He might play a cocky national swimmer who’s Singapore’s best bet for an Olympic medal — a Joseph Schooling of sorts, if you will — in Ch 5's Faculty. But, in real life, the 22-year-old budding actor, and son of TV veteran Zhu Houren, is surprisingly shy and soft-spoken. Currently a full-time NS man, the 1.82m-tall, lanky lad tells us that he plans to continue chasing his showbiz dreams once he’s leaves the army this August.
8 DAYS: Ch 5’s varsity-themed drama Faculty marks your TV debut. How are you coping with being in the limelight?
JOEL CHOO: It feels good being recognised for what I love to do. But, sometimes, the attention gets overwhelming. Now, I’ve to be careful with what I post on social media. I used to post a lot of random things, like videos of me disturbing my friends, on my Instagram. But I don’t do that anymore ’cos not everyone will appreciate that kind of content (laughs).
You play a national swimmer and university student in the drama. But you say you don’t intend to go to uni.
Yeah, and my father is okay with me not getting a degree. I had wanted to go to Australia to study music. But if acting opportunities keep coming my way, then I’d be an actor.
What were you like as a Singapore Poly Music and Audio Technology student?
I’m the guai guai [‘well-behaved’ in Mandarin] type (laughs). I take my work very seriously. I try to get good grades. I’m not a bookworm but my life is quite boring. I try to stay away from drama.
Because your father is very strict?
In a way. I play in a band and there was once a few bands were planning a trip to Malaysia and they asked if my band was interested. I was set on going. But my dad was very against it. He has the impression that bands do drugs and drink and do silly things. So, I didn’t go in the end. I try not to make my father unhappy (laughs).
Sounds like you’re a daddy’s boy.
Yup. I respect and look up to him a lot. I aspire to be like him.
Do you think people have higher expectations of you because of who your dad is?
Yeah, I felt quite pressured lah. I wanted to make my dad proud and ’cos I’m his son, people will have a certain level of expectation. Sometimes, when I feel like I didn’t do a good job, he’d tell me it’s okay, and that it’s my first time acting and I’ll improve along the way. I was given quite a big role even though nobody knows me, so I want to put on a good show. I don’t want people to feel like I got this role ’cos of connections.
Any plans to go on to Ch 8?
Yes. My dad recently arranged for me to take Chinese lessons and singing classes. He wants me to be able to not just read the script, but also to [emote convincingly]. We both agree that Ch 8 has a larger audience and more opportunities. I’m also going to learn dancing as my dad says that it helps with my body language when I’m acting.
In the drama, you have many shirtless and snogging scenes. Which was more stressful for you?
Kissing scenes, ’cos I’m doing it in front of the camera. The director told me that I wasn’t opening up enough. I felt like I really had to do a good job in that scene to prove that I’m worthy of the role. It was so weird looking at myself kissing someone on TV. I was watching it with my mum and she said, “How come you didn’t tell me that you kissed the girl?” (Laughs)
You weren’t the only actor who went shirtless in the show. Were you worried about people comparing bods?
I was glad I didn’t have any shirtless scenes next to Alan Wan (laughs). I was stressed about having to go topless ’cos I wasn’t able to get a six-pack. The other actors like Alan and Aaron Mossadeg have very good bods. But the one playing the swimmer — me — didn’t (laughs). Before filming, I dieted and went to the gym every day for two months. I dropped from 80 to 70kg. My parents were complaining that I was getting too skinny. But I didn’t see the six-pack coming out! People have been leaving comments on social media saying they want to see more topless scenes of Alan and Aaron instead of the swimming team (laughs).
Catch the finale of Faculty on Ch 5, 10pm on Mar 30. You can also binge-watch the drama on Toggle.sg.
PHOTOS: CHEE YAN/JOEL CHOO