Welcome to Episode 20!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 20 is Tan Kheng Hua.
Tan Kheng Hua is a popular award-winning actress/producer in Singapore and Malaysia. Kheng has appeared on stage, TV series and movies that include The Philanthropist (NBC), The Patriarch (UFA), Serangoon Road (HBO Asia Original Series), Netflix’s Original Series, Marco Polo, and most recently, as “Kerry Chu”, the mother to Constance Wu in the movie adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.
She was named to be one of 20 Singaporean contemporary artists representing Singapore in Singapore: Inside Out in NYC, London, and Beijing. Kheng has also been nominated for 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.
She is currently filming CW’s Kung Fu series.
Who is Tan Kheng Hua?
Tan Kheng Hua grew up in Singapore in the 1960/70s before moving to Indiana University to pursue a degree in public & environmental affairs. While there, she picked an acting elective which sparked her love of acting.
Returning to Singapore
Upon her return to Singapore, she ended up working for SJ Benjamin for 2 years before being poached by CK Tang Ltd to work in public affairs, public relations, and marketing for the next 8 years.
But while she held a full-time job, she never let the acting fire die. Instead, she constantly performed two to three theatre plays a year alongside her corporate day job!
That all changed when Kheng turned 30. She decided to take a leap of faith by entering into acting full time.
Full-Time Actress in Singapore & Hollywood
In this STIMY episode, we dive deep into:
- How Kheng balanced her corporate day job with her love of theatre;
- Her experience as a cast member of Masters of the Sea, Singapore’s first English language movie;
- Some of her fondest memories filming Singapore’s popular sitcom, Phua Chu Kang;
- How they hid Kheng’s 7-month pregnancy while filming Phua Chu Kang!
- At what point Kheng felt secure being a full-time actress;
- Her experience on the set of Crazy Rich Asians;
- The impact of Crazy Rich Asians on her career;
- The reality of going for auditions & working in Hollywood;
- How COVID has affected her life and career;
- What Kheng considers to be a “good” role; and
- Given the many things written about her in the media, the one thing we don’t already know about her!
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Nigel Stanislaus: Celebrity makeup artist who’s worked with the likes of Gigi & Bella Hadid, Tina Turner, Michael Buble & Suki Waterhouse; judge on Asia’s Next Top Model & Australia’s Next Top Model
- Karl Mak: Co-Founder of Hepmil Media Group (SGAG, MGAG, PGAG) on building a meme business empire in Asia
- Red Hong Yi: Artist who paints without a paintbrush. Past clients include Google, Facebook & Nespresso. Her artwork was recently featured on TIME Magazine’s 26 April special issue on climate change & TIMEPieces (TIME’s new NFT community initiative)
- Hillary Yip – An inspiring 15-year-old CEO & Founder of MinorMynas, an educational platform that connects children with each other. A company she founded at the age of 10 despite also facing intense bullying in school. Hillary is a true testament that you can achieve anything you want regardless of age & adversity!
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Tan Kheng Hua: Website, IMDB, Instagram, Facebook, Showreel
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Ep 20: Tan Kheng Hua - Singaporean Actress, Producer & Director
Tan Kheng Hua: Then I started acting and it was still unreal, but I could feel it in my body. And when you can feel it in your body, you learn about your body, you learn about your heart, you learn about what are the things that you feel deeply about, and that's how you become a full person.
And of course it's all not real because it's not you, but then somehow when your heart is molded through all these acting experiences and all the different worlds that are created by the stories that you're telling and the characters that you are imbibing in acting, you learn so much. About people and about the world and about yourself.
Until today, I think that is one of the best things that I love about acting. That my world becomes so big.
Ling Yah: Hey, everyone.
Welcome to episode 20 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah and today's guest is Tan Kheng Wah.
Now, if you grew up in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1990s, you will probably recognize Kang, who played the obsessive vegetarian wife, Margaret Phua in Singapore's popular sitcom,Phua Chu Kang. The Empress Dowager in Netflix's Marco Polo. And more recently, Kerry Chu in Crazy Rich Asians.
Kheng has been in the industry for almost 30 years and it was such a joy speaking to her. To learn more about what it was like growing up in Singapore in the 1960s, how she first discovered her love of acting at Indiana University, how she balanced a hectic but joyful schedule between a corporate marketing job and theater. Until at the age of 30, she decided to take a leap of faith by going into acting full time.
A decision that paid off wonderfully as she was soon cast in Masters of the Sea. Singapore's first English language drama. Followed by 11 years on Phua Chu Kang.
Now I don't want to give too much away. So if you want to hear more of Kheng's story, listen on to find out.
And a special thanks to Ling and Abigail of FLY statement for helping to make this interview possible.
Are you ready?
Tan Kheng Hua: So I'm 57, which means that I'm born in 1963. And when I look back on my childhood, I feel nothing but very, very warm, wonderful feelings. I think the first word that comes into my mind when I'm describing my childhood is family.
I come from a very close family. I've got two brothers and my parents whilst they were not doting.
They were unusual in the sense that our domestic life was simple, but very, very consistent, So my mom, who is until today and she's 84 years old, a marvelous cook. Our days were routine in that a lot of it was to do with her and my dad getting us ready for school and then coming to pick us up.
And then my mom cooking and then us having dinner together and then watching TV and all of us would watch the same TV shows and then we'll be able to talk about them.
And so when a family grows up with very similar experiences, now when we are so much older, we are bonded I think by the same experiences. And imagine all of us, like my two brothers and myself, I mean, we lived in that same house with my parents until we were, I lived there until I got married.
And I really do not ever underestimate the power of shared experiences within a family, and families that get along. That's another one.
And also this whole idea of we all did the same thing day after day after day, , and we all did the same thing every weekend. All the way until we were so- we were all grown up .
So, that's one thing. The other thing I can say about my childhood is it was so, for want of a better word, idyllic. I can't remember major upsets. I cannot remember major difficulties. Now that I'm a mother myself, I really appreciate that.
I don't think my parents are that sort of very, very educated in terms of child rearing processes, to have given us that sort of childhood, which is based on an ideology or anything like that. They are not like that at all. I think they were just very organic, ? but now that I'm a mother, I look back on my own childhood and I see the benefits of that in my life today.
I know I haven't given that sort of smooth childhood to my own daughter and I feel really guilty for that .
Ling Yah: But I mean, it was such a different world though. I mean, like the kind of expectations and influences, even the opportunities you would not have imagined what we would have back then.
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. Yeah. I love that era. I remember Singapore in the sixties and seventies.
Ling Yah: What was it like?
Tan Kheng Hua: Erm, sometimes I feel when I look back at my life all the way until I was in my 20s. Sometimes I feel like it is a really great time to be born and to grow up because it was like pre-laptop and computers so you know imagine in the 60s and 70s .
You write letters, right? You write.
And in schools, Books paper, chalk on a board. I grew up with all those sounds. Chalk on a board, books, the smell of books, pen, paper, , coloring pencil, right. Drawing block. Okay. You come from that era, but you also grow up in an era of computers.
And then the beginnings of email, an electric typewriter, you learn how to type with the old type of typewriter. And I was really, really good at it. And then do you remember the brother type .
And then you grow up and you're still young enough for when the computer.
And laptops come into your life and then phones and handphones. A and now I'm still young enough to enjoy all the technology. And Netflix.
I still have a chest of all the love letters. Yeah. , I'm still pretty good with my laptop.
I'm an Apple fan, I'm happy with my iPhone. So it really is quite a good span of experiences with regard to how we live our lives.
And so I have seen Singapore before it became this shining, highly efficient, smooth running machinery that it is. I know enough to miss so many things that have been torn down.
I appreciate everything that it is today. But I also am one of the people where at 57, a lot of the times I think to myself, that when I look around Singapore today, there are hardly any visual reminders of something that has been there for as long as I can remember because it has changed so much. And sometimes I feel a great need to run to Malaysia .
I feel a sense of calm and comfort.
And feeling like I can see something, taste something, , be with a group of people who remind me of a time in my life that was so important that I just don't see or feel in Singapore anymore .
Ling Yah: So that sounds like a really different era from what I've grown up.
And were you constantly going to Malaysia while you were young?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. Because my mom's family comes from Seremban.
Ling Yah: And she grew up in a family of 10 kids, I think. Right.
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, both my parents come from very, very big families. So we used to go to Malaysia quite a bit, but I really started a relationship with Malaysia because of Pinang.
At first, because I have relatives there. And then I started working for Joe Side k for the Georgetown festival. And I just love Penang. I miss it so much, you know? But I just love going to Malaysia. I love drives.
I love Malaysian food, you know. So yeah. Malaysia is so much a part of me!
Ling Yah: And I wonder when you were young, like how would your mother have described you?
Tan Kheng Hua: Ahh restless? I'm still a very restless person. I think.
Ling Yah: You were a bit of a jock as well, right? You were doing all sorts of activities and competitions.
Tan Kheng Hua: You know, and I still am a bit of a jock, you know, tomboyish.
Until today I can really climb like a monkey. I have a big monkey in me, so I am one of those sorts of people. And as I was, as just as a child, if I saw something that could be climbed or hung or swung or something like that. I have this need to do it. I was much more moody than my two brothers.
My two brothers are like dream children. I love them to bits, but of the three I was the most, I think, moody, maybe sensitive.
I loved English and I was good at it. I could write. And just recently, I took out this box and I've got all these journals and diaries from when I was like, what, seven.
And I was like showing my daughter.
Ling Yah: Do you ever feel that pressure? Like, because when I think of Singapore, I think of the kiasu culture, the, Oh my gosh , I have to be the top of the top, I have to be getting straight A's. Was that something that you felt growing up?
Tan Kheng Hua: I have my parents to thank for not feeling that that much.
It's so funny, because my mom, who was a major presence in my life . She was so strict about the domestic chores that we had to do, setting the table, helping her to cook. Every weekend.We had chores, my two brothers and myself that we had to do. And we actually loved to do them. I like to describe my two brothers and myself as having brains in our hands.
So it is one of those sorts of things where you give us a broom, you give us a walk, a kitchen cloth. We know how to do things , we know how to wash bathrooms, , we're really good at that sort of stuff, and all of that really came from my mom.
And I think she organized her life and she organized her mind by being the excellent homemaker that she was and her children became an extension of that.
And so she organized us and she brought us up in a sense, learning about the world through a kind of domestic organization. You organize your home, you organize your kitchen and you learn about how to organize your life in that way.
So our lives are so much like that. Therefore, my parents were never the sort of people who pushed us academically in any way.
But what it's like about discipline, right? Somehow, if in one aspect, discipline is instilled into your life. It's kind of ingrained and then you use that discipline in many other aspects of your life.
And so both my brothers and I, I think enjoy that lack of direct pressure in our academics, but because of other disciplines that we learned, we in the end achieved good enough academic achievements to help us in our lives. And if you look at both my brothers and myself, I feel all three of us have got this sort of discipline. The way we run our homes, the way we do sports, all two brothers and myself, and we all love sport, how we run our careers, it's interesting, huh?
Ling Yah: Yeah, it is. It is. And you can see how when you're young, how much influenced who you are as a person now. Looking back.
Tan Kheng Hua: A lot of times I feel like everything goes back to childhood, and maybe because I'm an actor and you're constantly, self-reflective right.
You're constantly going back into your childhood, your past to put together answers, to answer the things that you're questioning yourself about today. ,
Ling Yah: And did you have any thoughts in terms of what you wanted to do when you were growing up? Because in the end, I understand you went to Indiana university to do public and environmental affairs.
So how did that all come about?
Tan Kheng Hua: When I was young, I wanted to be a stewardess. It was really funny. Maybe pretty short lived, but I think it was because again, right, this is that slightly romantic time in Singapore, in the 1960s, it's very romantic. So imagine one of the disciplines that my mom instilled in us every Saturday, we would go to the national library.
Ling Yah: Wow.
Tan Kheng Hua: So she would take my two brothers and myself and we would go to them, the national library, that beautiful building in Bras Basah, right, which you know, it was quite controversial when they tore it down. And then we would borrow books. And one of the books that I had was drawn and it was something about careers, right.
And I borrowed one about an air stewardess. And I remember I was like, so taken up by that book. And so for a long time, I wanted to be an air stewardess, but then very quickly after that, when I went into school, then I wanted to be a vet.
Then after that, I went through a precious time where I didn't know what I wanted to be.
And this was right through my secondary school all the way into my junior college. I really didn't know what I wanted to be. So when I finished my A levels, I wasn't one of those sort of kids where I immediately wanted to be a lawyer or a banker or anything like that.
So I signed up for a pretty general degree. And the school of public and environmental affairs is exactly that in Indiana university. Public affairs had communications, and that sort of stuff. Marketing, advertising, and then environmental affairs was all about public affairs and governance and town planning and it also had more science based stuff, which I didn't really go to.
But environmental was, I mean, now it is so trendy, right. Sustainability and all that sort of stuff. But I was kind of interested in all that sort of thing. And so it was a general enough degree. I had courses in journalism and public affairs and town planning and public relations.
And then I got a job in marketing and then slowly, one thing led to another. Which is why when a lot of young people come up and talk to me about push as I do with my career, I always tell them, Hey, you don't have to worry too much, because if you kind of do what you're interested in at any one point, it will lead you to the next thing, to the next thing, to the next thing.
And I mean, now look at my career.
It is, you know, not at all like the marketing career, that I started out my corporate life with.
Ling Yah: Yeah. I mean, you were there and I think that's where you discovered the love of acting, right? Because you were exploring, can you share how that happened?
Tan Kheng Hua: Well, anybody who has gone to the United States to study knows that the system requires you to amass points.
And so you need something like 400 whatever points, depending on your degree to graduate. And the wonderful thing about an American system of higher learning is that you are forced to take points from different groups to ensure that you have a well rounded education, some points must come from electives and a range of electives, it's so wide, you can really take anything.
I remember I took nutrition.
Ling Yah: Oh.
Tan Kheng Hua: I mean, yeah , your elective can be anything because they want you to have a well rounded education, not just like science and science or, , math, math, math, or whatever. So I took acting and I really discovered this love, , I fell in love with it-
Ling Yah: But why acting though, like before that you hadn't felt that love of acting, right?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. It was funny. I'm not one of those people that acted when I was a kid. And in hindsight, I'm glad I discovered it when I was an adult when I was more fully formed as a person, because it was a job like you were saying, I was spending so much of my spare time doing sports in school.
And so I, yeah, I wasn't into the hearts in that way. I think it's an extension from my love of reading and stories. So I was always going to be good at literature. It came very naturally to me, how to pre crit, how to think about characters, how to write about characters, and all through my schooling. I felt a natural affinity for composition, for writing, I guess, for storytelling.
And how do you think about stories? And apply it to life or philosophy or that sort of stuff. And then when I discovered acting, it was all of that, but in your body, because when you're studying literature, it's mostly the mind.
But when you're acting, you translate all those thoughts that are swirling around inside your mind, into your hands and through your eyes and into your pores and your heart and your body and your spirit and your soul. And so it becomes a very well rounded experience. And sometimes I like to describe that I didn't really know myself until I started to act.
What do I mean?
Because you know, you come from a very safe childhood and you live day to day and you're safe within a particular routine . You go to school and you're studying, but school is not a real environment. Homework is not real. You have to do homework to go to an unreal environment, which is a classroom and exam is an unreal way to test what you really know about life or about the things that you do, right?
Everything that I knew about emotions. That I read from a book. It's kind of like unreal. And then I started acting and it was still unreal, but I could feel it in my body. And when you can feel it in your body, you learn about your body, you learn about your heart, you learn about what are the things that you feel deeply about, and that's how you become a full person .
And of course it's all not real because it's not you, but then somehow when your heart, is molded through all these acting experiences and feelings and all the different worlds that are created by the stories that you're telling and the characters that you are imbibing in acting, you learn so much about people and about the world and about yourself.
Until today, I think that is one of the best things that I love about acting. That my world becomes so big.
Ling Yah: Was it hard for you to step into this acting world? Because you said you loved writing, but writing is very different from going up in front of all these strangers and acting out an emotion that is not what you might be feeling, but that character iss feeling. Was that something that was hard for you?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think acting as a craft that is never easy, but moving into acting or wanting to act as one of those are feelings that are very, it's so compelling.
I can't stop myself. I just couldn't stop myself until today. I can't stop myself. You're just drawn to it. That's how I know it's a true level because my closest friends and my friends mean he will tell you that Kheng is one of those difficult people where you can't make her do anything that she doesn't want to do.
I can't even be with people that I don't want to be with. No, not honestly, which is why I have like five friends ever since I was young until now. I don't need any more people in my life as long as I've got these five people, that's absolutely fine with me, ? So in that way, no, it's not difficult because it was so undeniable, how much I fell in love with it?
Ling Yah: So what was the thought process after
Tan Kheng Hua: US and surrounded
Ling Yah: by all these people who love acting as well. And you came back to Singapore.
What was it like, like, what were you thinking? What am I going to do?
Tan Kheng Hua: I don't know whether it was a chicken or egg situation.
And actually I was talking with somebody about it the other day, because this person said, I don't think that people are where they are just pure luck. When you look at the people who are very happy with where they are today, you will see something in them that makes you think, hmm, there's this quality about them that makes them happy about where they are today.
Okay. And I was like, Hmm, I wonder.
Well, That's my long winded way of answering your question, because first of all, I discovered acting out of the blue. When I was at Indiana University looking for electives. It wasn't even my first choice elective, my first choice elective was like dance and very kinetic things, because I'm very kinetic, right.
And then I discovered acting, fell in love with acting, but then. Like any Singaporean girl at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that I would get my degree and then come back to Singapore and I look for a job. So I graduated, there was an advertising job that was hanging in the air, but there was no doubt in my mind that I would go back.
It's just kind of like a weird thing.
So I went back home to Singapore, applied for jobs. Well, when I went back to Singapore, my cousin, who is Ivan Heng, who is a major player in Singapore theater today, she was really into theater, which he discovered in university in Singapore.
Ling Yah: Same thing as you.
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah, except that I was away. And we were. Well, we are still close. And when I came back to Singapore, he was still in university because of the army. Cause he's a guy. Right. And then he was directing this play for the university in Singapore. And he knew I had discovered acting.
And then he said, would you like to be in this play? And I was, yeah, I really want to be in this play. And so. That started out this whole, like, I go to work and then I'll act when I'm not working. And this went on for years, because there wasn't any professional theater in Singapore at the time.
So is it kismet that Ivan was really interacting. And he was a real go getter too. And that I started acting with him and you know? I mean, I don't know. I have no idea. And in that play that I acted for Ivan, which was called the Waiting Room in NUS, who happened to be in NUS at that same time and came to watch that play?
Well. People like Ong Kim Seng. William Teo. All these people that really were i n helping theater in Singapore develop into the wonderful industry that it is in Singapore today. We're all the same age. And then King Seng, of course joined theater works and all those years, every single year I would do at least two or three plays in theater works while working full time.
Ling Yah: It must've been exhausting though.
Tan Kheng Hua: No, but it was exhilarating. It was really great. I've used this term to describe it before, and I'll do it again. To me, it was like the glorious years of my life, where I had such a wonderful corporate career that paid me money.
And then at the end of a working day, I would rush to the, you know, theater and rehearse. And then rehearse until like, you know, at that time we would rehearse until 1am sometimes 2am because we could only rehearse after work.
And then go for supper and laugh and then sleep 2 or 3 hours. You don't need sleep. You're in your 20s. And then you go to your full time job.
And all of us were like that.
Ling Yah: And at what point did you decide that you wanted to stop doing this almost double life and take that leap of faith into this world of acting full time?
Tan Kheng Hua: So I've told this story many times before as well. It's very clear to me because I was 30 and I went on this tour to Perth. It was the Perth arts festival and we toured for theater works . It's a very sort of, well, celebrated play by Copa Coon.
And it's called Lao Jiu and it was the English version. And I enjoy that too, us so much. And I took leave to go and do that tour. And when I came back, I was 30 and I thought to myself, if I don't discover for myself now, that feeling of waking up in the morning and spending the whole day acting as opposed to sharing my day with work and acting.
I can see myself in this job, , which I, and at that time I was working for secure time limited. The department store, the retail industry in Singapore. I could see myself being in this job forever because I really loved my job too. And because I had been in this job for such a long time, right.
I thought to myself, okay, let's just spend two years. And try doing this other love of mine in a more concerted way. And then again, I don't know whether it's kismet or whether it's something else or some other forces, but when I quit my job, then English language television started in Singapore. And then I did theatre a lot, but then I got a role in masters of the Sea.
And then that started my whole television career, which moved into what you can, which was learned another 11 years ago, my life, and then on and on and on and on and on. And then here we are. Here I am quarantining in Vancouver and about to start filming for Kungfu. It's just really strange.
Ling Yah: So you mentioned Masters of the Sea. That was 1994. It was soon after you left your job. And what was that like? Cause I was reading and apparently it wasn't well received by people. But I understand that you loved your experience.
Tan Kheng Hua: I loved it. The acting training I put in inverted commas that I had in Indiana university, it was just acting 101 and then the course after that. So I didn't go to acting school. I wasn't in NYU, I wasn't in Yale acting school or anything like that, it was just a broad experience. Learning about acting. So I never learned how to act for the camera.
Ling Yah: And that was your first time doing it.
Tan Kheng Hua: It wasn't the first time I did a little bit of camera acting, but honestly we were thrown into the deep end and it was great because the cast and crew were great. We were doing this thing for the first time and learning about acting, which was something that I loved but from a different lens.
Pardon the pun. Because when you're acting and theater, you can't see a playback, but then suddenly you're acting in front of the camera and you can actually watch yourself and that was a whole new experience.
And Masters of the sea was both studio and location. There were explosions and there was like special effects makeup.
And there were action scenes and there were crowd scenes and intimate scenes and crying scenes and food scenes. And you really learned all sorts of things about cameras and about filming .
And also unlike the theater, it went on for a long time because there was Masters of the sea season one, and there was also Masters of the Sea season two. Nwt the regularity of going to work and every day, but a completely different daily work to me, it was sensational.
So imagine, you dress up and you go to work in this corporate job and you enjoy that discipline. You enjoy that routine and you get paid for it, which is another sort of joy, but then now your life is like, you go to work every day, but it's filming and there is wardrobe and make- it's a completely different life.
And then you're waiting for the script of what happens to your character the next day. And, Oh my God are we going to shoot the finale in a boat.
Ling Yah: So you think you know what was going to happen to your character?
Tan Kheng Hua: I mean of course you kind of know, and then you learn, I mean, it's like, yeah, it's a mini really great , and the people that I was working with were great.
And what a great life.
Ling Yah: Yeah, it sounds so magical. And I was you know how long they would be running for? And so therefore you had a secure job. Were you looking for other jobs at the same time? How'd you balance it all?
Tan Kheng Hua: No, because it's very consuming. And I think the consuming thing it's like falling in love.
I always use this word when people ask me this question about acting and about, , this life. Because like, I always feel like I'm in love you see.
And you know that feeling of being in love, you can't help but want to be with this person, you know. Sometimes being with this person is hard.
But you still want to be with this person. You still want to wake up with this person, right. You want to live with this person and it's the same thing .
So it's so consuming we live day by day and filming is different enough on a daily basis to keep you on your toes, right.
And then when it ended, it just ended. But then before it even ended, I kind of knew that I was going to move into Phua Chu Kang, which is a completely different experience because it's a sitcom. Different from a drama. Shot in front of a live studio audience, which mixes my love of life performance, which is theater, with camera. So you see how things like, I mean -
Ling Yah: Just fell into place.
Tan Kheng Hua: Falls into place, right. And that went on for 11 years. Did we know that it was going to go on for so long? No, of course we didn't know , but it was again wonderful. To grow this thing and to enjoy from the second or the third season on, the success in Malaysia .
And until today, the Malaysians love of Phua Chu Kang really keeps the spirit of Phua Chu Kang alive
And recently Phua Chu Kang has had a resurgence because it's on Netflix and all the people who have followed my career from where 20 over years ago until now. They're messaging me on Instagram and they're all going like, Whoa, , it's so wonderful to see you, in Phua Chu Kang, and this- it's weird. Isn't it? Life is weird.
Yeah. I wonder how you end up in Phua Chu Kang. How did it happen?
I was working for media Corp, right. And it's all produced by the same station. And so, they asked me to audition for it or they saw me in something else, and then they thought, oh this person would be good for this, you know? And then they try me out and then they like what I give them. And they also offered me the role.
But whether or not it becomes a success, you nobody knows, right. Whether or not you're good in the role, nobody knows. You just have to take it one step at a time.
Ling Yah: Were you auditioning for Margaret Phua? So right from the get go, what was it about her that grabbed your attention?
Tan Kheng Hua: Oh, no, I think I wasn't, it's not like here, where there are so many different auditions and then you go for so many different auditions at that time. English language television was just starting.
And so it was going to be like one of two new sitcoms or three new sitcoms comes following under one roof. So I think they had their eye on me for Margaret. They read me, I think they liked me enough. And then they tried me out and then Phua Chu Kang - who knew it was going to be so successful?
We certainly didn't know, we were just having a good time, you know.
Ling Yah: At what point that you Dawn upon you guys that, oh, it's actually a really big deal?
Tan Kheng Hua: Very quickly because once the first episode caught on. Recently, I watched the first episode again, just so fun. It was so well loved. It was so funny even now for me, when I watch all episodes of Phua Chu Kang, I still find it really funny.
Ling Yah: Do any of these, like when you're watching it, does it bring to mind some kind of memorable incident that happened as a cast member?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think it's more like a feeling more than anything else. I remember the feeling , I remember quirks about the family that told me today I can still remember so well, like we ate the prop food.
We were very well known to be very naughty and we will just eat up all the prop food, because a lot of the Phua Chu Kang scenes are around the dinner table,and we'd just eat up all the older food. So the people in charge of the props, they will not bring out the food, right at the last minute before we do a tape.
They know that during rehearsal, we will just eat it up.
And then the other thing also is that a lot of the Phua Chu Kang family love to eat your durians. And there were many scenes about Durians and so they will really hoard the Durians until the right the last minute.
Ling Yah: Aww.
Tan Kheng Hua: And then like Gurmit will always lose his mole halfway through a scene suddenly it'll be a cut and it will be, Oh, okay. Hey, , we're looking at Phua Chu Kang's face and the mole wouldn't be there. Then everybody would be looking for the mole. And then after a while the makeup artists had this little box of moles to stick onto his face.
Stupid things like that.
And then, we played a lot of games as a cast because we knew each other so well, and we were together working on this for so many years of our life. So there was one Scrabble season where we were so crazy about Scrabble and the minute we weren't shooting, the minute we weren't rehearsing, all of us will continue playing the Scrabble.
And then another time we were very into fitness. So every time when we weren't, rehearsing or when we weren't filming, then we'd be doing sit down, stupid things. I don't know this cast. We had so much fun.
Ling Yah: it really does sound like a wonderful family. And I understand that when you started, you were also pregnant with Shi-Ann at the time. You filmed until you were seven months and no one knew about it.
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. We had all these tricks because Margaret was a working woman, right. So they were just either giving me a very big bag. Luckily like for example, if you're looking at me at zoom right now, if you're just looking at my top from my waist upwards, you wouldn't know that I was pregnant, you know.
So these are the tricks. They would give me a big bag and I would just hold a bag in front of my tummy. Al, they will give me jackets or they give me files or they give me a big bag and a file. All we would block. So if you look at some of those episodes, right? Like I open up a file cabinet and I would go behind the file cabinet and I would be scolding him from behind the cabinet and the file cabinet would completely hide my tummy.
It was so funny. I feel that my filming during pregnancy kept me happy and it made my pregnancy very easy. It was such an easy pregnancy. So it's like when you're a happy mother, happy pregnant person, I think the birth becomes easy as well.
Ling Yah: That's wonderful. And when you had Shi-An, did you feel that your life completely changed?
Like how do you balance having a newborn and also filming?
Tan Kheng Hua: Actually filming is very, very child friendly, especially filming for a live studio audience. Like Phua Chu Kang. So I didn't do theater for about three years. And during those three years, I only did Phua Chu Kang. So I would rehearse Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rehearsals, not that long, because we're such a well oiled machinery, right.
So we would rehearse maybe for about three hours also. And so I would just take my baby and then pass it over to my mom and then I would go rehearse and then I would pick up the baby and then I didn't even have domestic help for the first two years of life.
Shi-Ann was my parents first grandchild.
So they were very happy to have her. And then, I would film on Thursday and Friday. And then again, my mom would just help me and Gurmit also had his daughter just before I had Shi-Ann.
So Melissa, his wife and I were pregnant at the same time. She gave me a lot of tips about pregnancy and childbirth that helped me a lot.
Ling Yah: And you were talking about Montessori and all that as well. Right?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. And both our little girls were growing up at the same time. And I remember they were both such well behaved children. And when they were old enough, we would put them in the baby carriers and they will know how to keep quiet, , like three to one, and then they will just keep quiet.
And then when it's cut, then they will like make noise, talk along. Yeah.
Ling Yah: Wow. I know I'm amazed that babies know to listen to directions.
Tan Kheng Hua: I think it was also their characters and their natures, they were not willful. They were very easy to handle children .
So my daughter, it was always so easy and easy for my mum to take care of.
And so my mom helped me a lot. So I did that. And then when she was older, I put her into daycare and then I could rehearse.
Ling Yah: I think you started producing your cabaret act, The Dim Sum Dollies, and you also a producer and director, your Do Not Disturb production as well, right? So that's when you started like piling all the work up.
Tan Kheng Hua: Because 40 years old was when I first started producing. when I was 40 . And then that directing was not so much my compulsion to direct.
It was more like I wanted to produce my original idea, which is Do Not Disturb. And at that time, it was just most convenient for the budget and for the timeframe and for the scale of that particular project that I just directed it myself, but I don't have a compulsion towards directing or else I would be doing it a lot more, but my compulsion was in mostly producing.
Ling Yah: What's the difference actually?
Tan Kheng Hua: Well, there's a huge difference between producing and directing. Producing is doing whatever you can to get this project on the road. And then you hire a team, including the director to realize this vision.
So my ideal as a producer is to have an idea that I really want to see come to fruition. And then I would hire a creative head.
So I would hire, for example, Beatrice Chia Richmond to direct the musical Tropicana because I felt she had the right creative aesthetic and management style that I liked. And she would be in charge of really putting together production as how the audiences would see it.
But as a producer, I would just make sure that all the actors are taken care of.
My director, my crew, my designers are taken care of. I do their payroll. I find the money for them. I find the publicity, the advertising, I talk to sponsors and I make sure the entire production, including the cleaners and the writers you know, not just the directors, are taken care of.
Ling Yah: Was it hard to find the finances? Cause it sounds like you need a lot of money to fund this whole thing?
Tan Kheng Hua: You know of course it's hard. But then the wonderful thing about Singapore is that there are lots of grants. So I like to say that as a producer, I feel like I'm a civil servant because I always get my grants from the Singapore government ?
And thank you to the national arts council for seeing something in my projects that they always want to support. And even now that I spent so much time away from Singapore, I'm still always in touch with the national arts council. I just creatively directed their patron of the arts online award ceremony.
I always want to be in touch with the Singapore industry because that's where I come from and it's so much a part of myself and my life .
Ling Yah: Did you ever feel that uncertainty of oh, could I make this as a full time actress? Like, at what point did that fear disappear and you realized that, yes, this can be my full thing. I don't have to go back to my corporate job.
Tan Kheng Hua: Actually, I would say that for the first seven months after I gave up my job, the first seven months of freelance life is kind of like a make or break time I think. Because I took on a lot of retainer jobs. And thankfully, because the people that I was working with in my corporate job, CK Tang Limited, I think they saw enough value in me to give me sort of part time retainer work, despite the fact that I left my full time job.
And so I helped them to open up the TANGS store in Starhill in Kuala Lumpur. Yeah. as a retainer. And I was flown to KL to help them to open up. And at that time I had already left my full time job with them, but then they flew me back to help them, and I would do a little bits of stuff like that.
And I would write marketing reports because that was what I started doing and get good money for that. But by the time it was seven months having left my full time job, I felt that there was enough acting work to keep me going. And also, I guess I'm that sort of person where honestly, I don't spend money.
I'm not one of those sort of people who love to go to Michelin star restaurants. I don't drink , I don't go to bars. I don't buy expensive clothing. I don't buy expensive cars. It is important for me to find my home. And so I will spend money on that, the travel, but I'm not into luxury travel.
So I could temper my life financially well enough to be able to just match whatever I was doing to make money. So everything was fine.
And then after that I felt comfortable. I felt more secure after seven months and I felt like it's a job. It's a good job. Acting or the arts. The arts is a good job.
Ling Yah: And so I think you mentioned briefly that you were in your forties and I read that there was something of a dark period for you. And I wonder if you could share why that was so, and what kind of state you were in then?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah, and I think that dark stage came about because of SARS. Because SARS happened, I was in a play and I felt very nervous about the health of my daughter, my own health.
And I was really chilled. It was a very emotional role that I was acting in at that time, when SARS started happening and it was so scary. And then I started questioning whether it was worthwhile putting my real life on the line by being exposed to SARS in front of a live theater audience while being so emotional.
And so I felt trapped because I would be so emotional on stage. And then in my real life, I would also be so scared. And it was like no way to run.
So then I took a big break from acting and I remember just traveling and looking after my kid and then I found producing, because Selena Tan who created that whole Dimsum Dolly's franchise and concept, she asked me, are you interested in producing it? And then I said, okay, why not? And that was when I started the behind the scenes in theater and I found myself really, really enjoying it.
Ling Yah: Did you ever feel that you might go into producing full time rather than just acting?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yes, I do. And I would love to be able to produce all sorts of stuff. You know it's a wonderful way to grow old because it's very wonderful to be able to offer jobs to people that you believe in. I like mothering a bunch of people that I believe in. I have a compulsion for that as well
I have certain bees in my bonnet about stories that I want to tell on television and yeah, I love television.
Ling Yah: So that's that whole period when you find yourself producing, but you also like getting involved in Serangoon Road and also Netflix's Marco Polo as well.
What was it about these projects that drew you in?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think it's not so much that the projects drew me in. Again, it was auditions and then I got in. I said I wanted to be in, they have to want me for us, right. So I auditioned, and then I got in.
If you're asking me what I enjoyed about those two productions, , when it comes to filming, budget makes a big difference with a more celebrated platform like HBO or Netflix, you get a bigger budget. And with a bigger budget, you get a very much more well oiled machinery.
And it is run by people who are very experienced and therefore your job as an actor is in a sense very well supported. It's almost as if everybody is paid to allow you to do your job in the best way that you can.
So your clothes are taken care of. Your makeup is taken care of your hair is taken care of.
The scripts are good, the directors know how to bring out things in you. , the set is beautiful. The lighting is beautiful, everything to help you to do what you are paid to do better. I mean, how wonderful is that right? You know, your fellow actors are very good. It's great.
And then when you love acting as I do, it's like, wow, what a wonderful place to be in
Ling Yah: And I think your next big one was the crazy rich Asians, which everyone knows.
I understand that you first read the book in 2013, right?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah. I read the first book and straight away I read the other two books even before there was any idea of it being made into a film.
Ling Yah: And what was the process of you getting involved in the project?
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah, you know I was asked to go for an audition and I went for two auditions and the second one was in front of Jon M Chu and then very quickly, I got the role and I only ever auditioned for Kerry Chu.
Ling Yah: Well, is there a reason why you only chose Kerry as opposed to some other role?
Tan Kheng Hua: So I don't choose. So the audition process, the proactive people are the producers. unless you're a really big star, like Nicole Kidman or something maybe you can say like, can I audition for, but no, no, no, no, no. Tan Kheng Hua it was like , Would you like to come for this audition?
And then of course I said, yes. Yeah. And they were holding auditions in Singapore. You see?
Ling Yah: And what was the process of filming like, are there any memory incidents that we might not know?
Tan Kheng Hua: So many memorable incidents because again it was a very lovely project to be on.
And it was in Malaysia, which I loved. I think one of the interesting things for me always is how they had that big scene where they're waiting for the flower to bloom. My name is Kheng Wah and it's the Kheng Wah flower.
Yeah. And then they filmed in Penang, which I knew so well, and that big Mahjong scene is in the Blue Mansion where I knew so well, because one of the plays that I produced and acted in is called number seven, and it was commissioned by Joe Sidek of Georgetown festival.
And it was about the seventh wife, which Chong Fat Zee built the Blue Mansion for. And so it was filming that. And I just felt like I was at home. It was like for me in my own backyard.
Ling Yah: And did you guys know that it was a huge thing at a time when you entered this project?
Tan Kheng Hua: You know, nobody ever knows anything with regards to the success of anything.
Sometimes I think the things that seem like it's a hundred percent success can totally fail. So even now that I'm here and Kung Fu has been picked up a series. It's a brand new series. We have no idea how successful is going to be, and that can really spur on a group of people to work extra hard, to make sure that it is as good as it can be because it's new .
Ling Yah: And so after crazy rich Asians and the saying you obtain three international representations and that just-
Tan Kheng Hua: No no no no. There were three different agencies that were interested in signing me up. Actually I met three in the U S and three in London. So I chose one in the US and I chose one in London.
Ling Yah: Like what's the role of agents? Like how important are they to your career?
Tan Kheng Hua: Very important in this industry.
I mean, here in the United States. So for example, you get invited into auditions as opposed to let's say smaller industries like in Singapore.
So basically, it is so much more controlled. There's so many actors here. If they were open auditions all the time, honestly, you would have to see so many people because there are hundreds and thousands of actors right. In this industry. So when there is a role, a film company goes to casting directors. Casting directors then are in touch with different agents like my agent.
And then my agents will look through the breakdown of the role and then look under all the clients that they have to see which are the ones that are suitable for this role. And then. my agents submit my profile to the casting directors, my casting director looks through and says, oh, I'm interested in this one person before they even approve for you to come and audition.
So you can't go up to Sony, knock on their door and go like, can I audition for the role of mother in Kung Fu. You can't. So, yes. I think agents are very important and you need a license to be an agent, you know, here.
Ling Yah: Well, and I think that as I was speaking soon to a lady who was a Hollywood actress and she said, in order to get good roles, you also need a SAG Card,in order to get better roles.
Tan Kheng Hua: Protection. Yeah. So it's so more regulated, which protects the quality of the work, how you're treated, your pay.
So if it's like all these checks and balances, to make sure that your quality, by the time they hire you, it's worth the money they're going to pay you. And because the money that they pay here is I guess so much higher. They want to make sure that your skillset or your quality is good enough for the money that they're willing to pay you because this industry is so well-developed .
It's such a well-financed successful industry, the film and television world in Hollywood .
Ling Yah: And I would love to talk about the audition process.
I'm wondering like, were there many roles for you? Because it seems at least from my point of view that there are not as many Asian base roles. So it'd be harder to break in?
Tan Kheng Hua: I don't really subscribe to the concept of breaking in. I just look at it as getting a job very much like how I looked at my entire career from my corporate life all the way until now. You get this job and then you get this job and then you get this job and then it's just whether or not you want this job, or you don't want this job or whether or not the opportunities for getting this job is there or not, okay.
So when I decided to sign on with these agents to help to, I guess, find you opportunities to allow me to do what I love to do, which is act, in different markets. I didn't know whether or not I would get roles or I would not get roles. But very quickly and again, I don't know whether it's kissing mint or whatever it is.
Because of black Panther because of Crazy Rich Asians, the idea of representation and having a more diverse cast really started to pick up. And so I went for a lot of auditions, I was approved for a lot of additions and I went to a lot of them for all sorts of roles.
And also my agent was very good. And they really put me up for all sorts of different roles, comedic roles. I even had to sing serious roles, and they put me up for roles between the ages of 45 all the way to 65. Yeah. I went out for a lot of roles. I was rejected for a lot of roles. But I got enough rules to continue working.
All the way until now.
Ling Yah: how many auditions were you going for?
Tan Kheng Hua: Oh my God? I think, close to 90 in the last two and a half years.
Ling Yah: And I think there's a difference between my applying for episodic roles and also like, pilot roles.
Tan Kheng Hua: Pilot roles and guest starring roles. Yeah. Completely different. Because guest starring you only do one or two episodes. And you step into a team and a story that has been going on for awhile. But filming a pilot, and especially as part of the main cast.
Like right now, this opportunity that I have right now with Kung Fu.
Part of the main cost is shooting, a pilot, building a product for the very first time and now that it's picked up and it's been commissioned for 13 episodes, to build a story, build a character, and build, I guess, a process that hopefully you will like.
Will, work very well for the production team and that the audiences would like as well, , and as you and I both know, successful series can go on for years. Look at Grey's anatomy. I joined them at season 16, so my goodness it's amazing. So the experiences, I'm so thankful for them. I'm so, so thankful for them.
Ling Yah: Is it very different being in Hollywood, as opposed to when you were working in Singapore?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think it's very different. One of them is a support system. I mean, here, I miss my family. It would be ideal if the two or three main, my tribe was here every day.
Of course it's different.
The work machinery of course is different too. for all the reasons that we have already talked about. But the main difference is, a different country. And the main difference is just my tribe is not here but I look at it as it must be the reason why I'm here right now at this time in my life. There must be a reason why all of these things happened when my child was already an adult as opposed to a little kid.
Because I think if she was a little kid and all these opportunities happen to me, I don't think I would have taken them. So let's just see where things go ?
Ling Yah: I was reading as well that you, at age 57, you are so happy to be at this age, and you've never felt free and more at peace with yourself. And I was wondering, how did you come to that kind of mindset in life?
Tan Kheng Hua: I am a fast learner for certain things. And then I'm a slow learner for different things, but whether I'm learning something fast or whether I'm learning something slow, one thing that I consistently am is I make decisions.
And some of the decisions that I have made in my 57 years of my life have brought me to a place where I am able to either accept or stop the things that were hampering me. And I think that allows me to become freer as I shed more as I grew up older, rather than to keep lugging all the things that are making you unhappy or keep not solving all the problems that you have and bringing them with you as you get older and older and older.
And as you get older and older and older, it gets harder and harder and harder to solve problems. Just like how it's harder and harder to be healthy, harder and harder to move fast, harder and harder to do all the things that you want to do.
So to me, it is important as you get older to get rid of all the things that you want to get rid of don't waste any more time.
Ling Yah: How do you decide what to shed though?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think that is something that I know when I know it. Some decisions I make after a very long time.
And it takes me a very long time to make that decision. Some decisions in a very short time. But whatever decisions I make, chances are, I don't look back. And that allows for the shedding, you see?
Ling Yah: And I was running like now, obviously we are in COVID season. How has that impact that you and the film industry that you're in?
Tan Kheng Hua: Oh my God. I do not like the travel restrictions. that is the main thin. I like my own company, but the travel restrictions stop me from going back as easily. And as many times as I have in the past to maintain my sense of balance, and it also stops the people that I want around me to come and be with me.
So I'm finding that very difficult.
Ling Yah: I know it was really strange when we were in MCO and I come from East Malaysia and it was so strange to think, gosh, I can't even fly to see my own parents.
Tan Kheng Hua: Correct.
Ling Yah: And we are in the same country, but I can't see them.
Tan Kheng Hua: Correct. Correct. I'm experiencing the same thing too.
And luckily my mom is a very progressive woman and so I know it was very difficult for her, my being away, especially this time, but, , she has learned how to. Video whatsapp. She has learned how to text. She's learned how to take photographs and send to me on W hatsapp. She really yeah. Helps.
Ling Yah: And I was wondering if you could go back and redo one thing in your life, what is it that you would want to do?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think I have hurt people in my life. And the number one thing that I would like to do is I wish, of course, that never happened.
The other thing I would have loved to have had is more children. I think I would have loved to have had more children. Other than that-
Ling Yah: You can have more grandkids.
Tan Kheng Hua: Really cannot wait for that. Cannot wait. That's my next life. Like the thing I'm really looking forward to being a grandmother, I want to be a funky grandmother
Ling Yah: Who would bring all the grandkids hiking and bouldering.
Tan Kheng Hua: Yeah yeah yeah and doing all sorts of things, and I hope to be able to continue working. I know so many people who are in their seventies, eighties, and they're still acting here and their grandchildren can come and it's wonderful.
Ling Yah: I was wondering, there was one thing I noticed was that , most actors that I suppose they will always plan to go for the main roles, but you have gone for a lot of supporting roles, which are amazing. And I'm wondering, how do you deal with the question of ego, if any, cause don't you feel that you need to want to be like on the center stage, if you will.
Tan Kheng Hua: I think ego is a pain and a bone when it comes to acting. I think you need a certain amount of ego to be able to want to be really good. And to have that sort of confidence in yourself to do something as vulnerable as acting. Like ego can also be a bean because, if you do not recognize in yourself some of the qualities that will benefit you in the role that you play?
I think sometimes, it can work against you. You just won't be able to act as well.
And a lot of times it's not so much that I want to go for a lead role or I want to go for a character role. It's just, I want to go for a good role. I want to go for a role that interests me.
So in that way I use my ego in that way. I don't want to have both a lead role that I know I'm not going to be very good at. And my ego will stop me from doing that because between that and this other role, which is a smaller role, but I nowk there's something about this role that is pulling me towards it.
And I know I'm going to be pretty good at that. I will exercise the good parts of my ego. That means that part of me where, whatever role I do, I really want to be good at. So it looks both ways, , so it's not so much that I want to deliberately go for the character rules or deliberately go for the supporting roles.
It's just that either the roles that were offered me were supporting roles and I like them very much. And then I wanted to do well in them and I did well enough in them or something like that.
So it's not as premeditated as you think it is. Yeah. A lot of times you can't choose the rules. They are either offered to you or other people like the directors and the producers see something in you that makes them want to offer this particular role to you. And a lot of those roles happen to be supporting rules, but I didn't mind that at all because a lot of those roles were roles that I was very interested in.
So just go for the roles that you're interested in.
Ling Yah: And what for you consists of a good role?
Tan Kheng Hua: I know it, when I see it, I know it when I read off the script, I know it when I'm like only then do I know? Yeah,
Ling Yah: It's just a gut feeling.
Tan Kheng Hua: No, it's not gut. It's not gut because I know it when I read it off a page. It's like, for example, going back to your law.
When a case is going to be difficult when you read the notes, it's the same for me. When a director describes verbally a role. Sure. You may get interested. But until you read the script, you don't really know. So it's that sort of thing.
So yes, part of it is a gut feeling because you cannot base everything on just the words, because in the end, acting is three dimensional and other than the script, you need to exercise a lot of other senses to make a full character.
But you do need to base a lot of what makes a role good based on tangible things like a script, a director's vision, who are the people you're going to be working on, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Ling Yah: And do you get to have a say over that script when you see it, like, Oh, I feel that this character might not see in this way or act this way. Here's my suggestion.
Tan Kheng Hua: It differs from project to project. Sometimes in the theater, there are these things called, a device play and you actually come up with the words yourself.
Sometimes, some productions are very writer oriented. So it's important for the writers and for that particular team that the words are said as written. Some directors say to you, you can change the words to suit your character.
It really depends.
Ling Yah: There's so much that I've seen written about you in the media. Can you tell us one thing that no one knows
Tan Kheng Hua: Of course there are many, many, many things that no one knows.
At this moment... oh, I would love to have a little business. I would love to have a little cafe or let's say like either store, selling a few clothes, selling a bit of food, or selling some furniture.
Like some of those shops that I see when I travel, while I'm doing all of this, I would love to have a little bed and breakfast. Like I've lived in these little bed and breakfast, like two rooms, three rooms, they offer one meal .
I think, yeah. I would love to have that. I would love to do that ,
Ling Yah: is there a reason that this is something that you want and what's driving that.
Tan Kheng Hua: No again, it's like one of those sorts of things. Kheng doesn't do anything that she doesn't want to do? So it's just like, I just feel like it, it's just that right now, I don't have the brain space and there are bigger loves in my life, but who knows? I may
Ling Yah: Sounds wonderful. Well Kheng, thank you so much for your time with this forecast
Do you feel that you have found your why?
Tan Kheng Hua: I don't know whether this answers it, but I have a deep compulsion to live my optimal life and if that is a why, then I guess that would be my answer. That I just want to live my life in the best way I can.
Every single day of my life.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Tan Kheng Hua: I would like to be remembered as somebody who made a lot of mistakes, but tried to be better.
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities a person should have to succeed in the acting field?
Tan Kheng Hua: I think acting is a mystery, it's a craft and because it deals with the human person and as complex as human beings are. There isn't one single quality that can very easily be mentioned that is a surefire way to be a good actor.
I think it differs from person to person.
Ling Yah: Let me rephrase that. What kind of important qualities should a person have to be as successful as you?
Tan Kheng Hua: The funny thing is that I don't know whether or not I would consider myself successful. I am successful in as far as I am able to do what I love to do and continue to be presented with opportunities to continue doing what I love to do.
And I think the reason why I am in that very nice position is because I knew what I love to do, you see? So when I'm presented with an opportunity, I don't have to waste time thinking, do I want to do it or do I not?
I just go like, I know when I, because I know what I love and I guess I'm just like that. To know what you want.
Maybe that is the way to answer it. I'm like that would be shopping too. , I can just go into a shop and I can just go, like, I want this in three colors. I'm kind of very manly in that way, , that may sound like a sexist thing, but I'm a bit like that.
I can eat the same food, like now on quarantine, , I'm just like, I need to finish that loaf of bread. And I won't think about it. I just need to finish that loaf of bread because you don't want to leave anything behind or whatever .
So yeah. I know what I want. I think that can be a bane or a boon, , but yeah.
Ling Yah: And what is the best way for people to connect with you and follow what you're doing right now?
Tan Kheng Hua: I would say my Instagram, which is @khenghua, but my daughter also designed this very cute little website. Yeah. Which is tankhenghua.com.
So I'm growing the website. It's new and who knows, I may migrate some of the things, , from my Instagram to my website, but it's all in development. Let's just see how things go.
Ling Yah: Amazing. And is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't covered yet?
Tan Kheng Hua: I would say, keep curious about my work. I like people to get to know me through my work. I like my work to speak for me. So keep curious about my work and, yeah.
Ling Yah: Well, thank you so much, Kheng Hua, for your time today.
Tan Kheng Hua: Thank you Ling Yah, no problem. It's been a pleasure.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 20. The show notes can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/20 which includes the transcript and links to everything we just talked about.
If you want to watch some of Kheng's previous works, you can find them on Netflix, including Crazy Rich Asians and Phua Chu Kang.
And be sure to keep an eye on when CW's Kung Fu is released.
If you want to hang out, we also have a private Facebook group to keep the conversation going. And some of our previous podcast guests will also be showing up for a limited time to answer any of your burning questions. To join, just head over to Facebook and look for So This Is My Why.
And stay tuned for next Sunday because we'll be meeting a Malaysian director known for directing some of Malaysia's most iconic films, including the multiple award-winning Puteri Gunung Ledang and his own semi-autobiographical film and stage play Hai Ki Xin Lor.
You've heard Kheng share about her life and journey as an actress, but what is it like behind the lens, bringing the entire vision cost and production together?
To find out, subscribe to this podcast and see you next Sunday.