Before a successful career in Channel 8 derailed his plans, Elvin Ng was aiming to become an English Literature professor. Yes, you read that right.
Wait a minute, you say. This is a guy who has been acting in Mandarin television for the past 12 years. He’s won 10 Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes awards in a row. He’s an A-list Channel 8 leading man.
What you didn’t know was that he’d been wanting to cross over to Channel 5 for a long time now. But, due to his hectic schedule at Channel 8, that never materialised, his manager told CNA Lifestyle. Until now.
Ng stars in 20 Days, the currently-airing Channel 5 drama about the complexities of modern love, alongside Nat Ho and Felicia Chin. In it, he plays a shy geek. It is his first English acting project in a 12-year career – a milestone for someone who graduated with a degree in English Literature, thinks in English, and is a huge grammar fanatic.
WHY ELVIN NG ISN’T LIKING YOUR POSTS
“If someone – a friend, or another celeb – posts a really nice picture on Instagram, but the caption has a bad grammar mistake in it, I cannot like it,” said the 37-year-old emphatically. That’s just one instance of his being a stickler for grammar, spelling and the rules of the English language.
“I always feel the need to correct my friends if they make mistakes,” he said. “I am quite OCD about that.”
In 2013, he even published a book, of which 2,000 copies were printed. Our Epic Little Lives – An Amusement Park, A Horse’s Eye And Little Orange Suns was a meditative fable.
“I wrote it because I had so many things inside, I felt them bursting out. I needed release,” he said. “I wanted to bring across messages like, we are always searching for that harbour. But what makes you think that you are not that harbour instead? Or are you the little boat?”
Writing the book was a process he enjoyed very much. “Within four walls, when I wrote it, it brought me to all the worlds. I could visualise everything. It became like there were no more walls,” he said.
It was also a cathartic experience for him. “After that, I felt like I was all empty. Nowadays, I don’t think so much,” he grinned.
CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
It’s hard to conceive of, but his successful career in Channel 8 really started off as a kind of detour. He was discovered by Dennis Chew and Belinda Lee in 2004 on the talent-search variety show School Belle And The Beau while on his way to class at the National University of Singapore.
When he embarked on a career in Mandarin television, he asked himself: "What’s happening with my life suddenly? I was going to be an English Lit lecturer”.
Because of that, Ng feels confused and "a bit lost". "There’s this dichotomy. It’s really quite a strange struggle," he said. "People are not used to me speaking English. I’m caught between two worlds. I don’t see myself fitting in anywhere. What’s wrong with me?”
Another struggle he had was reconciling himself to a life in the limelight, which only really happened in his eighth or ninth year in showbiz. “There was a conflict within me, like, have I given in to fame and all this fluffy nonsense?” he said. “Some of the people around me were so pretentious and artificial that I would cringe.
"Previously, I wore my heart on my sleeve," he said. "But now, I’m not so serious; I don’t take things so personally. I have learnt to give in, to make it easier for myself and to merge better. At the same time, I despise myself for doing that. But then, I also laugh at my old, resistant self.”
JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF SELF
With his English-speaking role in 20 Days, Ng’s had the opportunity to integrate into different worlds. “It’s nice to do a variety of things because you find out different things about yourself,” he said. “There are things about Channel 5 and Channel 8 that I like and maybe don’t like.”
Recently, he had to intensify his Mandarin skills while filming in China for the upcoming drama Journey To The West, in which he plays the monk Tan Sanzang. “I was the shifu delivering all the poems and chanting. It was like the Chinese version of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” he quipped.
“I would like to do whatever comes, really. My time is running out – I probably won’t be acting after I’m 50. I want to move on and do other things. And because I’m a romantic, I don’t want to stay until I’m old and haggard. I just want you all to remember me this way,” he said, with a laugh.
Catch 20 Days on Mondays at 10pm on Mediacorp TV Channel 5, with catch-ups available on Toggle.
Hair: Sylin Yer, Shunji Matsuo; makeup: Lolent Lee using YSL; styling: Sharon B Tan; outfit: Topman