The first thing we did after greeting Nat Ho at The Projector, a charming, hipster-esque cinema tucked away on the fifth floor of Golden Mile Tower, was to gush about how the Toggle team is crazy about his bubble tea stall Bobbii Frutti (we swear we weren’t just buttering him up - we legitimately rejoice every time someone volunteers to dabao those delicious, colourful drinks back to the office).
“Oh, really?” was the 33-year-old’s calm response, but the grin on his face was unmistakable. That said, while his beverage business is undoubtedly popular (heads up: he’s already looking to open a second stall in the city), he reported that it’s actually his cheese toast store Say Chiizu that is the most successful out of his three F&B babies (he also owns the #eatclean-friendly Love Bento), simply because it has the most outlets - six, to be exact.
That is a LOT to juggle, even for someone without filming and recording commitments like the ambitious artiste. But that hasn’t stopped the multi-talented towkay from taking on more showbiz projects, the latest of which is the lead role in supernatural drama Haunt Me, one of six pilots from across the region competing to be made into a full series on video-on-demand service HOOQ. The other Singaporean representative is How To Be A Good Girl, starring Oon Shu An.
Both actors shared in our interviews that they were willing to accept a pay cut for their work, but refrained - understandably so - from revealing exactly how much less they were compensated. The creators of the six screenplays, which were shortlisted from over 500 submissions, were each given US$30,000 (about S$39,340) to bring their visions to life.
“When they approached me with their budget I was like, ‘You know this is not my rate, right?’ (Laughs)” said Nat, who still agreed to be on board because he wanted to support his friend (he’s worked with the writer since Channel 5’s Polo Boys, which - prepare to feel old - turns 10 next year) and because it was “one of the most interesting scripts” he’d ever read (it certainly isn’t every day you get to play someone destined to guide lost souls to “the other side”).
While Shu An had no qualms about being paid a reduced fee for her part in How To Be A Good Girl, in which she plays a former socialite trying to get her life and reputation back on track after doing time in prison, she stressed that she only agreed to do so because she trusts the director, whom she’s collaborated with many times ages ago.
“I know he’s not going to give me some nonsense reason [for paying me less],” the 31-year-old explained, adding on a side note that she believes “all freelancers need better protection in terms of their rates”.
Well said, and don’t worry - both Shu An and Nat will be given the paycheques they deserve if their pilot goes on to become a full series.
Read on for more from our interviews with Nat and Shu An!
What were some of the challenges you faced filming the pilot for Haunt Me?
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but we didn’t get the dream cast that we initially wanted due to scheduling conflicts (certain character developments would have been better portrayed by more experienced actors). Having said that, I’m quite happy with how it turned out in the end.
Since Haunt Me is a supernatural drama, were there any spooky happenings on set?
No, but maybe I was too tired to notice. (Laughs) I was travelling before shooting started and I only had a few days before filming for Tanglin, so we had to finish everything in less than a week. I was really tired and would sleep between scenes, so even if a ghost possessed me, I wouldn’t know. (Laughs) Just kidding!
You mentioned that Say Chiizu is doing the best out of your businesses. Which one do you wish could do better?
I wish I had a bit more time to focus on Love Bento because I’m the one running everything, while I have partners who are heavily involved in the others so it takes a big load off my shoulders. It’s been a challenge, but my current team of staff at Love Bento has been amazing.
You’ve said that the reason you’re opening so many businesses is so they can fund your music career.
It’s not a matter of raising funds but a matter of being sustainable. I can definitely afford to make new music with whatever I’m earning now, but I still need to keep on working. When my businesses are stable and I can sustain myself, then I can focus more on my music.
So how’s the progress on new music so far?
I plan to release something within the first quarter of this year, maybe in early April. I’ve already recorded the single, I’m just putting the finishing touches on the music video and should be able to launch it next month.
Are there any more plans to expand your career in Taiwan?
Not for now. I still keep in touch with my friends in the industry there, and they say it’s been a bit quiet of late. I just want to focus on what I have here in Singapore at the moment and see what happens next.
Oon Shu An
Obvious question for the star of a show called How To Be A Good Girl: are you a good girl?
No! (Laughs) I mean, I try to be, but not really lah. I’ve done some terrible things that I’m not proud of that I shall not repeat here, so no, I don’t think I’m by any means a good girl. [Ed’s sceptical note: Really, Shu An?]
Well, at least you’ve never been to jail like your character…
She goes to jail, but it’s not because she stole anything or killed anyone. It was just a big, impulsive mistake, so she thinks that when she’s released, society will give her a second chance but they don’t, and she has to set out to try and prove herself again and learn what it really means to be a “good girl”.
What does being “good” mean to you?
I also wonder about that, but I think it means to be a decent human being that practises decent values that make the world a better place, or at least, that don’t make the world a worse place. It’s difficult to be “good” all the time.
What your character goes through sounds similar to a celebrity whose reputation gets affected by a scandal. As a public figure yourself, do you have a fear of getting into a scandal?
I’m scared not of getting into a scandal, but I sometimes wonder why people see some things a certain way. For example, a few years ago there was a local female student whose sex tape got leaked, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she bore the brunt of the backlash - someone else leaked it, so why is everyone vilifying her!? And more recently, there was the Hollywood nude pics scandal, which wasn’t even the victims’ fault.
Any plans to venture into directing in the near future?
I don’t feel a desire to direct per se but I’m interested in working in a more collaborative environment. In fact I feel like for How To Be A Good Girl, the filmmakers were very open to my point of view and I liked that a lot.