Good or bad to have family in showbiz with you? Local celeb spill the beans

9 January 2014 / 2 years 9 months ago

Actress Jayley Woo was recently named Babe Of The Year at The New Paper Flame Awards. Her twin sister Hayley, also an actress, was not nominated. Is it good or bad to have a sibling also vying for attention in show business?

The Straits Times talk to five pairs of siblings in the industry.

Who: Sani Hussin, 39, and Rosita Hussin, 38, actors For the longest time, actress Rosita Hussin was known as “Sani's sister”.

Her elder brother Sani, 39, is a stage and television actor with 21 years of experience.

Best known as a national service boy in army drama Soldadu (1998), for which he won a Pesta Perdana award for Best New Actor, he had already gained a following by the time Rosita started her television career in 2004.

Says the actress, 38, with a laugh: “So I was always ‘Sani's sister, Sani's sister'. And when people used to call me that, I would get a little annoyed. I have a name, you know.”

Before joining MediaCorp's Suria channel in 2004, she worked as a flight stewardess for eight years. She started acting at the age of 15 and appeared in several plays staged by Malay theatre company Teater Kami.

After years of being in her brother's shadow, she was happy to be finally recognised as a performer in her own right: In 2011, she won Best Supporting Actress at Pesta Perdana for the family drama Pinggiran Ramadan (Ramadan Blessings).

“People see me as an individual, as my own person now,” she says. “They started calling me by my name and make the effort to know who I am, so that's nice.”

At the same awards show in 2011, Sani won the Best Supporting Actor award for the same television drama. Last year, both were nominated again for the second season of the same drama, in the same categories. But only Rosita walked away with a prize.

“It's nice to get the limelight all to myself for once,” she says in jest. “But no, I mean, the thing about awards is that it's nice if we win, but if we don't, it doesn't matter. Whether or not Sani wins an award, I'm so proud of his work.

"It's just that when you have a brother who's also acting, people tend to compare the two of us.” Sani agrees: “Yeah, that's how it is when you have a family member who is also in the industry. But we don't really get competitive with each other.

“But maybe that's because we're male and female, which means we get different roles. If we had been girl-girl or boy-boy, I'm not sure if that would have changed things.” He is grateful to his sister as she was the one who introduced him to acting.

A cast member had pulled out from Teater Kami's Anak Melayu (Malay Children), the 1992 play in which Rosita, then 17, was acting as “an innocent but secretly rebellious girl”, she recalls.

So she “dragged” her brother in as a replacement, to play the role of a gangster. He says: “Actually, she just used me. Our mother was very strict and would nag at her for coming home late every night from drama rehearsals, so she dragged me in to be with her.

“If I came back late with her, our mother would not nag as much because she wouldn't be so worried about Rosita's safety.”

As much as Sani says he “hated” the first rehearsal session – “everyone knew how to do all the facial exercises except me and I felt left out” – he realised that he not only had a knack for acting, but he also enjoyed it.

“I used to be all about sports, you know, like football and stuff like that. Arts was considered uncool,” he recalls. After treading the boards for the first time, he was hooked.

So much so that he ended up going to Lasalle College of the Arts to get a diploma in drama, followed by a bachelor's degree in theatre studies from Queensland University. Besides acting, he has directed plays too.

In 2006, he helmed Pintu (Malay for “door”) by Teater Ekamatra, about religious extremism and terrorism in Singapore. “I guess I found where my heart truly lies. When I played football, I did it because that's what boys do, but my heart wasn't in it,” he says.

These days, the siblings remain very close. They are the only children of a housewife and a retired marine surveyor.

Rosita is married to a leading flight steward, 40, and has three kids aged three to 12, while Sani, who is married to an administrative assistant, 35, has no children.

Says Rosita: “We meet up for coffee and we go on holidays together. But we don't really talk about work. We try to keep our work lives and our personal lives separate.”

Who: Kheng siblings Benjamin, 23, and Narelle, 20, who are half of indie band The Sam Willows Musical genes run in the Kheng family.

Brother and sister duo – Benjamin, 23, and Narelle, 20 – make up half of the break-out indie band The Sam Willows. Their dad plays the guitar, while their late mum played the piano.

The catchy folk-pop trotted out by the home- grown band has not only launched the siblings' music careers but it has also helped to strengthen their bond.

Speaking to SundayLife! over the telephone last Thursday, the bubbly Narelle, who is the band's vocalist and guitarist, says: “We've never been closer. You have to spend so much time together.”

The Sam Willows, which include vocalistkeyboardist Sandra Tang and guitarist Jonathan Chua, both 22, made their debut with a self-titled six-song EP in 2012.

Last year, the quartet spent 16 days on the road touring North America in March and flew to South Korea to perform for five days in October. These days, they try to meet once or twice a week to rehearse, record music or discuss band matters.

Singer-guitarist Benjamin chimes in: “There are two facets to this relationship – we are not only siblings but we are also bandmates. Obviously, there are lots of disagreements and you are forced into a position where you have to evolve.

"You have to be more understanding and compromise.” Disagreements mostly erupt during the songwriting process, says Narelle, as the band believe in “democracy” and all four members get a say in the compositions.

Differing opinions are resolved through discussion. Music is not the only talent and passion shared by the siblings. Both were former national youth swimmers and alumni of the Singapore Sports School.

The one year both siblings were at the Sports School together, 2006, final-year student Benjamin kept his distance from the freshman Narelle.

She says: “The few years after my mum died of cancer in 2002, we grew apart a little. Ben went off to boarding school. We didn't really talk that much.

“I remember I was going through a really hard time. I was quite angry because I thought that he wasn't there for me,” adds Narelle, who is now a second-year communication studies student at the Nanyang Technological University.

But she later found out that Benjamin was watching over her quietly from the sides, like a “Big Brother's eye” in the sky, and telling schoolmates to be nice to her.

Benjamin, who is also a stage actor, clarifies that he kept his distance not because he found it uncool to hang out with his younger sister.

“I was afraid that it would bother her to always have me around. I didn't want her to be known as Ben's sister and have that label always hanging over her,” says Benjamin, who graduated in 2010 from Republic Polytechnic with a diploma in technology and arts management.

While preparing for her entry interview for the sports school, Narelle had been coached by their father on how to answer a question about living in the shadow of an over-achieving brother.

The interview panel did ask her that particular question and she gave them the answer her dad, who works as a manager in a petrochemical firm, had helped her craft. Narelle now fully understands that answer – something along the lines that they are each individuals.

Their father, 54, remarried in 2010 and the siblings now have three stepbrothers aged 26, 23 and 21. She says: “Ben and I might share the same blood, the same DNA, the same surname but, ultimately, we are two different people.

“Whatever he does, I'm so proud of him, even if he is in the same line as me. I look up to him and he's my role model.”

Who: Teh May Wan and Teh Choy Wan, both 31, former models

Former MTV VJ Teh May Wan used to beat her twin Choy Wan to all the jobs. In their modelling days, when they were in their early 20s, May Wan would snag the gigs because she was then the thinner of the two – weighing around 50kg to Choy Wan's 60kg.

They are both 1.7m tall. May Wan, now 31 and the older sister by a minute, says: “We would be up for the same jobs and, unfortunately, Choy was on the heavier side. And you know how it's like in Asia, you always want skinny.

"So I would get four or five jobs ahead of her and I'm sure she must have been really upset, especially since, as twins, we were always associated as a pair for the longest time. So suddenly if one sister is more ‘appealing', it's like, ‘What?'”

Choy Wan says: “People in the industry can be pretty cut-throat with their comments and I would always hear things like, ‘How come you're bigger than your sister, how come you're not as pretty?'

"When I was younger, that was quite hard to take, but I think I've developed a thicker skin over the years. It helped that May would always be there to support me.”

Things changed for the better after they snagged the joint hosting gig on channel MTV, where they hosted the segment known as Double Trouble and interviewed music acts, such as Backstreet Boys, from 2005 to 2006.

Daughters of a Malaysian-Chinese mother and a Norwegian father, they were then affectionately known as May & Choy.

The Malaysian-born stars are Australian citizens and Singapore permanent residents. Choy Wan says:

“After that, we had that niche of being the twin act and that was actually quite nice. We're so close, so it was nice to have the comfort of working with your sister.”

In 2007, they also made their silver screen debut as the Durian Sisters in Royston Tan's getai movie 881. May Wan adds, however, that there is a drawback to being a double act.

“The bad thing is, because we were always known as twins, people have that twin tag on us forever. No matter what we do, if they just see one of us, they'll always ask us, ‘Hey, where's your sister?” she says. 

These days, they are doing more individual hosting gigs, especially after May Wan got married in 2009 and became a mother a year later.

Says May Wan, who has two daughters aged four and 21/2 with her Indonesian businessman husband, 36:

“My priority is my family now and I'll usually take on only jobs that are a few hours long, because my husband and I don't have help and I'd like to go back to my kids.”

When she is working, either her parents or her parents-in-law will help to look after the kids. Choy Wan says:

“When May first got married, she also lived in Indonesia for two years before she came back here, so that's really when I started getting gigs on my own.

Now that we're in our 30s and at different places in our lives, there is none of that ‘oh, I got a job but the other one didn't'. No matter what we get, we're really proud of the other twin.

“But the thing about twins is that you'll forever be compared. Now... people are still comparing us. They keep asking me when I will finally settle down and have babies myself.”

She will be getting married in November to an Indonesian property developer, 34. May Wan says: “She got engaged five years after me, so she's been dealing with the question of ‘when is your turn' for the past five years.

"But she's become really confident of herself and it wasn't like a case of ‘oh, no one loves me' even before she met her fiance.”

Despite separate jobs, they still meet regularly – about three or four times a week, says May Wan.

She adds: “We're as close as ever. We're each other's biggest fans and also each other's biggest critics. Other people may tell us that we're doing a great job, but only we will whisper to the other one things like, ‘Hey, you look too nervous' or ‘You're speaking too fast'.

"We know each other so well, so even if we had a tiny twitch of the eye, the other will know that something is off.”

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