From Ah Boy to Gentleman: Interview with Joshua Tan

By Travis WongMovies - 25 March 2013 9:00 AM | Updated 4:01 PM

From Ah Boy to Gentleman: Interview with Joshua Tan

23 year-old Joshua Tan is riding on a cloud. The fresh-faced young actor, who is doing a Communications degree at Monash University, shot to fame after playing the main lead, Ken Chow, in the ‘Ah Boys To Men’ duology. The two films have smashed local box-office records, and Jack Neo is working on a third movie.

Recently crowned Cleo's Most Eligible Bachelor of the year, Joshua took some time off his busy schedule to answer some questions via email about his experiences working on the films, his plans and even his outline for the third film. Are you listening, Jack?

 What was it like acting in the two ‘Ah Boys to Men’ movies?

It was a fantastic experience, but really really draining. It was my first time shooting a feature film, and it was a 2 in 1! So, the production days were twice as long and the deadlines were twice as tight. It was a baptism of fire for me I suppose.

But the good thing was that I had all these new fresh co-actors with me and we really bonded and encouraged one another during our journey together. I guess this experience also toughened me up quite a bit (as in stamina wise).

So you'll be back in Part 3? I assume it follows you into OCS?

Honestly I have no clue, as unfortunately, I don't get to be involved in the creative process when it comes to script writing. However! If I had things my way, it would be a very ambitious out of Singapore experience.

‘Ah Boys To Men Part 2’ trailer

Why do you think the movies are so popular? It's broken local box-office records and was firmly at #1 for four weeks.

I honestly don't have a clue, and my views on the film is very subjective and biased so I often wonder and ask my friends the same question. But based on feedback, the first obvious reason is because it is based on NS and everyone was either involved or has had a loved one involved in it, and wants to either re-live the days, or find out more about what their loved one went through.

Another reason why I think it is so successful is because director Jack Neo really outdid himself this time. He has always been successful with the Chinese and Hokkien market, with his particular brand of comedy, but now has reached out to the English (and some portions of the Malay and indian market) without losing his signature hilarious touch.

Ah Boys To Men
Joshua Tan at the 'Ah Boys To Men' premiere

What has it been like working with Jack Neo?

Honestly, at the start we did have some trouble understanding one another because my Chinese isn't great (but it has improved tremendously since!). But as the production went on we've gotten closer and especially since the promotions of the movie, he's really become a real father figure to the guys and myself.

How were your own NS experiences in contrast to those in the film? Did any particular scenes or situations strike a chord?

To be honest the only similarity was that my then girlfriend left me in BMT as well. But that is it, I am a very different person from Ken Chow both in Part 1 as well as Part 2, so it was difficult for me to play him. The scene when we got our letters in field camp in Part 2 happened to me as well, so yes, I remember getting letters from my parents and tearing. It is difficult to explain the emotion, because nowadays, people hardly write letters anymore.  It is somehow more personal and tender because of that.

There's some great chemistry between the young actors. How did that develop?

By forcing us to be together for months! The production experience was actually very similar to BMT in the sense that we were in Tekong, and had no one else for company. So, we simply had to work together. But I thank God that there wasn't anyone with big egos or bad attitudes.

But ever since the end of production, the friendship between the actors has grown! Especially since we have been on countless promotions across Singapore and Malaysia; we've reached a point of meeting everyday even when we weren't working on the project. We'd meet each other for a meal, or drinks, recently we even went to "Bai Nian" together!

Ah Boys To Men
A still from 'Ah Boys To Men: Part 2'

Richard Low and Irene Ang. Better or worse than your real parents?

HAHA, trying to get me in trouble eh? I've been blessed with great real life as well as reel life parents and honestly I can't complain. I wasn't born to such wealthy parents as Ken was in the movie, but I've had a blessed childhood and wonderful role models to look up to.

And as for my on screen parents, I can only wax lyrical about them. For a first time actor, there were no better teachers. They helped me enormously in my performance and would give me so many tips whenever we had breaks. I cannot be grateful enough to either set of parents.

How do you deal with your new found popularity? Do you get stopped on the street? Do girls come up to you and introduce themselves?

It's hard, obviously to have so much over such a short period of time. I guess it is easy to be proud at times, but my parents keep my grounded, and I'd like to think of myself as a mature person.

Honestly, for part 1, I felt I received too much undeserved attention and my co-stars didn't receive enough. But I'm really thankful that for part 2, they are really basking in the adoration of the fans who have flocked to them! Now I'm jealous!!! Haha just kidding, but going on to your next questions, yes, I have been stopped many times and am happy to oblige anyone who wants to take a photo or have a chat.

What other acting roles are coming up? I hear you're in ‘Serangoon Road’, the HBO Asia miniseries.

Other than Serangoon Road, I've just acted in Channel 5's ‘Cradle of Life’, about this person who contracts polio when he was very young, and that was a very challenging role for me. I've also done a rom-com mini-series for Toggle; I play Ezann Lee's love interest. Besides that, I've not been really involved in much but am hopeful for the future.

How do you juggle your studies and acting?

Honestly, I had this grand plan of flying to and fro Singapore and Australia if I had any projects but it is financially as well as physically draining. I guess now I've become a bit more realistic and will only commit to projects during my holidays, I have a month in June and three months from November to February, so hopefully projects will come at the right time for me.

What are your favourite movies?

There are a few. I like ‘The Sessions’ (which I watched to do research on playing my polio character) and ‘Matchstick Men’, because of Nicholas Cage's standout performance. As well as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.

Any thought of moving behind the camera?

Nope! Not at all, I have always been a person who knows what I want. And I know that behind the camera the work is so much harder, and I don't really have a passion for it, so if I am not passionate about something, I know I won't try my hardest, and I will fail in it.

Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han has made inroads in the US. Any hopes of moving to Hollywood?

Yes definitely, provided opportunity arrives. Who doesn't want to give it a crack? But I am realistic and I know Fann Wong only got her shot after many years, so I am hopeful, but not expectant.

‘Ah Boys to Men. Part 2’ is still showing in theatres