Almost two decades after entering the showbiz industry, former child star Fang Rong has finally landed her first major leading role.
In Channel 5’s Fried Rice Paradise, the 23-year-old actress plays Choo Bee Lean, a feisty and talented aspiring chef who is trying to solve the mystery behind her mother’s death, while also protecting her restaurant from a scheming businessman’s expansion plans. The 13-episode series is a TV adaptation of renowned composer Dick Lee’s musical of the same name.
Despite having years of valuable experience in front of the camera under her belt, Fang Rong modestly claimed that she “still [has] a lot to learn”, especially as a lead actress.
“It was very different because in the past, I mostly did roles that supported the main character, but now, I’m the connection between all the characters,” she told us during an interview before the show’s launch party last night (Jun 20). “So I had to learn to talk to characters differently and pay attention to my emotional continuity to avoid screwing anything up. (Laughs)”
With food as an obviously important part of the drama, Fang Rong also had to take up the challenge of cooking on screen, even though she admitted to not having much kitchen skills prior to this gig. To help bring her slightly closer to MasterChef-worthy status, the producers sent her for culinary lessons before filming commenced.
For a self-proclaimed “cooking newbie”, Fang Rong picked up fast. She proudly reported that she was able to do pretty much all of her own cooking “stunts”, even for close-up shots. The only thing she needed help with were some of the wok tossing scenes. “It was a weight issue,” she clarified. “I knew the right movements and all, but the wok was simply too heavy for me to lift up.”
Then there was having to muster up enough courage to flaunt her vocal chops (to an audience that isn’t her shower head) for the soundtrack. “I would say that I’m a pretty good bathroom singer,” she chuckled. “But having to come out of my little shell was a new experience, and I’m glad I had legit singers like Uriah [See] and Aisyah [Aziz] to help me out along the way.”
Speaking of Uriah, a Malaysian singer for whom Fried Rice Paradise marks the first Singapore production, Fang Rong sheepishly recounted that their working relationship started off on a rather unconventional and uncomfortable note.
“Interestingly, the very first scene we shot together was our kissing scene, and it was kind of awkward for me,” she confessed. “It was easy for Uriah because he’s a very charismatic guy. The director was like, ‘Wow Uriah, you’re a natural!’ but then I would be told to relax a bit because I looked like I didn’t want to be kissed. (Laughs)” She estimated that they had to do about 10 takes, including different angles, before getting it right.
What proved to be even more intimidating than locking lips with Uriah was recording a duet with him. The latter is a classically trained vocalist who has won singing competitions in Malaysia and Hong Kong, so we couldn’t really blame Fang Rong when she said her initial thoughts were, “Damn, he’s so good. He probably has to ‘dumb down’ his voice for me.”
He did no such thing. In fact, he was Fang Rong’s biggest cheerleader. “I was struggling a bit with my part, so he came into the recording booth and was like, ‘You just need to believe in yourself. Stand properly and use your hands to express yourself. You’ve got a good voice! Don’t worry about it!’ He really helped to bring out the best possible side of me.”
Fried Rice Paradise - The Drama Series premieres on June 25 on Toggle, and airs Tuesdays, 9.30pm on Channel 5 from July 2.
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