The price of Romeo Tan's fame? His loss of innocence

In this week’s Toggle Talk, the affable boy-next-door lets in on the complexities of showbiz, from his rivalry with Desmond Tan to the pesky rumours of his ‘bromantic’ relationship with Elvin Ng


Photos: Lee Lay Na

This Toggle Talk interview with Romeo Tan almost did not happen due to the actor’s crazily-packed work schedule back in mid-March, when the interview was done. Rushing down to W Sentosa Cove Singapore, from the western side of Singapore where he did his morning shoot for The Journey: Our Homeland, Romeo, who was neck-deep in work, was due back at work in the evening after the interview. He barely had time to catch a breather, but the optimistic chap chirped: “It’s good to be busy,” as we settled down in one of W’s private suites for the interview.

It helps, too, that he is in a better state of mind than when he was doing Tumultuous Times as his turn as the cheerful Hong Kuan (in Our Homeland) is “not as intense as Zhang Yan”, which required him to memorise pages of dialogue (the longest he had was nine pages at a go) while speaking in a scholarly fashion that was befitting of Singapore in the '50s.

Calling Zhang Yan one of the most challenging characters he has ever played, Romeo said that role also marked one of his first setbacks in showbiz– when feedback from the public turned out even more scathing than he'd expected.

Speaking of “the journey”, the 29-year-old had a pretty cushy road to fame: it came for him very quickly, after his stint at Star Search 2010 and a supporting role in C.L.I.F. 2, and can only go up from here. In almost no time at all, we saw Romeo go from being practically nobody – when he was still a rookie – to leading man material.

While he has gained more jobs, roles and recognition, along with it came maturity, or should we say, the loss of innocence. No longer the bright-eyed and bushy tailed, naïve Romeo, the 29-year-old poured his heart out in this Toggle Talk interview and shared about his workplace relationships and struggles – from the comparisons with fellow duke Desmond Tan to the “troubling” rumours of his relationship with Elvin Ng, and lets in on the other lowest point in his life. Read on for more or watch the videos for a blow-by-blow account of his interview.

WATCH: Romeo talks about the pros and cons about being one of the 8 dukes

He feels pressured to compete with (and lose to) Desmond Tan.
While he tells himself to see the 8 Dukes as a form of “healthy competition”, sometimes little details like who’s first or second in photoshoots or even interview sequences, are like little “mind tricks” that remind him about their supposed rivalry with one another. It’d be a lie to say he’s not disturbed by it, Romeo said, especially when he’s perceived to be one step behind Desmond.

Yes, he may have joked about using Desmond’s photos as a practice dartboard (in the video interview), but at the end of the day, they aren’t rivals to the point of being standoffish with each other. “When we’re filming or doing photoshoots, we’ll still talk – if we don’t, that’s bad, right? (Laughs) Desmond is an easygoing person. We talk about everything – from NS (national service) life to work gossip and will even share jokes [with each other].”

Romeo added: “Desmond has had his fair share of struggles too, especially since he joined the business much earlier. I’m equally in awe of him too because before the 8 Dukes was formed, he underwent a transformation and I can attest to that – he worked hard on the way he carried himself and his fashion sense.”

Friends or colleagues? He says friends are people “outside of showbiz”.
This discussion certainly brings to mind a famous comment once made by Fann Wong, in reference to her widely-speculated rivalry with Zoe Tay: “We are just colleagues, not friends".

Similarly, Romeo says he doesn’t differentiate between colleagues and friends at work. “At the office I’m just doing my job and doing what I love. And they [his co-actors] are important figures because without them, we wouldn’t be able to film a show. We’re all artistes and actors, and I don’t go round acting pally-pally with people.”

While he considers his friends to be “people whom I’ve known outside of showbiz,” Romeo shared that there are some people in the TV station that he feels closer and more comfortable with. (More on that on the next page)


Tumultuous Times was one of the lowest points in his life.
During filming and before the drama was broadcast, neither the director nor the producer had problems with Romeo's speech or enunciation. But after the show was put together, a lot of problems were unearthed. “And these were mistakes made on my part,” he admitted.

As someone who makes it a point to watch his own dramas to know where he performed well and badly in, Romeo recalled, “As I watched on and hoped for the episodes to get better, it didn’t. And then slowly, comments from social media started pouring in, and when I read these comments, it struck me like a bolt out of the blue. I hadn't received that kind of feedback before, and I was upset and depressed for a while.”

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