Playing A Character With Intellectual Disability Brought Him Peace, Says Richie Koh Of His Breakout Performance In Your World In Mine
To nail the expression his character shows in his eyes, Richie, who is the star of new Mediacorp drama Your World In Mine, says he slept less and "spent a few more hours scrolling through social media" every night.
Tian Cai is kind-hearted and compassionate, yet due to his inability to express himself, inadvertently becomes a constant source of conflict for his family members.
In the show, Yao Wenlong and Huang Biren play his dad and mum, while Zong Zijie and Hong Ling are his older brother and sister respectively.
When 8days.sg met Richie at the show's recent press conference, the first thing he did was to draw our attention to the drama’s poster. He then pointed to a sketch of a snail on it.
"That's my best friend in the show," said Richie, in an almost childlike tone. For a split second, it felt as if it was Tian Cai and not Richie we were talking to.
"Nobody noticed the snail there,” he sighed.
Those who have caught the first few episodes of Your World In Mine would know that Richie’s character forms a bond with the snail, at one point, even throwing himself in front of a moving lorry to save it.
The ‘snail’ clearly holds deep meaning for Richie even after filming has long wrapped, and that in some way, tells us how important Your World In Mine is to him.
It is, after all, a role of a lifetime for the young actor, and Richie has done a fantastic job playing a character with intellectual disability.
He disappears into the role, and does so in a heartfelt, unaffected manner. Who knew the Hey! Gorgeous 2013 runner-up had it in him?
In fact, there's now even buzz that he's a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination at next year's Star Awards.
Richie's thoughts on that? "Aiyah next year then say lah (laughs), if [I] really get nominated then it’s a bonus."
8DAYS.SG: Playing Tian Cai is turning out to be the breakthrough role your career needed.
RICHIE: It’s a good role and there was a lot of room for me to play around. The production team also allowed me a lot of creative input, from the way my character talked, from the tempo and speed to the tone. The only thing that was more challenging was the way my character walked. That was the most difficult part.
I tried different ways of walking for nearly a month, I would walk in front of the mirror and ask my family if it looked believable. So that period was quite confusing for me, I didn’t know which walking style was better.
It was until I saw a child with intellectual disability on the streets with his mother. They were crossing the road, and as the kid walked, he tip-toed and raised one of his hands. I recalled that this is something we learnt in primary school. It made me realise that they really do take note of the things they learn and use it in their daily lives.
The role can be considered a make or break one for an actor's career. Was there a point when you felt like if you didn't portray the character well, it might kill your career?
Not really. When I first read the script, every character had their own stories. So when I was filming I didn’t really think so much either, I just did my part and stayed in my own world (laughs).
Was it very stressful then to take on this role?
No, because I didn’t have many lines and they are all repeated. (Laughs) I didn’t really bother about the pressure 'cos it’s not very good to think about those things. They would hinder my performance.
Plus this role allowed me to clear my mind and not think about other stuff since these kids with intellectual disabilities tend to live in their own world and do their own things. I just stayed in the role and it was quite peaceful actually. (Laughs)
How did you prepare for the role?
The producers arranged for a meet up with two people with special needs and they shared a lot about their lives. Their parents were there as well.
I asked them a lot of questions, and they were very open. They’re actually very self-sufficient and can work for a living. One of them also cooks dinner for her family. I don’t even cook for my family. I felt so ashamed at myself when I heard that (laughs).
So have you started cooking for your family?
I wish I have… (Chuckles)
You also had to get less sleep so that your eyes would appear listless?
It was something I observed and the producer also mentioned it to me, so we decided to explore it. We later realised it’s actually an accurate representation ‘cos when we met two of the kids with intellectual disabilities, their eyes were like that too.
So every night I spent a few more hours scrolling through social media on my phone and slept less. Anyway when I went to work I didn't really have to keep my eyes wide open, so I took advantage of that. (Chuckles)
Tian Cai has really emotional outbursts. You, on the other hand, seem like a really chill guy. Was it hard to get into character?
At first it felt awkward lah. Especially the first time you have to really “explode” on set. You're just worried that people would judge you.
But after that first “explosion”, you would kind of get where to draw the line, whether it’s exaggerated or it’s too little. Basically I just thought of my younger days when I was still hot-headed (laughs).
How bad-tempered were you?
I remember I used to love looking at beyblades. My uncle has a shop which sells the new ones and I would always want them. But my mother wouldn’t want to buy them for me so I would cry. I would shout and cry. That was when I was in primary four or five, so about 11 or 12 years old.
Is that what goes through your head when you had to channel anger in those scenes?
Yes. Sometimes the thing that's happening in the show doesn’t make me angry. So I have to keep asking the director questions for the reason [behind the rage].
Tian Cai gets misunderstood a lot in the show. Does it happen to you a lot in real life too?
For Tian Cai, it’s 'cos he can't express what he wants to say, he doesn't know how to explain himself. But for us, we choose not to express and explain ourselves even when we can, because we want to see how well other people understand us.
I used to be like that but now I try to see things from another person's perspective. I would take a step back and try to see things from their angle. To me there are two ways: it’s either you confront them nicely or you just don’t care. I would try to see if I can talk to them and they have to reciprocate. If that happens, then we can work it out.
But are you someone who gets angry easily?
I’m quite chill actually. Angry for what? Relax lah. (Laughs) But I get pissed off when people say they will get things done but they don’t. I would try to talk [to the other person] about it but if it doesn’t work then I’ll just do what needs to be done myself.
The show also revolves around Tian Cai's relationship with his siblings. Do you have any siblings?
I have an older brother and a younger sister, who are both married. My siblings and I are very chill, unlike the Zheng family who are so happening (laughs). For example, if someone says they’re buying dinner [in the group chat], we would just say "okay" and won’t even ask what they’re buying or what they want to eat. If you want someone to buy and you still want to choose, that’s a bit too much, right? (Chuckles)
Are you guys are very close?
Yes! We have dinner together at home every day before they go back to their own places.
Would you say that you're the one who ties your family together like Tian Cai?
No, now it's not me already. It's my niece and nephew. (Laughs) My parents have thrown my brother, sister and me out there to fend for ourselves. They are like, "We want to see our grandchildren, not you". (Laughs)
Were you your parents' favourite before the grandkids came along?
No, it's still my younger sister, then maybe me? Then my brother 'cos he's the eldest one.
Did your parents ask you when you’re giving them grandkids?
They didn’t ask me ‘cos they already have two. My brother has done the job so the pressure is not on me. (Laughs)
Do you feel like you’re ready to be a father?
No leh, it’s very tiring. I just want to play with other people’s kids ‘cos they're not my responsibility (laughs).
[Having a kid] is really not an easy job. Sometimes I look at my brother and think: "Do I really wanna do this?” 'Cos there’s no turning back. (Laughs)
Photos: Mediacorp Photo Unit
Your World In Mine is available on demand for free on meWATCH. It airs on weekdays, 9pm on Ch 8.
Catch the first episode of Your World In Mine on meWATCH below: