The media is huddled at the pantry section on Level 12 in Mediacorp Campus awaiting the arrival of Rui En and Shaun Chen. The stars are taking a coffee-making class to prep for a scene in their new Ch 8 drama Hello From The Other Side. Shaun arrives promptly at 3pm, while Rui En strolls in with her manager five minutes later.
The agenda for the day: Learning to make latte art. Helming the course are two young, boyish-looking baristas from mobile coffee catering Nineteen95 the Espresso Bar, who kick-start their hour-long class by demonstrating the art of pouring latte to achieve the "very basic" heart shape.
It’s Rui En’s and Shaun’s first time trying their hand at pouring latte art. But it’s not all work and no play today. Shaun, ever the joker, pretends to pour the espresso in the same fashion that a Teh Tarik Uncle would pull tea. It’s not just us who’s amused. Rui En, standing next to him, bursts into loud chuckles. It seems that one year away from the limelight (not counting her appearances on fellow actors' social media feeds during the finals of the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens) has done the actress good - she has never looked happier or more relaxed.
Latte art which, according to one of the baristas, typically takes four to six years to master. The stars, on the other hand, have just over an hour to nail their task. Someone jokes that actors should be able to achieve the feat in six minutes, to which Rui En reacts with a look of horror on her face. It’s clear the actress is feeling the heat — and pressure. It’s also clear that the actress is not, how do we put this nicely, barista material. For one, if confidence is half the battle won, then Rui En is lagging far behind. Case in point: One of the baristas holds on to Rui En’s hand as she nervously pours steamed milk from pitcher to cup. The moment he releases his grip, Rui En plunges into panic mode, crying out, “Huh? You let go, then now, I’d have to do it myself!”
Looking at how the professional baristas pour latte art makes it look like a walk in the park. A little tip of the pitcher, a wiggle of the wrist — no sweat, right? Well, as we learn from Rui En and Shaun’s numerous (failed) attempts over the hour-long session, making your coffee a work of art is a latte hard work. Half a dozen cups of Joe later, and a heart is still nowhere in sight. Okay, Shaun did create a teeny weeny heart shape but it was so small that it didn't really count. Instead, their foamy works of art can pass off, with a healthy dose of imagination, as either peaches or balloons, to, um, “a small butt”. Which was what Shaun called one of his attempts.
Take this cute and hilarious exchange between Rui En and a camerawoman on her second attempt at pouring latte art:
Rui En: (Showing off her latte art) Okay, this one got a bit of improvement lah. At least, this one has a shape. What do you guys think this looks like?
Camerawoman: It looks like a flower.
Rui En: (Shocked) Huh?! You can see a flower? Your imagination is quite good!
Shaun: It does look like a flower — this is the stalk, and this is the flower.
Rui En: Oh, from this angle ah? Okay lah, it looks like a tulip — my own version of a tulip. Okay, got improvement ah. Just give me roughly six more years [then I’d get it right].
Rui En’s wicked sense of humour will come to good use when she plays a money-minded property agent who gets enlisted by the God of Death (played by Chen Hanwei) to be a grim reaper in supernatural comedy Hello From The Other Side, essentially Ch 8’s version of popular K-drama Goblin. Shaun plays her fellow soul catcher-in-crime and love interest. Hand-in-hand, the duo are tasked to complete several missions in the human world by capturing souls to hell for judgment. But banish all thoughts of the traditional Chinese courts of hell. You will get to see a hipper, cooler version of purgatory decked out with modern-day amenities like a café manned by Ann Kok, who plays the reincarnate of Granny Meng who helps the deceased forget their memories in the afterlife. Rui En and Shaun Chen, as you would’ve guessed by now, play her baristas.
8 DAYS: How did you find the experience of pouring latte art?
RUI EN: It’s actually my first time trying it. And like with all things, it’s a lot harder than it looks! (Laughs) When you go to a café and you see latte art, you think, “Oh, that must be easy to do! It must be done with toothpicks or something.” (Laughs) But it’s not easy.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you think you fared at today’s class?
Minus-one. (Guffaws) I’m really, really bad with hands-on stuff. When I was in school, I always failed my Home Economics. (Laughs)
Will you continue to practise pouring latte art at home?
Well, I’m a big coffee drinker. But I don’t need my coffee to look good. (Laughs)
Do you drink coffee everyday?
It’s a must for me to drink coffee in the morning. I mostly drink it black. I don’t feel like myself if I haven’t had my morning coffee. (Laughs)
How do you feel about playing a grim reaper in Hello From The Other Side?
When I first heard about the concept, I thought it was really, really interesting. I’ve never done a fantasy drama like that. It’s hilarious lah. Now I’m like doing my homework by reading the script at home, and I’d be laughing out loud when I read certain things. It’s a very interesting take on what people think the Chinese version of Hell is supposed to be like. There will be a lot of surprises and laugh-out-loud moments.
This is your first Ch 8 drama since Have a Little Faith last July. So what have you been doing during your long break?
I’ve just been living a very simple life. (Smiles) I rest well, I go to Muay Thai training, and I do things that I weren’t really able to do when I was working non-stop on one drama after another. I just felt like I needed to slow down and simplify my life — and that was what I did. So it’s a very simple, peaceful existence. It sounds very boring — and it is! But that was really, really what I wanted to do. I was training, reading and watching all kinds of things — nothing exciting or earth-shattering. But that was the point for me. I needed to slow down.
Speaking of Muay Thai, you got your Muay Thai Boran Certification recently. How did you become interested in the sports?
I’ve always been interested in it. It’s the first martial arts sports that I’m learning. I’ve done action roles before. And I’ve always known that one day, I want to learn martial arts. I think ’cos I tried it in a one-off kind of training session for a role. And I quite liked it. So it was something that I’ve always wanted to do but I never had the time to. When you’re filming one show after the other, you don’t have time to do such things. So during my break, I realised that I shouldn't procrastinate anymore and just went to do it.
So do you feel different now that you’re back?
Yeah, quite different. First of all, I’m really well-rested. I guess some time away from being an artiste has taught me new things about my job and my life. And I think the biggest change is that I’m able to get over a lot of things more easily.