Photos: Camelia Ting
Video: Goh Wen Kai
Thomas Ong declared his intentions to put acting on the back burner (again) on social media in January after filming what might possibly be his final Channel 8 drama, 29th February.
In an interview with Toggle at the imaging session of 29th February yesterday, the actor explained that he wants to “take a break” to pursue other interests, but declined to elaborate further. He also shared that he will not be renewing his Mediacorp contract which expired last month.
The local actor assured that his decision to stop acting is not set in stone and added he has no intentions to leave the industry forever. “Although I’m thinking about [stopping acting] right now, but there might be changes in future,” he said.
This is not Thomas’ first time going on hiatus – the 90s TV heartthrob once disappeared from the small screen to set up a business in the early noughties. He eventually returned to acting but was not as active in the industry as during his salad days.
Another reason behind Thomas’ decision to step away from acting, we learned, lies in his preference to take on roles that are close to his actual age. Which was why the 49-year-old thought it was befitting that his ‘last drama’ would be one where he plays a 50-year-old with two grown kids (played by Hong Ling and Aloysius Pang).
“I don’t think there will be many shows centered on male protagonists who are 50 years old. If I have to wait for more than 10 years before I land such roles, I think I’m pretty much on my way to retirement,” explained Thomas, who will be paired up with Taiwanese actress Elsie Yeh in the drama. “That is why I think this might be my last drama for the time being.”
Tired of playing “younger” characters on TV, it was tough for him both “emotionally and physically” to play characters in their 30s. “I don’t exercise regularly and I tend to eat a lot. I even took on roles that required me to strip previously, I can’t do it anymore lah,” he half-jokingly quipped.
In fact, Thomas’ refusal to go nude for ‘artistic expression’ was why he did not make his Taiwanese movie debut (more on that on the next page).
Besides the age of the character, Thomas shared that challenges of the role and a well-written drama script are two other factors that might sway his decision to act again.
“If the character is someone I have never tried before, and if I really like it, I’m open to taking up supporting roles,” Thomas shared. “However, that also depends on how well-written the entire drama is. People will not want to watch the drama if it was poorly written, so even if one character is good, there’s no point.”
WATCH: Thomas explains why '29th February' may be his last drama
(Continued on next page: Will Thomas' income be able to sustain his charity work in Cambodia?)
Why his Taiwanese movie debut did not happen
Thomas was previously reported to be in talks to film a Taiwanese movie alongside Indonesian-born Hong Kong actress Margaret Wang, but he revealed that plans fell through when he refused to bare it all according to the director’s wishes.
“Margaret told me that she will not take up the role if she needs to go nude in front of the camera. As she was the one who roped me in for the role, I decided to pull out of the movie as well,” he explained. “The director was really insistent on getting the nude shots he wanted for artistic expression, so there wasn’t much room for discussion.”
However, things would have worked out differently if Margaret was keen to take up the role.
“If Margaret, as a woman, was up for the task, I would have agreed to do it too,” Thomas shared, “But since she decided that she didn’t want to do it, we gave up on the idea completely.”
Thomas’ ongoing charity work in Cambodia
The veteran actor spends approximately S$30,000 a year for 600 students to continue having an education. In his previous media interviews, Thomas shared he was financially strapped from funding two Cambodian schools, and that acting “helps pay the bills”.
So will his decision to put acting on hold affect the finances needed to support his charity work? “I managed to raise enough funds to keep the schools running for two to three years and everything is going well over there,” he replied.
The actor shared that his friends are helping to “manage the finances” too and take turns to go to Cambodia to “check that the money is used for appropriate means, so there is no need for me to go over there all the time.”
However, he refused to share the exact amount he set aside for his charity work.
“Back when I was raising funds for this project, there were many negative comments directed towards me, claiming that I overestimated my own capabilities to help others,” he explained, “so let’s not talk about the exact amount used to help the schools, because what matters most is that the children can receive more help.”
On top of his current projects, the actor expressed his hopes to continue giving back to society. “This is something I’ve seriously considered. They can be orphanages, old folks’ homes or schools. I’m not limiting it, and will leave everything to fate.”
29th February debuts September 3, 9pm on Channel 8.
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