September 13, 2016
He may have been known for his comedic roles and for playing happy-go-lucky characters, but in reality, actor Chew Chor Meng says he was 'bad-tempered, conceited and arrogant'. And this rubbed many in the industry the wrong way.
In an interview with Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao, Chew, 48, says he was a 'calefare' (bit-role actor) for a few years before joining and ultimately winning acting contest Star Search in 1990, when he was 22.
He became famous for playing the iconic role of Ah Bee, better known as "Lobang King" in the local Chinese sitcom, Don't Worry, Be Happy.
Chew admitted he was head-strong in his ideas then and butt heads with the people he worked with. He even asked to be written off the series, telling them "he'd be ok with it".
Looking back, he admits he could have been more diplomatic. "I shouldn't have said I wanted to quit, but could have asked to have less screen time, but by the time I thought it through, the series reached the end of its run (after four seasons)."
Describing his tough learning curve after the 'culture shock' of transitioning from a freelance to full-fledged actor, Chew said he struggled with numerous outtakes and snubs from directors.
Chew recounts, "Once, I was hooked up on a wire and did a scene 30 times, but in the end, the director took the first cut."
Getting scolded by the director was also a regular occurrence.
"Acting really builds your character," said Chew.
Bored of the 'limiting' roles - usually sunny, happy characters - that came his way, Chew felt trapped and unhappy. He even complained to the top management once over a script that he felt "was not right".
I had a very bad temper before, and was very "pek cek" (frustrated), which earned me the nickname "angry Teochew man" among my colleagues.
"But after all I have been through in my life, at 48, I've learnt that I am not always right."
"Now, if I feel that there's a problem with a character's lines, but my colleague thinks it's alright, I will leave it to the director to decide."
Chew was diagnosed with spinal muscular dystrophy in 2008, where he was initially given only 18 months to live.
Since his diagnosis, Chew said he has got a lot of encouragement from colleagues and even the man on the street, which he appreciates.
He says: "Everyone needs a little encouragement. Sometimes they will give me a thumbs up and ask, are you ok? That's enough for me."
But as to whether it's an added stress, Chew says: "I think of it as a form of care and concern. At first I felt 'paiseh' (embarrassed), but I've grown to accept it."
Won't object if daughters wish to enter showbiz
Chew and his wife, Deon, have two daughters, Chloe, 12, and Cheyenne, 10.
His daughters don't watch his shows, but prefer Korean dramas and variety programmes instead.
But if they wish to enter the entertainment industry one day, Chew says: "If they insist, I will allow them to. But I will advise them and see if they have the ability. There's no one way to be famous. But they haven't yet said they want to act."
He added, with a laugh: "My 12-year-old daughter says she wants to be a cashier!"