Remember when Zoe and Fann truly ruled and their fabled rivalry burnished every scene they played? When every word they uttered came with reams of delicious subtext and every quote they gave spun their own rumours? What’s showbiz without a catfight between two gorgeous, formidable combatants? But those were the good old days and the Zoe-vs-Fann clash, let’s face it, is so passé. We need a new mash-up to obsess over, stat. What about the Seven Princesses (or what’s left of them), you say? Nah, showbiz rivalry (be it real or exaggerated) isn’t as engaging when it’s not mano-a-mano, yin vs yang. Or yang vs yang.
And this is where Elvin Ng and Dai Yangtian enter the fray. Their arena: this year’s Star Awards. Defending his glossy perch as the definitive HDB prince in one corner is Elvin Ng, 29, nominated for Best Actor in Together. Snapping at his heels, and taking the lion’s share of attention, is Together co-star and relative rookie Dai Yangtian, 25. He, too, is a Best Actor contender. Not only is their acting prowess being judged, so is the size of their respective fan base. Both lads are in the running for Top 10 Most Popular Artistes and Favourite Characters — two categories where the winners are decided by the public, not industry insiders (who decide on the Best Actor prize).
If nothing else, this automatically makes Elvin and DYT adversaries. The industry is already percolating with gleeful rumours, despite bland denials from the principals. They can deny all they want, but Ch 8 isn’t waiting too long to capitalise on their alleged rivalry and turn it into a ratings magnet. Already in the works is the drama serial, Splashes and Strings, where the duelling hunks (Elvin’s a yachting instructor, hence ‘splash’, and DYT a cellist, therefore, ‘string’) vie for Rebecca Lim’s tender affections.
Asked what they make of the brouhaha, each has his own take on why they are the focus of the attention. It’s sheer novelty, Yangtian posits. “We are the young ones, and it’s both our first time being nominated, so there’s something fresh to write about.” Elsewhere, Elvin says: “The veterans — Chen Hanwei, Brandon Wong and Tay Ping Hui — have all been nominated before. They are all our seniors in every way and we, being the young ones, are the underdogs.”
What they are both too politically-correct to mention is that they are both prettier than the competition. Beauty is an asset, and let’s not forget, TV is primarily a visual medium — being eye candy means half the battle is won. Their complementary appeal has bonded them as an inseparable unit in the audience’s eye: They are light and dark, twin halves that form that complete dreamboat.
Like Fann and Zoe, Elvin and DYT were models before they crossed-over into acting. Their romantic idol demeanours explain the attention they are getting, but can they explain or deny away the rumours of a bitter rivalry convincingly?
“Yangtian and I are nothing alike,” says Elvin late one day at a hotel café, tinkling the ice cubes in his untouched latte. “First of all he’s from China, and I’m from Singapore,” he continues. “In work, the way he does things and the way I do things are very different. We’re different in terms of family background, in terms of education, his career so far, his whole culture and the way he approaches things. I’m usually portrayed as athletic and sunny. He’s usually portrayed as moody and mysterious.”
Elvin has certainly made a career of playing wholesome, naïve boys-next-door, always tanned and toothsome, with puppy eyes promising chaste endless love. Chaste? There’s something asexual about his appeal, despite the gleaming muscles glimpsed now and then in scenes which he detests.
“I’m just not all that comfortable about showing off my body on TV or at photoshoots, and I’d always go, ‘Do I have to?’. As such, he has ‘safe’ boldly stamped on his public persona. He’s like a gorgeous human puppy you can ride off with to the neon sunset of the neighbourhood mall, and subsist on just bubble tea. (Note that his first outing as a villain — in The Ultimatum — was universally decried and almost cost him his career.)
It’s no surprise that his Best Actor nod is for playing Tarzan in Together, who is the apogee of the non-threatening, nice guy: It’s like all the good cops, valiant buddies, sweet-but-ineffectual boyfriends of his career distilled into an essence then poured into the hunky shape of the bumbling, hapless dullard with a heart of gold. “Tarzan and I have a lot in common,” admits Elvin. “We’re both simple, innocent and frank and playing him has made me feel very good.” Note, please, that although Tarzan is impotent, he still gets the girl.
Elvin’s four years with MediaCorp has been a steady, if not altogether smooth, ride. “I got into the Top 10 in my first Star Awards and I’ve two more Top 10 trophies since. Although it gets less exciting for me each year, the awards are still very important. You might hear some other artistes say it’s just a game, but I don’t think they’re speaking the truth.”
8 DAYS: How do you rate your chances of winning Best Actor?
ELVIN NG: It would be totally unexpected if I were to win this award because I think I’m not at that level yet. I’m just happy to be seated right in front this year instead of way back. The nomination is like a Toto ticket. But I think it’s likely that the award will go to one of the three veterans.
So is there a rivalry between you and Dai Yangtian?
There isn’t any rivalry. I’m a couple of years more senior than him in the company, and I don’t have the habit of looking at others’ work. It would be too tiring. I know what I can do and what I cannot do, and I have the confidence to stay the course whoever comes along. I knew that the attention would never always be on me, the media can’t always just be talking about me. Whenever someone new comes along, there’s bound to be comparisons. I’m not unhappy that the company is promoting Yangtian. It’s a natural thing, as long as it isn’t done at my expense. I’m No. 1 in my own right and he is No.1 in his own right. I’m not No.2 to anybody. I can hold my own. I just don’t like to be compared and put down in the process.
Are your fans also fans of his as well?
I think a large portion of Yangtian’s fan base are the Chinese nationals working in Singapore. If you were a Chinese national working in Singapore, obviously you would support your countryman. You’d simply identify better with him.
Are you friends or colleagues?
We work together very well. I wouldn’t say that we are buddies in real life but we get along fine. I can’t say that we’ve worked together regularly. The new drama [Splashes and Strings] that we’re now working on is only our second collaboration.
You seem to think the media has treated you ill?
I’ve been misrepresented in the media. But what people say about me is unimportant. I think it’s worse if no one talks about me. They’ve said I’m stupid, a himbo. But it’s just part of being in this line. Even if it’s unfair, so be it.
So what are you really like?
My family tells me I’m too frank. For me, sincerity and truth are very important. A lot of times, I'd say the wrong things, but if it’s worth saying, then I’ll just say it. My mother is the most important person in my life. I’m very close to her. I think I take after her in terms of character. We’ve been sheltered and taken care of, like in any typical Singaporean family. My mum used to help my dad [a renovation contractor] with his accounts. My dad always did well in his business. He always drove a Merc. As I grew up, the Merc just got bigger and bigger. He's now retired, after a heart operation a few years back. It was traumatic — the surgery lasted 14 hours. And then he stopped working. But we had enough savings. We are all doing well now: My sister is an accountant, and my brother is a Minister’s bodyguard.
You always come across as a sunny kind of fellow.
I have a skewed sense of humour which only people close to me appreciate. I’m quite moody sometimes and I like to be left alone to think about things. I’m actually quite contemplative and introspective. Even now, I wouldn’t say I’m very confident. But I’m more mature now — so I know how to hide my insecurities better.
How do you improve your acting?
I’ve been honing my craft by watching more movies. I love going to movies alone, to be completely consumed by the movie. I’m also taking singing lessons to help with voice projection, and dancing classes to help with my body language.
You sound like you've already planned out your career.
I see myself doing this for the next 10 years. Some artistes are cut out for showbiz, but not me. I learned the craft very slowly. I warm up step by step.