Romeo Tan: “My Home Is Like A Fish Market.”

He talks about the joys of living in a 4-room "community centre".

We can barely recognise Romeo Tan, who is sulking and slouching in front of the camera. In the past hour, the 32-year-old has been trying on different outfits for his new role in upcoming Ch 8 long form drama Life Less Ordinary, where he plays a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. “For this character, I have to be very quiet and avoid eye contact with people,” he says, “That’s why it shows in my behaviour and body language.” The drama, which airs in October, revolves around two neighbours (Xiang Yun and Chen Liping) who fall out over a man. Speaking of neighbours, Romeo’s name was splashed across the Chinese dailies last week after a nosey Elvin Ng neighbour reportedly told a Chinese paper that she noticed Romeo staying over at Elvin's house every day. Elvin was understandably livid and lashed out at the press: "My privacy has been invaded. Who have I hurt? I hold parties at home; must I announce who I invite? Then I should also announce how many times I bathe a day?” Romeo, on the other hand, had a much cooler response. "Elvin and I are good friends," he said. "Yes, I did stay over at his house, but that is because I had filming the next day and his house is much nearer to work compared to my house located in the East. As long as our parents don’t find that it's an issue, outsiders needn’t meddle.”

“It’s just a piece of news lor,” says Romeo today, as he smoothens the creases on his T-shirt, when we ask him about the events of last week. “As long as you are a public figure, you will get such attention, and you will appear in the news. I think the best way to handle it is not to take it too seriously.”  

romeo tan collage

8 DAYS: This character is quite a breakthrough for you 'cos we always see you playing charming successful professionals. 
ROMEO TAN: I’m excited and worried at the same time. I did a lot of research on Asperger’s syndrome, and also watched shows about that. I watched a movie called Adam (2009) and also Korean drama Good Doctor (2013) for reference. I’m quite a chatty person, so I have no idea how it’s going to be when filming starts next month (laughs). I’ll be playing this role for six months so I may have less eye contact with people gradually. I think the role may alter my behaviour in real life, I’m not sure (laughs).

In the past week, news broke that you’ve been staying over at your pal Elvin Ng’s new swanky home every day. Your reaction was very calm compared to Elvin's, who was livid about the invasion of privacy. 
I did speak to Elvin after that. As a friend, I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t too offended by the news. However, I also feel that he has the right to get angry as it’s his home. It’s his personal territory and space after all, that’s why I also don’t wish to comment too much on this.

Fair enough. You told the Chinese papers that you stay over at Elvin’s place because you live in a four-room flat with your parents, two brothers, your sister-in-law and their two kids and that it can be get quite crowded.
It’s very crowded! (Laughs). Actually it’s more crowded now as compared to 2013 when you guys came to visit me at my place for a story. My younger brother has completed his national service and has moved back home, and my elder brother’s family has welcomed another daughter, so my niece and nephew are living with us too. My elder brother wants to move out soon, but his place is not ready yet. His flat is still being built! (Laughs).

How is it like living with so many people? 
It’s like a fish market! (Chuckles). Or rather, I'd call it a community centre. I mean, it’s very fun and lively but it’s not easy to focus when I need to memorise my lines for my dramas, or when I want to have some private time. I have a hectic schedule, and sometimes, I just want some peace and quiet after a long day at work.

Are you still sharing a double decker bed with your younger brother ?
Yeah. My brother and I are used to it already, but sometimes I do want time to myself, and I can’t possibly tell him: “Eh, get out of the room!”

Have you thought of getting your own place then?
Of course, of course (nodding his head). However, there’re many things to consider when it comes to buying a new place and living on my own. It’s a big decision, and a big ticket item! It’s not like going out shopping and buying an iMac (laughs). There’s a lot of money involved. I give quite a lot of my income to my parents as I want them to be happy. So I want to make sure I save enough before I buy a place. I’m working on it but I’m also happy with where I am right now.

So have you stopped hanging out at Elvin’s place these days to avoid gossiping from prying neighbours?
(Clears throat) We still talk and still meet up. I won’t answer this question but all I can say is that this hasn’t affected our friendship (smiles).