He’s best remembered for his villainous turn as Robert Zhang in The Little Nyonya a decade ago, where he abused and raped Yuzhu (played by Joanne Peh).
And for better or worse, Zen Chong has often since played antagonists in Ch 8 dramas, with his roles ranging from a drug syndicate member to a murderer.
However, the 39-year-old actor, who married his childhood sweetheart Geline See, 36, in 2011, and now has two children aged three and two, hopes this can change.
“I want to change my onscreen image,” Zen tells us over the phone. “My kids are at that age where they are starting to watch TV and I don’t want them to see their dad as a bad person (laughs).”
He adds: “In fact, I’ve rejected a few roles in the past year as they are all villain roles. I’ll only take on ‘bad guy’ roles if they have some redeeming factor or depth. I won’t accept those that are one-dimensional and purely evil.”
These days, Zen’s roles include that of Rebecca Lim’s childhood sweetheart in dialect drama Eat Already 4, and he plays a Cassanova in upcoming Ch 8 show Say Cheese, also starring Joanne Peh and Romeo Tan.
The Malaysia-born actor, who became a Singapore citizen last year, laughs and says: “Well, I may play a flirtatious man in Say Cheese, but I’m kind-hearted and go all out to help my sister with her broken marriage in that show. So I guess you can say it’s a step in the right direction!”
8 DAYS: Most people remember you as Robert Zhang from The Little Nyonya. Do people still call you that on the streets?
ZEN CHONG: Yes, all the time! I’m surprised that after 10 years, people still remember Robert Zhang. Recently, people have also been calling me Jian Guo (he plays rich lawyer Jian Guo in Ch 8 drama 118 2). The show has been very well-received in Malaysia so I’ve been recognised quite a bit there too.
Besides acting, you also work as a property agent.
Yes, I’ve been a property agent for the past six years. My job as an actor helped me in my property career as people knew who I was and trusted that I wouldn’t have any tricks up my sleeves. They were more open to having me as their agent. However, I’ve recently left my job and am planning to enter the finance industry as a relationship manager.
Why the switch?
Singapore is a finance hub and I believe that the finance industry will grow by a lot in the next two decades. I know many high net worth clients, and I think there’s a lot more potential for me to grow in this new career. I'll probably take on fewer acting gigs as I'd be a lot busier.
You have a three-year-old daughter, Aryssa, and two-year-old son, Eytan. What are the challenges of being a working dad?
I work from home a lot as a property agent so I’m in charge of taking care of the kids while my wife goes to work. Of course, we have a helper who will help when I’m out for property viewings. But it’s almost impossible to get any work done when I’m home! My kids would always barge into the room and climb on my desk or draw on my documents. Most of the time, I end up only doing work at night after they go to bed. It’s very tiring! (Guffaws)
It can be exhausting but I’m sure it’s also very rewarding being a parent.
Of course! Sometimes, my daughter would feed me food during meals, or tell me things like: “Papa, I love you leh.” It’s the kids’ way of showing love. It may be a small gesture but it warms my heart like nothing else (smiles).