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Actress and Producer: Tan Kheng Hua

Creative Series features women who inspire us in their creative and intellectual pursuits. They remind us of who we design for and why we love what we do - dressing women in unique, functional clothing.

Like many Singaporeans, I grew up watching Kheng Hua on the screen and on the stage, from Phua Chu Kang, Beauty World to Crazy Rich Asians. As both an actress and producer, she has been an essential part of Singapore's art industry. I got to know Kheng Hua shortly after she had moved to the U.S, where she is known for her current role in CW's Kungfu. Kheng Hua is a strong supporter of local designers and has worn A.Oei designs for several events, including the recent Unforgettable Gala 2021 award ceremony that celebrates Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. 

 


Q. How did you end up working in the U.S, and was it a difficult decision for you to leave Singapore and continue your career abroad?
A. When Crazy Rich Asians was such a success at the box office and got lots of eyeballs, I got several US acting agents interested in representing me in Hollywood. I took pains to understand what this would entail for me and basically, my conclusion was that, with a well connected U.S agent, I would be exposed to more opportunities to do what I love so much and have devoted my life to - acting! It also came at a time in my life when I was unfettered and free to basically live any life I wanted so I thought to myself, why not? Once I signed with my U.S agent, they made all the arrangements to enable me to have a base in L.A and to start auditioning for projects. And that's exactly what I did. I never felt as if I was "leaving" Singapore. I just saw it as expanding possibilities of doing more of what I love to do, and in many more places!

Q. How is it like being a Singaporean actress based in L.A / Vancouver? 
A. I have always been very proud of being a Singaporean, but even more when I am away from my home country! I talk about Singapore all the time. All my cast and crew know I am from Singapore and because I make references to Singapore all the time, they are all so curious now and they all want to come. I love this. I feel as if people do not really know me unless they actually see me on my home turf, walks the streets I grew up in, eat the food.
I am very adaptive by nature, and am good at making any new country or city my home away from home. What I do is, I make different versions of my Singapore home everywhere I go. For example, in both my Santa Monica and Vancouver apartments, I keep everything neat and clean. That has always given my clarity in my mind. I also like to choose places to live that are near water, just like how in Singapore, I live near East Coast Park. Again, having access to run or walk near water keeps my heart and body steady. And when you are hopping all over the world, steadiness is something that is always useful. I love traveling, seeing how different people in the world live, their perspectives. And this time in my life, as a Singaporean actress abroad really fulfills that side of me. I am so thankful I get paid to do what I love and be in so many different places while doing it!

 

 

Q. What was one of the first defining moments you had as an actress? 
A. I think one of the most defining moments for me as an actress was being in the main cast of Masters of the Sea, Singapore's first English language television drama series. Onstage, one of the most defining moments was when I played Lulu, the cabaret hostess in the iconic Singapore musical, Beauty World. Of course, currently, being Mei Li on the CW's Kung Fu is also pretty fantastic. I just wrapped for season 2 and am awaiting news as to whether we will go to season 3. Fingers crossed!
Q. Why acting? What draws you to it and how has that role evolved?
A. I often feel as if acting chose me, rather than I chose to act. You know what it's like when you fall in love with someone? You can't help it! You just want to be with that person, to find our everything about that person, to be with that person forever. Well, that's how I felt when acting came into my life. I am still so in love with it at 59 years old.
Acting as a craft never fails to surprise me, humble me, amaze me. It utilizes my entire body - my heart, soul, spirit, mind, body and I love that I can combine so much of myself in acting. I also love how dynamic it is. Every role is so different and it is so fun to build a character from scratch again. The collaborative nature of acting also is very rewarding especially when you are collaborating with colleagues whom you respect and have great chemistry with. Then the feeling is like flying! We can throw ourselves at each other literally and metaphorically speaking, and catch each other! Acting is also such a great mystery. How come I can relive a moment onstage again and again and hurt the same way again and again when the situation is not even real! I can't even explain it to myself! That's why acting keeps me so compelled. 
Q. Can you tell us about one of the most memorable roles you’ve played?
A. I played the main protagonist, Ellen Toh, in all three plays featuring three different stages of her life in Eleanor Wong's trilogy, "Mergers and Accusations", "Wills and Secession" and "Jointly and Severally". I loved these plays, this character and the playwright so much that Ellen will always live in my heart in a big, big way. And since I played the same character at three different times in her life, I also feel as if I have grown up and grown old with Ellen.

Q. What inspires you? 
A. Light inspires me. The sea inspires me. The mountains. Reading. Beauty. Kindness. Wisdom. Humility really inspires me. Virtuosity with humility is a fantastic combination too. Traveling inspires me. The fact that can fail and pick ourselves up again inspires me. My child inspires me greatly. Love. That we can love so hard, so deep, so long is a big big inspiration.

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