We’re with Zhu Houren and his son Joel Choo at the wardrobe unit in Mediacorp where the actors are trying out different looks for their roles in new Ch 8 drama A Million Dollar Dream, which also stars Zoe Tay and Chen Hanwei.
Houren, 62, who plays two characters - a homeless man and his twin - in the drama, is now discussing something with the show's executive producer. His 23-year-old son, who plays a happy-go-lucky polytechnic student, seems a tad nervous when he notices us but his nerves disappear when his dad approaches him.
During our chat with the father-son duo, Joel looks at his dad whenever he's stumped by a question. And when he deliberates over an answer for too long, Houren would jump in and reply on his behalf.
When we ask Joel about his role, the newbie actor, who's now signed to Mediacorp as a full-time artiste, starts describing it in fluent English. Houren quickly interrupts, saying: “Speak in Mandarin." He then turns to us and says: “His Mandarin is not good. This is his first Ch 8 drama so I want him to practice whenever he can. I even sent him for Mandarin lessons (smiles).”
Adds Joel: “My dad helps me with my work when we're home. We’d analyse the script together and I’d go over my dialogue with him. Practicing with him helps me a lot.”
“I always tell him that he only has one dad," says Houren. "But he has many different teachers on set, like Hanwei or Zoe. He should also learn from them and not just me. If not, he will end up living in my shadow. I think he feels reassured that I'm on set with him. However, I told him not to come running to me every time he needs help. I don’t want him to become a daddy’s boy! (Chuckles)”
8 DAYS: This is the first time the two of you are acting in a drama together. Joel, do you think you got this role 'cos your dad is in it?
JOEL CHOO: I don’t think so. I got offered the role separately from my dad.
ZHU HOUREN: The funny thing is that we don't have any scenes together. We only knew we were in the same show later on. But I guess the producers put us together ‘cos there’s a talking point. It will create interest in the drama too (laughs).
Joel, are you prepared for the inevitable comparisons viewers will make between you and your dad?
Joel: (pauses for a long while) I try not to think too much. Most importantly, I’ll do my job professionally. If there's any criticism, I'll learn to take them lightly and not let them affect me.
Houren: I always tell him that he shouldn’t feel any pressure just because he is my son. I want him to have his own opinion and his own style of acting. That’s why I’m quite against the term “Second generation stars”. I feel that people would form their own prejudice the moment they hear such a term. If you notice, I’ve kept both my sons out of the limelight until very recently when Joel decided to enter showbiz. I always tell him that he should find his own path and not be known as Zhu Houren's son.
Enough talk about work. What do the two of you do together during your free time?
Houren: Oh, I’ve been hitting the gym together with him! Can’t you tell that I look a lot fitter these days? (Laughs) My son works out a lot and goes to the gym almost every day. I was motivated by him and decided to go with him. Sometimes, I’d ask him how to use a certain machine. In fact, we went to the gym in Mediacorp this morning!
Joel: I think it’s great that my dad is interested in working out with me. Sometimes, I get lazy and think of skipping gym, but he’d be ready to go and that motivates me.
So growing up with a dad in showbiz, did you have a crush on any actresses?
Joel: Hmm, I don’t think so.
Houren: Didn’t you tell me about Carrie Wong before? (Laughs)
Joel: No! I mean, I did tell my dad that I think Carrie can act very well. I saw her in The Journey: Tumultuous Times and I was quite impressed with how natural she was as a newcomer. Don’t say that she’s my crush though, that makes things a little awkward, especially if I have to act with her in the future (laughs).
Houren: Nah, it’s okay. Don’t worry about such things. Joel talked about her in front of me before and I told him that he can learn to be like her. Her acting is very convincing, and her pronunciation is very clear. She has very good pacing and rhythm when she acts. It’s rare to see a newcomer as talented as she is.
Many young adults use Tinder these days to find love. What are both your thoughts on it?
Joel: I actually used it before (laughs). This was when my [alternative rock] band [Maxime] just released new music and I used Tinder to promote my songs. I put the link to my songs on my profile but I don’t think it helped. I eventually stopped using it ‘cos I think it’s too superficial as everything is based on looks.
Houren: I don’t think I’d have used it even if I were single. Back in my day, many of my friends had pen pals but I didn’t. I believe in making friends face-to-face as you get to know the person better and in a more genuine manner. But if you're talking about using social media to promote your work or music, I think that’s fine (laughs).
So is Joel seeing anyone now?
Houren: (Laughs and looks at Joel)
Joel: I think I'll focus on my career for now. I don’t really talk to my dad about personal stuff though. I’d rather confide in my friends (laughs).
Houren: Yah, he doesn’t tell me much. We talk a lot about our common interests. For example, we’d tell each other when we watch a movie we like, or hear a song that’s nice. But when it comes to his personal life, I give him a lot of space. At home, I seldom bother him when he’s in his room. I think he doesn’t talk to me about his love life 'cos he’s scared that I'll tell his mom and his mom will nag! (chuckles)
A Million Dollar Dream airs on Ch 8 in April 2018.
PHOTO BY EALBERT HO