Do the Wong Thing: An Interview with Michael Chen
Nuffnang is home to many ambitious, hardworking individuals. So much so that one of them has recently risen to stardom status. The person in question is our man of the hour, Lead Producer of ReelityTV Malaysia, Michael Chen.
No stranger to the Malaysian Theatre and TV scene, Michael has built up quite the impressive portfolio. Thus far, he has had a hand in acting, producing, fitness instructing, martial arts, singing-songwriting, event management, marketing, hosting and emceeing. Phew! With such an exhaustive list, Michael is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
Therefore, it is without a doubt that his extensive experience helped him carry the role of Wong from the locally made blockbuster film, Tombiruo.
Two weeks since its release, Tombiruo has picked up more than RM5 million and counting, and we at Nuffnang cannot be prouder of our Lead Producer.
So imagine my excitement when I managed to catch him for an interview one afternoon! Busy bee that he is, he is constantly in and out of the office throughout the week.
How did you come across the role of Wong and what got you interested in it?
I was recommended to the Casting Director and veteran Malaysian Director, Nasir Jani by my friend, Zurina Ramli. She’s one of the lead Producers. They needed a Chinese actor who could act, fight, potentially do his own stunts and is comfortable speaking Malay on screen. So I was just lucky to know the right people and have the varied skillset!
When I met Nasir, he sat me down and all he told me about Wong was that he was the bad guy in the movie and he needed to be mean AF. After chatting, I acted out some of the scenes with the script in hand and they recorded it. Several weeks later, I got the call!
You are a man of many talents. It must’ve been exhausting juggling multiple jobs and projects at the same time while filming. How did you manage it?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been juggling. I’ve been dabbling in theatre since 2000, when I was still studying Form 6. When I was studying law in Uni, I’d be doing acting workshops at night and teaching kickboxing in between all of that. The same thing applied when I started working full time in different lines from production, marketing and so on. This trend continues till today.
During the toughest period of the Tombiruo shoot, I would be in the Nuffnang office, going for a shoot from 7pm to 7am and then back to the office again at 10am. But the awesome thing about this production was that they were willing to work around my schedule and put most of my shooting times after work or during weekends.
Did you have to do any special preparations for the role? Did you have to do your own stunts?
There were actually a lot of rehearsals for Tombiruo. Rehearsals were broken down into script reads, character development, fight choreography and stunt preparation. For me personally, I attended most of the script reads and selected character development rehearsals. And yes, I did all my own stunts.
What was it like to play Wong? Do you feel you are similar to him in any way?
Wong is my first time playing an all-out ‘bad guy’ who doesn’t seem to have any moral compass. He’s more of a psychopath in the clinical sense of the word.
I’m very different from him. When playing a character like him, I just allowed myself to have fun doing whatever it is I did but to make the portrayal believable, I attach certain personality attributes that I can share with him. For example, Wong is a very driven person and I’m a driven person too.
Tell me an interesting story of what happened while you were on set.
That would have to be the day that I had to shoot a very dangerous stunt. They were going to set me on fire. At the same time, I experienced a personal family tragedy and couldn’t be on location for the shoot. The entire production gave me the time I needed to manage my personal situation and when I arrived on set, they were all extremely understanding. They knew I wasn’t in a good state of mind and that I was also quite afraid of the fire stunt I was about to engage in.
At the same time, I was set on fire! How much more interesting can I get?
What have you learnt from your experience on Tombiruo?
One of my biggest takeaways is to never stop trying. The likelihood of an unknown actor like me getting such a pivotal role in a big film like this is very low. Had I allowed that ‘reality’ affect me, I wouldn’t have gone for the audition.
How does it feel to star in such a successful local film?
I don’t think it’s actually sunk in yet. At the moment, I’m just really proud to be part of it and thankful that I had the opportunity.
Are you interested in acting in more films? What sort of character do you hope to play next?
Of course. I’ll never stop.
I’m actually quite keen to play more flawed characters. Not necessarily good or bad guys but just flawed like everyone we know in real life.
Did you get to meet Ramlee Awang Murshid himself? What was your impression of him?
Yes, I did. Many times. He was very involved in the movie and was regularly on location.
He’s a very intelligent man and an experienced writer with great characters under his belt. He shared with me that he never allowed any of his bestselling books to be turned into movies over the years because he felt that he didn’t have enough stories yet. His novels are all connected like how the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all connected. After 20 years, he finally feels like he has enough stories to start looking into making movies. This shows how much of a visionary he is.
Is there a chance we’ll see Wong again?
Who knows? The fate of that relies on how well Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba does in the box office, whether the fans make enough noise to warrant my character coming back and whether the Producers think the same. I hope so!
Written by Crunch's Melissa Kartini