Zhu Hou Ren and his son Joel Choo
Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Charlene Chong
Joel Choo lied to our faces.
Okay, that came off as a little too harsh, and we can’t blame the 23-year-old for not being able to accurately predict the future. After all, it was over half a year ago when we spoke to him about taking on his first Chinese drama A Million Dollar Dream, during which the up-and-comer said that he thinks he would “be a bit nervous” about sharing a scene with his dad, award-winning veteran actor Zhu Hou Ren.
Fast forward six months, and there he was at yesterday’s press conference declaring the exact opposite. “I felt the least stressed out when I was with him,” he told us with a grin during our interview with the father-son pair, to which his 63-year-old pop jokingly threatened, “If he’s stressed when he’s with me, I would kick him!”
Unfortunately for Joel, the only screen time he and Hou Ren had together was a brief exchange at a party, which they revealed was added at the last minute (their characters originally weren’t supposed to cross paths at all). The elder Choo confirmed that his youngest son indeed behaved “very naturally” when the cameras were rolling – an unsurprising result of over 20 years of real-life interactions between the two.
For the rest of the time, however, Joel admitted that he was actually “stressing out” every time he stepped onto the set. “This is my first Chinese drama and my Mandarin isn’t very good, plus I was working with a lot of experienced people,” he explained, adding that the person giving him the biggest pressure to succeed was none other than himself.
Zhu Hou Ren and Joel Choo share one brief scene in 'A Million Dollar Dream' (Additional photo: Zhu Hou Ren/Instagram)
Lest you think Hou Ren is some tiger stage dad who demands nothing but perfection of his child, we can confirm that that is totally not the case. In fact, Joel shared that he always had a talk with his father whenever he was feeling down about messing up at work, to which the latter would respond with encouragements like, “Don’t worry, you’re still new; just have fun and be yourself.”
Hou Ren’s advice to not cry over spilt milk comes from experience, but not his own per se. “I once knew an actor who always dwelled on their mistakes, which I feel is not very healthy,” he said. “So I tell [my son], ‘What’s done is done, just try to do better next time.’”
Joel, ever the obedient son, certainly takes his old man’s sage counsel very seriously. “I always feel better after speaking to my dad, and I get over it in a day,” he reported.
In case anyone’s wondering what sort of slip-up would cause Joel to feel so down, he clarified that it was more of a case of feeling guilty about making others stay back late thanks to his “handful” of NGs (or bloopers). “You feel like you’re bringing the whole team down,” he sighed. “No one scolds you, but you just feel like crap. (laughs)”
Still, no amount of self-pity is going to stop the young actor from setting out to show that he ain’t just some “hype”, and that he isn’t breezing through his fledgling showbiz career solely thanks to that damning N word – nepotism. “I guess I have to prove [the naysayers] wrong and show them that I’m worthy of being an actor.”
He Ying Ying and Edwin Goh
Pressure caused He Ying Ying to break down
Like Joel, Edwin Goh and He Ying Ying are their own worst enemy when it comes to setting standards for themselves, so despite not having to face the wrath of short-tempered directors or impatient crew members, much of their stress stemmed from their own expectations.
“Because we’re young and lack experience, I found it tough to cry or get angry on cue, but the people around us were very understanding,” said Ying Ying. Edwin had a more relaxed and optimistic take, saying, “The good thing about being young actors is that we’re really just there to absorb and learn as much as we can.”
That’s not to say he wasn’t anxious about doing a good job, of course. According to Ying Ying, her onscreen brother told her that he was feeling stressed at the beginning, largely due to the fact that it was his first time back on set after two acting-less years in National Service.
“I was a little rusty at first; for example, I would feel confident about memorising my lines, but get scared and awkward the next day while filming,” said the 23-year-old. Fortunately for him, this blundering bout did not last, and he was “back in his element” before long.
Poor Ying Ying, on the other hand, did not escape unscathed. The 23-year-old recalled breaking down at home at one point because she felt like she “wasn’t progressing at the speed” she thought she should be.
“I was giving myself a lot of pressure and wondering why I wasn’t doing a good job, but I spoke to my friends and they told me that I was being too hard on myself and that I should take it easy,” she recounted.
Now those – and Hou Ren’s – are wise words that we hope all three young’uns will remember during their next projects, and we think they’re pretty relatable to the rest of us too.
Edwin Goh, He Ying Ying and Joel Choo
A Million Dollar Dream debuts on April 9, 9pm on Channel 8.