Troublemakers and nerds: The Lion Moms (and dads) recall their school days

We met with the stars of the upcoming Channel 5 drama, including Bernice Liu and Joshua Tan, to dish out how they were like when they were students

The cast of Channel 5's 'Lion Mom'
The cast of Channel 5's 'Lion Mom'
22 Aug 2015

The cast of Channel 5's 'Lion Mom'

Photos: Tammi Tan
Production stills: Channel 5
Video: Foong Mien Shi

Hong Kong actress Bernice Liu, FLY Entertainment artiste Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Suria star Nurul Aini may be the headliners of upcoming Channel 5 drama series Lion Moms, but it was their three onscreen children who stole the limelight at yesterday’s press conference and group interviews, held at The Learning Lab’s Mountbatten Square branch.

Everyone in the room was left tickled and charmed by 6-year-old Alexandra Tan, 6-year-old Keller Teh and 10-year-old Dayang Nur Balqis, who proved that kids really do say the darndest things (and look terribly adorable while doing so).

When asked to compare their real-life parents to animals, Alexandra and Dayang, who play Bernice’s and Nurul’s daughters respectively, said their folks were like kittens when they’re nice, and like tigers when they’re angry. Cheeky little Keller, who plays Vanessa’s son, took it a step further with: “My mommy is mostly very sweet to me, but she can transform into a fire-breathing dragon. My dad is a tractor because he just moves around doing his work.”

In the show, each kid is brought up by three extremely different types of mothers: there’s the quintessential “perfect” mom Jennifer (Bernice), the young single mom Min Yi (Vanessa), and the ambitious working mom Durrani (Nurul). Alexandra’s onscreen dad is played by Max Loong, Dayang’s fictional father is Fir Rahman, and as for Keller’s… you’ll have to keep up with the series to find out.

Continued on next slide: Bernice tears up while talking about her character

Bernice Liu tears up while talking about her character
Bernice Liu tears up while talking about her character
22 Aug 2015

Bernice Liu tears up while talking about her character

Despite appearing to be the dream wife and mother with the dream family, the ugly truth is that Jennifer’s fairy tale marriage is falling apart thanks to her husband’s wandering eye for pretty young things. As with anybody in her situation, she tries desperately to try and get their relationship back on track, but it takes a toll on her – and portraying such a broken and pained character left such an impression on Bernice that she teared up while talking about it.

“The whole ride for Jennifer has been very emotional,” she said. “Even before I started filming and read the script, I felt so much for her on a two-dimensional level, on paper, right off the bat – she’s so real and I knew I would get attached to her.”

When asked if she drew from any real life experiences of wanting to mend a failing romance, Bernice replied, “Oh yeah, you have to, whether it’s from yourself or your friends. There’s no way you can think up feelings like that from nowhere. I think everybody has felt that way before.”

The last time we spoke to Bernice, she mentioned that making this show reminded her of the importance of finding a good partner in life. So what kind of man makes the cut for her?

“He has to like kids. It’d be tough if he didn’t want kids because I already have seven dogs! (laughs) And they have to like big families because my family is so big, whenever we have dinner gatherings we take up four tables.”

Since we were in a learning centre, we decided to give the Lion Moms cast a little blast to the past and get them to divulge what kind of schoolboys and schoolgirls they were back in the day. Read on for more:

Continued on next slide: Find out how the stars were like in school

The nerds: Bernice Liu and Nurul Aini
The nerds: Bernice Liu and Nurul Aini
22 Aug 2015

The nerds: Bernice Liu and Nurul Aini

Pictured: Vanessa Vanderstraaten, Nurul Aini, Bernice Liu

“I was probably what you would call an overachiever,” Bernice chuckled. “I was in a regular school, then I went into a program for gifted kids, then I did music, then I got a scholarship through university, so I was very studious. I was also competing in dance and taekwondo, then in university I joined kickboxing.” (Yes, Bernice, you are the standard definition of an overachiever.)

Nurul, on the other hand, was so skinny she had to go on stage and finish a bottle of milk in front of the teacher. “I was also very, very nerdy and had to wear very thick glasses from the time I was in primary three – I looked like a freak!” she exclaimed. Well, those days are clearly far behind the Suria star now.

The quiet introverts: Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Fir Rahman
The quiet introverts: Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Fir Rahman
22 Aug 2015

The quiet introverts: Vanessa Vanderstraaten and Fir Rahman

Pictured: Fir Rahman, Nurul Aini, Dayang Nur Balqis

To our – and even their co-stars’ – surprise, Vanessa and Fir both used words like “quiet”, “timid” and “introverted” to describe their student selves – not quite how one would use to describe the bubbly entertainers if they saw them in action.

“I was a prefect and a really good girl all through primary one to six,” said Vanessa. “Then in secondary school, I was quite the wallflower, and I was failing my physics, additional mathematics and chemistry. My mom hired tuition teacher after tuition teacher and they got me from a 3/100 to a B3 for my O-Levels.”

She added that her mother was, indeed, a lion mom. “Her job is in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) so she’s very authoritarian: she’s like ‘When I say you jump, you ask me how high, don’t ask why or any other questions’. I’m going to try not to be like that to my future kids.”

For Fir, his turning point came when one of his friends secretly signed him up for drama auditions in his first year at Temasek Polytechnic. He went ahead anyway and… “I aced it with flying colours! That’s where it all started.”

The mischiefs: Russell Ong and Joshua Tan
The mischiefs: Russell Ong and Joshua Tan
22 Aug 2015

The mischiefs: Russell Ong and Joshua Tan

Pictured: Russell Ong, Vanessa Vanderstraaten, Keller Teh, Joshua Tan

All right, to be fair to Russell, his shenanigans in primary school can’t really be labelled “naughty” per se: the former prefect was also a budding entrepreneur who went around selling handmade origami figures (no, not “herbal stuff” as Joshua cheekily implied). “I managed to make about $5 to $6 but the principal found out and I had to return everything,” he said.

Joshua, on the other hand, fully confessed to being a “rascal”. “I was not the best kid growing up and always got into trouble for stupid stuff like pulling girls’ hair, going into the girls’ toilet and cutting peoples’ hair,” he recalled. “I was always standing in front of the flagpole outside as punishment.”

He subsequently “matured a bit” in secondary school, but still did things like playing truant. “Other than that I’m a very good boy! I’m a really nice guy and everyone loves me… except for everyone in my school. (laughs)” Sure, Joshua.

And the violent kindergartener: Max Loong
And the violent kindergartener: Max Loong
22 Aug 2015

And the violent kindergartener: Max Loong

Pictured: Max Loong, Alexandra Tan, Bernice Liu

Swiss-Malaysian entertainer extraordinaire Max says that ever since his school days, he was an “all-rounder” who “was good at a lot of things, but never the best at something” (in other words, a self-professed jack of all trades, master of none). “I was one of the loudest kids in class, but not the naughtiest,” he said.

But his most dramatic incident as a student happened really, really early on: in kindergarten. “I remember when I was about Alexandra’s age, I was locked out of class because I’d been naughty,” he recounted. “So I ran towards this glass panel and wanted to pretend to hit it, but I didn’t stop on time and the glass shattered. That was a very bad experience.”

We’re glad he survived the ordeal.

Click through for more pictures from the Lion Moms press conference and for some stills from the series:

The kids are absolute pros at the obligatory
The kids are absolute pros at the obligatory "silly" pose photo call
22 Aug 2015

The kids are absolute pros at the obligatory "silly" pose photo call

'Lion Moms' Vanessa, Nurul and Bernice roar for the camera
'Lion Moms' Vanessa, Nurul and Bernice roar for the camera
22 Aug 2015

'Lion Moms' Vanessa, Nurul and Bernice roar for the camera

The child actors stole the show at the limelight with their adorable remarks
The child actors stole the show at the limelight with their adorable remarks
22 Aug 2015

The child actors stole the show at the limelight with their adorable remarks

Vanessa, Alexandra, Dayang, Keller and Joshua.

Alexandra Tan, Max Loong and Bernice Liu in 'Lion Moms'
Alexandra Tan, Max Loong and Bernice Liu in 'Lion Moms'
22 Aug 2015

Alexandra Tan, Max Loong and Bernice Liu in 'Lion Moms'

Nurul Aini as Durrani in 'Lion Moms'
Nurul Aini as Durrani in 'Lion Moms'
22 Aug 2015

Nurul Aini as Durrani in 'Lion Moms'

Vanessa Vanderstraaten as Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'
Vanessa Vanderstraaten as Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'
22 Aug 2015

Vanessa Vanderstraaten as Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'

Durrani, Jennifer and Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'
Durrani, Jennifer and Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'
22 Aug 2015

Durrani, Jennifer and Min Yi in 'Lion Moms'

More from the press conference:
Joshua Tan reveals his past relationship with a single mother

WATCH:
Which cast member was the naughtiest student?
Joshua Tan: “It was not the way I would have liked it to be…”

Lion Moms premieres on Monday, September 14 at 10pm on Channel 5.

Related articles:
Bernice Liu’s ‘working holiday’ in Singapore
Max Loong talks shop, marriage and baby matters

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