“Have I met you before?” Joshua Tan asks us after the outdoor press con for his upcoming show Flying Through Time at Resorts World Sentosa. When we remind the actor that the last time we met was also in Sentosa during a promo shoot for an inflatable obstacle course, he jokes, “We’ve an affinity with humid and hot weather. It’s fate ah?” That was back in Sep 2015, when the fit Ah Boys to Men (ABTM) star seemed like the perfect candidate for the super physical course, given his lean physique and impressive stamina. Today, he’s still looking athletic as usual, but a tad chunkier.

For the uninitiated, Josh had piled on a whopping 20kg, tipping the scales at a solid 88kg to reprise his role as recruit Ken Chow for ABTM 4. A surprising move, for an actor known to be extremely particular with how he looks on screen. While his fellow ABTM buddy Maxi Lim famously shed 17kg to avoid being typecast as the chubby sidekick, Josh, on the other hand, piled on the pounds ’cos he was, in his own words, “sick of playing the good-looking guy”. (Producers, are you reading this?)

But he didn’t get to stay pudgy for long. Soon after ABTM 4 wrapped, the 27-year-old had to double down on his weight-loss regimen, shedding 14kg in one-and-a-half-months, to play ancient general Tiger in upcoming theatrical extravaganza Flying Through Time. In the good-triumphs-evil tale, Josh’s warrior time-travels into modern day to reclaim a mythical relic from the villainous Dark X. It’s a role that involves stunts, flips and wire work, which explains his need to get ripped and fit fast. And now, the actor, who went from fit to flab to fit again, hopes to be an inspiration to weight loss aspirants.

8 DAYS: Your upcoming theatre show Flying Through Time features acrobatics, gymnastics and martial arts. You went to South Korea to undergo training for the role.
JOSHUA TAN: Actually, before we went to Korea, we had a starter pack in Singapore where we learnt the basics of acrobatics and gymnastics. Obviously, that didn’t prepare us enough (laughs). ’Cos [the other cast members] are like world class athletes. They’re really, really good. What I can do is very finite. So I had to learn as much as possible within the limited time frame. There’s a lot of choreography, movements and dance steps to memorise. I have to learn basic gymnastics and expand my [martial arts] repertoire. It’s quite daunting, to be honest.

You mentioned that it took three lessons, six hours and a gazillion times falling on your face for you to finally do the back tuck.
(Laughs) (Sighs) Yeah. My personal trainer’s a b-boy. He actually did a lot of unorthodox things, like tie a T-shirt around my waist to help propel me [into the air]. I was like, “Are you sure a T-shirt can hold my weight?” (Laughs) Apparently, it does. But, doing a back flip was really tough. And I’ve a fear of heights. Although I don’t jump very high, but I’m in the air and there’s nothing to hold me up. It was actually a confidence issue. Once I mastered doing it on the padded area, we moved on to concrete. Doing it on concrete is when I knew I had to land. If I don’t land, things can go wrong very fast. I mean, obviously, I was assisted by my trainer at the start. But eventually, he made me do back flips by myself, which I did. And it was great. But I had a bit of a setback in Korea. On the first two days, I did back flips by myself. Then on the 3rd day, my trainer said that my back flip was a bit slanted so I had to adjust [my posture]. I was like okay. But when I jumped, I was so focused on how I should adjust that I forgot to flip, so I landed on my neck. Everyone was really scared ’cos people can suffer serious injuries from doing such stunts. Luckily, our area was padded. So I escaped unscathed. But ever since then, I’ve had a fear of doing back flips (laughs). I’ve been trying to get back into that. It was a mortifying experience I don’t want to go through again. But you’ve got to overcome your fears and move on.

You and your co-star, Melody Low, were in Korea to train for this show. What shenanigans did you guys get up to over there?
Wah! I’m thinking of what can be said (laughs). Okay, we stayed in a really rural area [in Korea] so there weren’t any laundromats in our area. After many days, we accumulated a lot of laundry. So we were looking for a laundry place. We finally found one. And we dumped ten days’ worth of clothing into the laundry machines. After dinner, we collected our clothing. But on our way back to the hotel, Melody said, “Eh, I’m missing a few bras.” So we had to retrace our steps all the way to where we came from to search for the missing bras, one by one. It was quite an interesting experience. How should I put it? I’ve never hunted for bras before (laughs).

You put on 20kg to become 88kg for your Ah Boys to Men 4 role. Why did the role require you to gain weight?
In February, we were having a gathering with Director Jack (Neo). And we discussed a bit about ABTM 4. Then, he was saying to Maxi [Lim], “Eh, Maxi, [in Mandarin] why are you so skinny ah?” ’Cos Maxi lost [17kg]. Then, Jack said that he preferred Maxi when he was fatter ’cos he was very cute then. But Maxi said that it was very tough for him to slim down so much, and he really didn’t want to be fat again. At that point in my career, I felt a bit typecast. I was kind of sick of playing the mummy’s boy, the standard boyfriend or the good-looking guy. So I said, “Eh, boss, what if I were to become fat?” He said he would think about it. A few days later, he told me, “Joshua, I want you to put on 30kg.” I was like, “Okay!” (Laughs) So I embarked on my journey to gain weight. It was really tough ’cos I’m a very active guy. I love to do sports, like Muay Thai, gym, running, soccer, everything. So to not do all these was very tough. But I took my time, and I gained 20kg in six months. I was still trying [to gain weight] when we were shooting but I think there’s a limit to how much I can blossom (laughs). Then, towards the end of filming ABTM 4, I went for the Flying Through Time audition. The director liked me. But I was over 80kg back then. So he said that I looked a bit chubby. I told him that if I got this role, I’ll work my ass off. I got it, and so, I worked my ass off. I went from 88kg to 74kg in about a month and a half. I hope that this inspires people. Like, you know what? I did it. I was fit to fat, and I’m back [to fit]. You don’t have to do it at the pace I did it, but it can be done.

After you put on weight, people would leave comments on your Instagram calling you “fat” or “chubby”, or liken your physique to a “dad bod” or “teddy bear”. Did your self-esteem take a hit?
Obviously. Mirrors were my biggest enemies. I hated to look in the mirror. Before that, I never understood how people with weight issues feel ’cos I had always been skinny or quite fit. I was never fat. So it gave me an insight into the emotional side of what it’s like to struggle with obesity and weight issues. And it was tough lah. Like, when people make comments that are true but also unnecessary. It took a toll on my self-esteem. To me, social media is a tool, but it still affects people. When people say mean things like, “Oh, you are fat as [expletive]” — pardon my French — it never used to affect me so much. But on days when I really felt crappy, and I saw those comments, I was like, “I wish you didn’t say that.” People should know that the things they say online carries the same weight as the things they say face-to-face. Even becoming the butt of all jokes among my own friends hurt. And I used to make those jokes, you know. But now that I’ve been on the receiving end, I understand how to be more sensitive to other people. I can understand and empathise with people who have issues with weight. It’s not easy.

How far away are you still from your goal weight?
When I started gaining weight, I was a bit on the skinny side. For this role, I play an ancient general. So obviously, I need to have some muscles. I think I’m quite near [to my ideal weight]. I’m pretty happy with how I look now. Obviously, I can look better. But I’m not far from where I want to be.


Flying Through Time runs from Dec 9 to Jan 21 at the Resorts World Theatre. Tix from Sistic. 

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