Photos: Lee Lay Na
Fans of Xu Bin have his mother to thank for bringing the duke from Fujian, China to local shores – even if she did so by lying to his face.
15 years ago, when the 27-year-old was just 11, he boarded a Singapore-bound plane with his mum, who told him they were going on a holiday when in actual fact, he was coming over to take a primary school entrance exam.
Thankfully, Xu Bin took the deception quite well. “When I was on the plane, I saw the whole of Singapore and thought, ‘Wow, this place is beautiful’,” he shared during our Toggle Talk session. “Then after I reached, I found it very different from my hometown, and I liked it, so I was okay when my mum told me I was actually here to study.”
Little did he know that six years later, he would be giving celebrity a shot on the second season of Campus SuperStar. Although he was eliminated in the quarter-finals, Xu Bin still managed to find a bit of fame and was approached to audition for Mediacorp dramas. However, his then-girlfriend was not fond of the thought of him becoming an artiste, and he turned down the offers at her behest.
The path to stardom soon opened up for him again in the form of Dasmond Koh, whom he met while competing in Campus SuperStar (Dasmond hosted the programme) and who subsequently became his mentor, boss and friend. Today, Xu Bin is one of the hottest young stars in the country, with three Star Awards Top 10 wins (out of three nominations) and a spot among the 8 dukes. He was also crowned Toggle Outstanding Duke last year, voted Favourite Male Character in 2013 and 2016, and recently filmed his first drama outside of Singapore in Thailand.
He also sports quite a squeaky clean image - “bad boy” isn’t usually a term used to describe the Noon Talk Media artiste. However, as we discovered during our two-hour tête-à-tête, he wasn’t always the angelic lad he gives us the impression of these days. Read on for the juicy details:
He was a troublemaker in school
Remember that primary school entrance test we mentioned earlier? Xu Bin ended up scoring a measly nine points (yes, out of a hundred) in English. However, he was still allowed to enrol as the principal took a liking to him.
Unsurprisingly, Xu Bin faced a lot of hardships when it came to his English lessons. “In China, I had only started learning my ABC’s, and suddenly I found myself having to memorise words,” he said.
Thankfully, he had relatives to turn to for help. “I memorised 30 new words every day, kept a daily journal, and wrote an essay a week, and my aunt and uncle would test me,” he said. It took him a whole year before he finally passed the subject.
Unfortunately, finally passing his English made Xu Bin slip into a relaxed, nonchalant attitude about his education, and when he moved on to secondary school, he started cutting classes to play basketball and hang out with friends who weren’t exactly positive influences.
“I was a typical bad student, and our teachers couldn’t do anything about it,” he said. He even got into fights inside and outside of school simply because he “was not happy” with other parties.
Once, he and a gang of about 10 to 20 other rascals were summoned to the principal’s office, scolded, and asked to provide their parents’ phone numbers. “I gave him my aunt’s number because my mum was not in Singapore at that moment, but I’ve lied about my mum not being around even when she was. (laughs)”
He got a good thrashing by a gang because of an ex-girlfriend
When Xu Bin was around 17 or 18 years old, he had an unpleasant run-in with a gang thanks to his then-girlfriend’s jealous ex-boyfriend (he declined to be specific, but let on that his former squeeze’s name begins with a C and that “most people probably know who she is”, hinting at the fact that he was referring to blogger Celeste Chen).
“The guy kept being difficult but I would always ignore him,” he recounted. “Once, my ex-girlfriend and I met her ex’s gang at Orchard. They asked me to go outside, and when I did, there were a lot of people there waiting for me. They surrounded me and kept beating me up until someone called the police.”
Fortunately, however, his injuries were not too serious, and a hospital check-up confirmed that he did not receive any life-threatening head concussions. There weren’t any visible wounds on his body either, and his own family did not find out about the incident until two years later.
His mother’s physical punishments were pretty terrifying
As it turns out, his painful encounter with the gangsters was far from his first experience with physical violence. His mum had a horrible temper when she was younger, and her choice of punishment often involved lots of hitting – but a mere smack with a rattan cane was not enough.
In one example, Xu Bin recalled his mother whacking him on the nose with a chopstick – causing the chopstick to break – after he refused to drink the soup she cooked for him. Another ferocious occurrence took place after he and his younger cousin (who was referred to as his “little brother” during the interview) had a brawl with their neighbours.
“As revenge after a fight, we used a hollow pipe to stab holes all over their house’s fancy front door!” Needless to say, their parents were furious, and Xu Bin’s mother beat him with the same metal tube he used to destroy their neighbour’s property (talk about poetic justice).
That wasn’t the last of Xu Bin’s stories involving his mum’s wrath. After another one of his shenanigans with his neighbours, his mum gave him such a thrashing that he got scared and tried to run away, but: “When she couldn’t catch me, she threw rocks at me!” Ouch.
Now that this is all in the past, Xu Bin is able to look at history through a more positive lens. “If she wasn’t so scary, I might have turned out even more rebellious,” he mused.
He once spent $20,000 in two months
When Xu Bin was 18 years old, a dream for most 18-year-olds came true: his mother, who had been living with him in Singapore, packed up and moved back to China. “I was so happy to be finally on my own!” he said.
The thrill of freedom wore off in a month. “The house was in a mess because I didn’t take care of it,” he recalled with a shudder. But his sloppy abode was the least of his problems: before his mother left, she left him $20,000 for expenses - and he spectacularly blew it all on drinking, shopping, playing and treating his friends... in just two months.
“I had no choice but to tell her, and she got so mad at me, she said she wasn’t going to give me any more money and that I had to find my own way to feed myself,” he recalled.
To make matters worse, his friends were spendthrifts just like him, so he didn’t have anybody to borrow money from. They ended up being on the verge of starvation together. “I remember we would gather as many coins as we could to buy leftover bread from a bakery for cheap to eat,” he said. “When I think back, I really went through a lot!”
He isn’t bothered by gossip involving him and Dasmond Koh
It’s no secret that the people you spend time with can influence your life for better or worse - and Xu Bin experienced this for himself firsthand.
“During my rebellious period, 80 percent of the negative influence came from my ‘friends’,” he said. “I started breaking away from that circle after I got to know Dasmond, who would call me to urge me to think about my future.”
A major turning point from his aimless ways came in his third year at Temasek Polytechnic, not long before he was set to graduate. At that time, he was doing his attachment at a warehouse logistics company when along came Dasmond, who offered Xu Bin a role in his directorial debut Timeless Love.
“Dasmond called me one night and we had a three or four-hour-long conversation that lasted until the wee hours of the morning,” Xu Bin said. “He convinced me to give acting a try, which may not be lucrative at first, but might gradually give me the chance to make more in the future.”
The conversation awakened his dormant dreams of stardom, and he agreed to be part of the film. From then on, Dasmond became Xu Bin’s “big brother, boss and friend”, and they were even housemates at one point.
Unfortunately, their former living arrangements set tongues wagging, with some speculating if their relationship went beyond just mentor and mentee. On talk show Black Rose, which discusses juicy scandals and gossip in showbiz, Dasmond was constantly teased by his co-hosts for his closeness with Xu Bin, such as the time they travelled to the Maldives together.
Xu Bin, however, is not bothered by any of these nasty rumours. “What’s there to get mad about? I don’t care,” he stated. Dasmond has also told him to just let the gossipmongers say what they want. “I have to take it as part and parcel of being in the entertainment industry.”
He needed financial help from his parents even after his acting debut
Xu Bin’s appearance in Timeless Love didn’t exactly make a huge splash or land him a huge paycheck, but his TV debut in Channel 8’s Don’t Stop Believin’ that same year garnered him much wider recognition (and Favourite Male Character at the Star Awards 2013).
The drama also gave him the chance to work with Elvin Ng, an experience he described as “like a dream”. “One moment I’m seeing him on TV, and the next I’m working with him!” he said with a laugh. “I was very happy, but I was also stressed. Now when I look back, I think I had no idea what I was doing. (laughs)”
Despite finding a job, Xu Bin still couldn’t fully support himself in the beginning. “I called my mum (to ask for money) while making Don’t Stop Believin’ and she was like, ‘Huh? Aren’t you working as an actor now?’,” he said. However, comforted by the thought that their son was actually trying to make a living on his own now, his parents agreed to help him for the next half a year or so, before he could finally be financially independent.
Now that he’s steadily gaining momentum in acting, does he have dreams of pursuing other interests?
Not if it’s singing or dancing. “When I joined Campus SuperStar, I thought (my singing) was up to standard,” he said, elaborating that at that time, he was new to the entertainment industry so he wasn’t aware of the benchmarks (now he knows better). “But I don’t regret taking part because it ultimately brought me to where I am now.”
As for dancing: “Singing is one thing; my dancing is worse! And it’s not something I can easily improve because I’m just not well-coordinated.”
He and Aloysius Pang’s close friendship isn’t just for show
They’re both dukes, young TV heartthrobs and under the wing of Dasmond and Noon Talk Media, but the similarities between Xu Bin and Aloysius Pang pretty much end there. However, it’s enough to incite comparisons between the two of them – something that used to bother Xu Bin (“I wondered why there was a need to compare us”) before he came to the conclusion that it’s just how things work in the entertainment scene (“If there’s nothing to compare, there’s nothing to talk about, so the more they compare us, the better”).
When asked if he and Aloysius are really good friends (and not just putting up an act for PR’s sake), Xu Bin answered without hesitation, “(We are) really good friends.” In fact, he claimed that there isn’t a smidgen of rivalry between them, even when they find themselves competing for the same role (Aloysius recently replaced Xu Bin in upcoming drama The Gentlemen), which he acknowledged is rare in the industry.
“Not long after I joined showbiz, a director told me that I should maintain my friendship with Aloysius, and not let it change over the years,” he shared. “At that time I didn’t understand why he would say something like that, but I soon learned that it happens very often, where two people go from being close to merely ‘colleagues’.”
He’s currently single, and wants to settle down by 35
“Can you not ask this question?” Xu Bin chuckled nervously when we attempted to find out how many girlfriends (specifically, serious relationships that lasted more than three months) he has had. After a bit of probing, he held out two hands with all ten fingers outstretched and said, “It’s within this number.”
He then clarified that none of these romances occurred after he stepped into showbiz. We expressed our disbelief that such a handsome, eligible bachelor such as himself would lack suitors, and he reiterated that there really isn’t a special lady in his life at the moment.
Unsurprisingly, his parents have started asking about their son’s marriage plans. “My mum has considered introducing her friends’ daughters to me, but I tell her not to talk about it. (laughs)”
That said, Xu Bin - and Aloysius - naturally and understandably yearn for love, with him claiming that latter probably wants it “even more”. “We were drinking beer and talking one day, when he suddenly said to me, ‘I want a girlfriend leh’. (laughs) I laughed so hard!”
So what’s stopping the duke from looking for his duchess? He assures us that it’s not because he was scorned in a previous relationship (although he has been cheated on before). “I will approach someone if I’m interested enough, but compared to last time, I feel that there’s a lot more at stake,” he shared.
Now, he sees himself settling down (but not necessarily with children) by the age of 35, a “deadline” he has eight more years to reach. And his woman, if he has his way, would not be a fellow celebrity. “I want to separate work and personal matters,” he said. “I believe it wouldn’t take someone from the same industry to understand my hectic schedule.”
Special thanks to Conrad Centennial Singapore.