Photos: Channel 5, Channel 8, Pierre Png/Instagram
Pierre Png has been a very busy man. After spending four months in Malaysia filming Channel 8’s Beyond Words (which recently ended its run), he returned to take on Channel 5 telemovie Rise, followed by Channel 8’s The Gentlemen (formerly Mercurial Men).
The 42-year-old’s roles in both upcoming shows are pretty much polar opposites: in the former, he stars as a retired MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter who sets up a school to train problematic kids and ex-cons; in the latter, he becomes a professional ballet dancer (a stereotypically “feminine” occupation) in order to understand the discrimination women face in the workplace.
According to Pierre, gearing up for the role of the dancer in The Gentlemen was “much, much tougher” than for the boxer. “I had to learn in one month what people take seven years of blood and sweat to perfect – it was very agonising!” he told Toggle in an interview. However, he’s also very proud of what he was able to achieve. “I think for a 40-year-old, I did pretty well! I’m probably the benchmark for anyone who intends to pick up ballet in a later part of his life.”
Plus, the fact that Pierre has a background in martial arts – namely taekwondo and aikido, a modern Japanese martial art – helped loads in making filming for Rise a lot easier, even though he didn’t have time to go for training beforehand. And as for getting into shape: “Fortunately, I play an ex-fighter who has sort of let myself go, so I didn’t have to be fighting fit,” he said. “But I did watch what I ate leading up to the shoot, and before takes I would lift a few barbells to get my muscles pumped up.”
When asked if there will be any shirtless scenes in the movie (which won’t be entirely uncalled for, given that this is a sports-related flick), Pierre revealed that the scriptwriter “tried” to work some in but they ultimately did not work out. “The outfits were pretty skin-tight but you don’t actually get to see skin lah,” he said.
In addition to these, Pierre has another brand new engagement: he was recently announced as one of the new celebrity ambassadors – with the other being Jesseca Liu – for Japanese car company Mazda. “I’m very grateful to Mazda for accepting me for what I am; obviously they saw something in me and what I stood for, and found it in line with the launch of their new vehicle,” he said.
Read on to see what else Pierre had to say about his upcoming roles in Rise and The Gentlemen:
Toggle: How did you prepare for your fighting scenes in Rise?
Pierre: Because this is a telemovie, there is a lot of choreography you have to remember, unlike in an actual MMA fight where you just go all out. That said, you still have to be alert, you can’t take a simple punch for granted and you have to make sure you get your footing right because if you don’t, you risk hurting your opponent and yourself, and filming is affected.
Did you suffer any injuries or accidents on the set of Rise?
There were some twisted toes, sore muscles and little abrasions, but nothing serious. Elfaeza (Ul Haq), however, I think she was working very long hours and wasn’t very alert, so when Sandra (Riley Tang) threw a punch that landed wrongly, it landed straight on her forehead and almost knocked her out. She wasn’t out cold, just in a daze, but she needed to rest for a while.
Pierre's family - wife Andrea De Cruz and their three pups
How do you think you would fare in a real fight?
I think many factors come into play, such as whether you’re fighting for survival, to protect, or to prove a point. If you personally feel like you’re fighting for the wrong cause you may not be that motivated, but if you’re fighting to protect your family, you’ll find means and ways to survive even if you get one arm broken or one leg blown off.
If I were fighting to protect my family (wife Andrea De Cruz and their fur kids, a trio of Shih Tzus), I would first assess the situation – pointless jumping in might just get yourself injured – and see if I’m confident enough to talk us out of it and sidestep any violence. Always talk first, then if need be, go all Steven Seagal (on your enemies). Would I break my arm for my loved ones? Sure!
Have you ever been in a real fight?
Fortunately I’ve not had to use whatever I’ve learned on somebody, but there was one instance that involved my (Phua Chu Kang) co-star Gurmit Singh when I had just started learning aikido: he tried to grab me from behind, and for some reason I sensed it, bent down and he missed me. What’s surprising is that I still had my balance and I could stop him from going further, and that’s when I knew that aikido was the martial art that I wanted to pursue.
Another time happened about two years ago when I was asked to demonstrate a few moves against my friends. I did whatever I learned in my 11 years of aikido training, and the next thing I knew, there was blood on the floor – my friend had a deep cut above his eyebrow from me. The thing is, there were no intentional punches thrown, just lots of playing around and grabbing, and I think it was a combination of right timing and me not knowing my own strength. So he went for stitches and until today when I see that scar, I feel really bad.
So, these two incidences have made me feel that if need be, I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Pierre in ballet training
How did you prepare for your role as a ballet dancer in The Gentlemen?
I only had a good month of actual training with my dance choreographer, but before that I couldn’t wait so I looked for my own classes, where I was taken through some ballet moves without even knowing what was required (for the show).
Are you inspired to practise ballet in your own free time now?
I’ll tell you this: I love ballet. I used to laugh at my uncle who has been doing ballet for the last 30 to 40 years, but at the same time I admired his muscles, poise and demeanour. (Filming for The Gentlemen) has definitely planted a seed of interest, so I will try and work something out with my mentors and see if they can accommodate my ridiculous and unpredictable schedule.
Did you injure yourself during training or filming for The Gentlemen?
I think I may have pulled a thigh muscle close to the groin area from standing upright with my butt clenched really tightly (for too long) – you have to maintain that balance and make it look effortless. Fortunately I’ve always been into movement exercises; if I had just been doing weights, I don’t think I would have survived.
What did others think about your performance?
I was told I did a pretty good job, because it normally takes at least three to four weeks of constant training with your partner to understand each other, but I only had about two two-hour sessions with (my Taiwanese co-dancer) Kelly, so I attempted something that nobody in the right sense of mind would even care to embark on! I’m pretty proud of myself, though, and by my standards I think I did excellent! (laughs)
Were you self-conscious about wearing the tights in your costume?
I was initially very apprehensive because I don’t have very muscular thighs (they have always been the bane of my existence), but lately even before I accepted this role, I’ve been working out my legs so they were okay. And as much as I laughed at the tights, I felt really comfortable within the first two times of wearing them, so all the more I had to do squats because your butt cheeks and leg muscles are very emphasised. I love wearing tights! (laughs)