When Denise Camillia Tan stepped into the Mediacorp imaging studio yesterday (Jul 23) morning, puzzled staff members took one look at her and wondered, “Who is that boy?”
“Boyish” was never a word we would’ve used to describe the 26-year-old actress and former beauty queen - but that was before she snipped off inches of her long bob to play an androgynous aqua fitness coach in upcoming Channel 8 drama Happy Prince. Now, with her choppy pixie cut, she gives us major anime pretty boy vibes.
During our interview, Denise revealed that she made the drastic change just the day before. “I’d been trying to mentally prepare myself for quite some time, but when I was sitting in the chair, I still felt very nervous!” she admitted. An understandable reaction, considering the fact that she’d never worn her hair so short before.
In case anyone’s wondering, the hairdresser didn’t slash away one whole chunk of tresses à la Mulan in that pivotal scene before she runs off to the army. Instead, it was done bit by bit, slowly and steadily, and took a few hours to complete. Denise even managed to record a time-lapse video of the whole thing.
Denise sent us a photo of her hair after most of it had been chopped off (left).
And her reaction to her new look? “I like it, actually!” she grinned. “Getting ready is a lot faster now - I think I can be done in about 15 minutes.” Her family have praised it too, saying it looks “fresh” and makes her look like a model.
There will be one part, however, where viewers will see Denise revert briefly to long hair again with the help of a wig. “I’m supposed to dress up like Paige [Chua’s character], but I haven’t received the full script yet so I had no idea about this until just now,” she said. “I was like, why do I have to wear a wig? Having long hair again feels so weird! (Laughs)”
Denise will temporarily return to longer hair with the help of a wig (right).
Coiffure change aside, Denise has also been working out and working hard to look as athletic as possible, as her character is a very sporty person who does Muay Thai, inline skating, and of course, aqua fitness, which she explained to us is like “exercising on a floating board”.
It sounds tough (exercising on stable ground is taxing enough), but she reported that it was surprisingly easier than she thought. “Maybe it’s because I go to the gym regularly and I know the basics of how to engage my core for balance and all, so it wasn’t that bad,” she said, adding that her co-stars Paige, Romeo Tan, and Ian Fang were pretty good at it too, despite only having one class so far.
Denise wraps her hand for her muay thai outfit with the help of a staff member.
Muay Thai was also a cinch thanks to her background in martial arts (she was president of her school’s taekwondo club, FYI), but inline skating, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly a walk - or skate? - in the park. “I’d never tried it before, so it was quite a struggle for me in the beginning,” she recalled. “I’m getting better with practice, but I have to be very good at it in the show!”
Last but not least, the usually ladylike starlet is also trying to get used to adopting some masculine mannerisms, such as, uh, “manspreading” (which basically means sitting with one’s knees very far apart, not unlike an inconsiderate uncle on the MRT). “It’s so comfortable!” she guffawed. “I’ve also been wearing pants a lot - I think I’ve given up on skirts already.”
While Denise is looking forward to tackling all the challenges that will come with her new role, she also confessed to being anxious about how audiences will react to it. “I just hope they will be surprised - in a good way! - and be accepting of my portrayal,” she said.
Would you have recognised a tomboyish Denise on the streets?
Happy Prince premieres on January 15, 2020 at 9pm on Channel 8.
Catch it on Toggle-It-First from January 6, 2020.
Additional photos: Denise Camillia Tan, Instagram/Denise Camillia Tan