Singapore actress Tan Kheng Hua is well-known in Singapore and Malaysia for her talents, but those in the United States are just getting to know her. First, she played Empress Dowager on Netflix’s original Marco Polo. Her upcoming role as Kerry Chu in Crazy Rich Asians is one that we should all have our eyes on.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know this phenomenal actress more, and here’s what she had to say about her new film and causes that are important to her. Be sure to check out the trailer for her new film at the end of the interview.
Talking Crazy Rich Asians, acting, and activism with Tan Kheng Hua
Ronda Bowen (RB): How did you get into acting?
Kheng: I was looking for an early elective to end my school days early while i was in uni is the US and i came across Acting 101. one week into it, and i was hooked!
RB: How did you get involved with Netflix’s Marco Polo?
Kheng: They were casting in Singapore, and the casting person in charge, Poping Auyeung, was someone I had worked with previously. She put me on tape for the role of the Empress Dowager, and before long, I heard from her that I was shortlisted. Then not long after that, I got the role! I remember I asked my good friend, Gavin Lim, who is a director in his own right, to help me film my audition. I think his good work also helped me clinch the job!
RB: What do you want viewers to know about your role as Empress Dowager?
Kheng: That she did all she could to protect her country, and that I love to do period dramas!
RB: How did you get involved with Crazy Rich Asians?
Kheng: Once again, there was a casting call and i received some sides for the role of Kerry Chu (mother of Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu) and asked to come in for audition. I loved what I read in the sides about Kerry, and I read Kevin Kwan’s books way before I received the audition call. I loved his books, and I loved the character of Kerry Chu. I really identified with the character, and I was so happy to be called in to audition for her. Well, I did, and I got a call back to audition for director Jon M. Chu. I did, and then I got the wonderful news that I got the role. I was so happy.
RB: What do you want our readers to know about the film and your role in it?
Kheng: I want them to know that there are wonderful stories to be told from so many different cultures in the world, like Singapore! In the film, you are going to get to see some lovely details about Singaporean lingo, food and locations. I hope it entices people to come find out more about my unique country. Greater understanding bridges, and we need more bridging all over the world. I would like them to get an idea of the immigrants’ stories in the US. I want them to understand how hard it is for immigrants, how hard immigrants have worked and how the odds are against them–but through their strength and tenacity, many, like Kerry, succeed and bring their children up in a great way.
RB: Can you talk a bit about how you feel about the importance of diversity?
Kheng: I come from a country where as a Chinese, I am the majority. But of course, I have always know the need for diversity in the world. And not just in the entertainment industry. When I got to work with the Asian cast from all over the world in Crazy Rich Asians – Australia, Britain, the US and more – I really started to understand how things are different for them in their own countries as opposed to what it has been for me in Singapore. When I went to LA for the gala premiere, I saw their emotionality when the show was being launched, and I completely understood why director Jon M. Chu says the film is not just a film, it is a movement. It is an important movement at that.
RB: Can you talk about the experience of coming to the U.S. from Singapore as an actress?
Kheng: Well, Singapore is a very cosmopolitan city, and we are exposed to and work with all sorts of people from all over the world all the time. In that regard, the American culture is one that we Singaporeans know well. Also, I did my Uni in the states, and so I have stayed here for a time. Being here has a sense of familiarity.
RB: What causes are important to you?
Kheng: I work for greater acceptance of LGBT and also for greater free speech in my country.
RB: What do you do to keep balance in your life?
Kheng: I like to describe what I do to keep balance as “going into a corner and cutting out the noise so you can hear yourself.” That’s what I do to figure out what I really feel and want and what is right for me.
RB: What advice do you have for our readers and your fans?
Kheng: Gosh, I don’t know if I have very good advice for people; something that works for me on a daily basis is to keep calm and to carry on.
Check out Crazy Rich Asians, coming to a theater near you
Kheng plays Kerry Chu in this film based upon the best-selling novel by Singapore-born writer Kevin Kwan. The movie features an all-Asian cast. Kerry’s daughter, Rachel (Constance Wu), gets caught up in family drama when she learns that her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) is from one of Singapore’s most well-to-do families.