such a great talented cast and crew. A story line based on a book by Singapore born Kevin Kwan which I loved and read a long time ago before any whisper of a movie, AND about my own country. How could anyone, least of all me - a Singaporean actor - NOT want to be a part of this film! A dream come true.
4. What do you relate to most about "Kerry"? What is one characteristic of hers that you yourself are glad you don't possess? I relate to her close but long leash approach to parenting her daughter. I am like that with my own daughter. Both "Kerry" and myself are mums who will always be there for our daughters, but who allow our daughters to develop, listen to and follow her own voice. We're just there if they fall. I don't think there is any one characteristic of "Kerry" that I don't want to possess. I love everything about "Kerry."
5. What is a funny story you can share with us that happened during the filming of Crazy Rich Asians? My own mum is a regular mahjong player and though I am like my mum in many ways, I have always joked that I can't and will never enjoy mahjong the way she does. Well, in one scene in Crazy Rich Asians, my character "Kerry" had to play mahjong. I learnt on set and I must say, I found it fascinating and was actually playing while acting!
6. What excites you about making your American feature film debut? I hope it will open up more of the type of work I would like to do! I love working. I love acting. I am in my mid 50s, my mortgage is paid up, and my daughter is all sorted out. So, I now fill my days with joy and work provides most of the joy of my life! So bring it on!
7. What makes you nervous? Turbulence. Missing my daughter. Missed calls from my 82-year-old mother. Too much free time between work.
8. What was it like making this film in your homeland of Singapore? Convenient. I could just drive home after filming, and crawl into my own bed, under my own duvet, and on my own pillow. I could eat what I like and I knew where to find it. I felt proud to also show the cast and crew who had not been here some of the idiosyncrasies of my country, of which there were many. How do you order hot beverages in a "Kopitiam" - or coffee shop - is a good example.
Here's a taster:
Coffee with condensed milk - Kopi
Coffee black with sugar - Kopi O
Coffee black straight - Kopi O Kosong
Coffee with evaporated milk - Kopi C
Coffee, in any form, with less sugar - add "siew tai" to the name. Eg: Kopi C SiewTai
9. Crazy Rich Asians features an all Asian cast. How do you feel this film will help get more Asian representation? It is going to help A LOT! You get such a blast of talent - all sorts of talent - comedy, drama, music, directing - and everyone is hungry and wants to work and wants to do great work! So LET'S DO IT! TOGETHER!
10. By participating in this film, what do you hope/think it will teach your daughter about inclusivity/diversity? I have said this before in other interviews and I have said it again - if human beings can transplant hearts of any color from one body to another to save lives, surely we don't have to wait any longer for any movie to demonstrate diversity and inclusivity. The truth is out there! We are ALL humans! I repeat - We are ALL humans. 'Nuff said.
More on Kheng:
Tan Kheng Hua is a well-known and respected award-winning actress/producer in Singapore and Malaysia. Kheng has been seen in The Philanthropist (NBC), The Patriarch (UFA), and Serangoon Road (HBO Asia Original Series). Her most notable role was “Empress Dowager” in the Netflix Original Series, Marco Polo, which caught the attention of many viewers and led her to land her current role in Crazy Rich Asians. This movie is an adaptation of Singapore-born Kevin Kwan's best selling novel, where Kheng plays “Kerry Chu,” the mother of protagonist "Rachel Chu" played by Constance Wu.
While being active in film and television, she is also respected on the stage where she’s a prolific independent creative producer in Singapore. She creates and produces theatre and television content of all genres including cabaret, drama, comedy, dramatic comedies, musicals, etc. One of the television dramas she created and produced was titled Do Not Disturb, which was the first local English-language TV series to receive the maximum 5-star rating from Singapore's main newspaper, The Straits Times. She has also created and produced plays at The SIN-PEN Colony and 2 Houses for The Georgetown Festival in Penang and The 20-Something Festival in Singapore.
She was named to be one of 20 Singaporean contemporary artists chosen to represent Singapore in Singapore: Inside Out event. Kheng has also been been nominated and won many awards including The Art Nation Award (Best Actress), DBS Life! Theatre Award (Best Actress), Asian Television Award (Best Comedic Performance by an Actress), Asian Television Award (Dramatic Performance by an Actress), Star Awards (Nominated Best Supporting Actress), Asian Television Award (Best Current Affairs & Magazine Presenter), JCCI Singapore Foundation Culture Awards for Contributions to Singapore, and the Critics Choice Award (Best Actor) at the Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre.
Her other hobbies include being a mother to her only daughter Shi-An, an animal lover, and sports. She has competed in canoeing, gymnastics, and track. She is also a certified yoga teacher and enjoys running, jump roping, diving, and skiing.