When home-grown actor Andie Chen was crowned Star Search champion in 2007, he assumed that the television talent contest would put him on an instant path to stardom.
But that did not happen.
In fact, he would go on to struggle through a number of small parts on Channel 8 for the next two years before finally landing his first lead role in Channel 5’s Fighting Spiders (2009) – and even then, he was discouraged from going after it at first.
“I really thought that I was all set after Star Search and that I would just go on to become the top actor in Singapore. But I wasn’t getting the kind of roles to get there at all,” says the 32-year-old, who wonders if it was because he was being overshadowed by better-looking hunks at the station.
“I’m very self-aware, so I know I’m not the type of guy you look at and go, ‘Wow, what a looker’. But since I wasn’t getting the right job offers, I decided I had to go and look for them myself.”
Which is why he looked beyond the Mandarin Channel 8 to ask for an audition for the lead role of good-guy-turned-gangster Tony in English drama Fighting Spiders, even though he had been expressly told that he would have no chance.
“Apparently, the Fighting Spiders team had already found the lead and was just doing open auditions to fill some kind of quota.
“But I didn’t care. I thought that if I had even a tiny chance to change someone’s mind, then I would go for it. And I did.”
To anyone meeting him for the first time, Chen’s disarming frankness could come across sounding cocky. He admits that his words often rub people the wrong way.
“I’ve always been outspoken and assertive because I know what I want and I say it. But that doesn’t sit well with some people.
“You know, celebrities are meant to have a certain kind of class in the way they behave, but I’m not like that. All I know is that I want to act, so everything for me is just about getting work.”
Still, despite his more aggressive way of navigating what is widely considered a conservative industry here, he has risen up the ranks and become one of the most soughtafter leading men at the station.
After Fighting Spiders, he racked up a number of lead roles in major Channel 8 blockbusters, such as that of the geeky and endearing Yongjie in family drama Prosperity (2011) and a passionate revolutionist in period dramas The Journey: Tumultuous Times (2014) and The Journey: Our Homeland ( 2015).
In between, he also spent two years – from 2013 to 2014 – in Taiwan, where he landed a part as a prosecutor in legal drama Independent Heroes (2014).
At this year’s Star Awards in April, he was up for Best Actor as well as for Best Supporting Actor.
Before the ceremony, pundits had been banking on him to pick up at least one of the trophies, given his strong performances as a blue- collar husband in If Only I Could (Best Actor) and as a simple-minded man in heartland drama Hero (Best Supporting Actor).
However, he lost both awards – to veteran star Chen Hanwei for Best Actor and to hunk Romeo Tan in the latter category.
He was disappointed and made it known in a post-awards interview with a local magazine, where he said he felt he was “being put down and ignored” so much by the TV company year after year that he may quit.
Some readers did not take well to his words and blasted him on social media for being a sore loser.
In hindsight, Chen says he does not regret what he said, but hopes that people do not read it to mean that he was being bitter.
“After the awards, I was very emotional. The Star Awards is like a report card for a Singaporean actor who does most of his work here, so of course I would like the approval.
“When that didn’t happen, I was upset. Was what I said in the interview necessary? Probably not, but I was being 100 per cent honest. I don’t want to take anything away from the people who won though – that’s not what I meant.”
He adds that he is not quitting any time soon and that he will try to be more careful about how he phrases his words in the future.
“I will still have my opinions and that won’t change, but I’ll try to say them in a more tactful way.
“This is the way it is. Channel 8 audiences are quite traditional and I have to respect that.”
Perhaps he is willing to try playing by the rules because he is so bent on succeeding. Beyond acting and being in show business, he does not know what else he can do, he says. “I’ve wanted to act since I was 11 years old. I grew up watching Hong Kong TV dramas and I just loved all the characters, especially the villains. Once I decided that I wanted to act, I never questioned it.”
Next page: Here’s how Andie Chen got started in acting