Lim Shi-An, Whose Parents Are Tan Kheng Hua And Lim Yu-Beng, Used To Visit The Phua Chu Kang Set When She Was In Kindergarten  - 8 Days Skip to main content

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Lim Shi-An, Whose Parents Are Tan Kheng Hua And Lim Yu-Beng, Used To Visit The Phua Chu Kang Set When She Was In Kindergarten 

The Third Rail actress, who’s also a graphic designer, is grateful she has parents with whom she shares a passion for acting. 
Lim Shi-An, Whose Parents Are Tan Kheng Hua And Lim Yu-Beng, Used To Visit The Phua Chu Kang Set When She Was In Kindergarten 

In the Mediacorp thriller series Third Rail, newcomer Lim Shi-An plays Yen, a dejected schoolgirl whose estranged father (played by Benjamin Heng) is among the many passengers taken hostage onboard a hijacked MRT train.  

 “I’m quite different from the character in real life,” says Shi-An, who’s the daughter of Singaporean actors Tan Kheng Hua and Lim Yu-Beng. “I’m a bit older than Yen — she’s 16 and I’m 24 in real life.” 

She continues, “But I think it’s quite easy to relate back to your teenage days, which doesn’t feel that long ago, but the emo part, dealing with the emotional conflicts, was harder.” 

Even though Yen is a supporting (but pivotal) character, it’s so far the highest profile — and most challenging — role for Shi-An, who majored in Theatre Studies and Business at the National University of Singapore and graduated in December 2021. Other roles include Sephia  —  one of the Project Premiere titles — a post-apocalyptic drama where she starred alongside her father. (It was her performance there that caught the Third Rail producers’ attention.)

“There was quite a lot of crying involved,” the actress and graphic designer adds. “Nothing can really prepare you for that other than trying to get in the zone before filming those scenes.”  

On the bright side, unlike her cast-mates who were playing the captives, Shi-An was spared the agony of shooting in sauna-like conditions in two train cabins at the Changi Exhibition Centre. (Even though she didn’t play a hostage, she did watch the Samuel L Jackson-creature feature Snakes on a Plane to “understand what it’s like to be trapped in a vessel”.)

Here, Shi-An tells us over a video call about meeting Rebecca Lim on the set of Third Rail, and the influence her parents (who divorced in 2017) have on her budding acting career.  

Let it all out: Lim Shi-An in an emotionally-charged scene in Third Rail where her character realises that her father (Benjamin Heng) is held hostage in a hijacked train. 

8 DAYS: Yen cried a lot on the show. Did your parents share their secrets on the fastest way to cry on screen? 

LIM SHI-AN Oh no, absolutely not (laughs). I think we all agree that these emotions have to be organic and everyone has different methods of reaching into that vulnerable side of themselves. Most of the time I suppose it is about letting the script do its work and immersing yourself in your character’s experience. But it’s not easy, and I have to admit I haven’t always been successful in letting the tears flow. It’s a real challenge.  

How do your parents’ acting styles inform your approach to a role? 

Honestly, they do not give me that much advice. I guess they're letting me carve my own path at the momentBut they did tell me, for [Third Rail] and other emotionally-charged roles, just be vulnerable with my emotions. I do know that they are very different. My mum doesn’t warm up at all. She’ll go straight into her character. She’ll study her script, maybe that’s about it. All her emotions are quite spontaneous. My father’s a bit more preparatory. He’ll probably take a bit more time to study the script and then see what kind of expressions might be necessary for the moment. And I guess my approach is a mix of both (laughs). 

My hero: Shi-An is a big fan of Third Rail star Rebecca Lim. "I am constantly in awe of how she brings such honesty and vulnerability to her roles," she says. 

What do your friends usually ask about your parents? 

The most common question I get asked is about “what it’s like” having actor parents. It’s a hard question to answer because they are just normal parents to me — the only ones I’ve ever known! But actor-ness aside, I am just grateful to have parents that I share a passion with, and who are the most loving and supportive people ever.  

Growing up, when did you realise that your parents are actors? 

Oh, quite young. I used to visit the Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd set all the time. So I must have been like three or four, I’m not even kidding. I think it was when I was in kindergarten (laughs). 

What were your first impressions of a TV set? 

Like, cool, I guess I. I always really love what my parents do and I think it’s an interesting job. I love theatre, I love acting and I love films, so I enjoy really the technical aspect of their work as well. And it’s always really fascinated me and I love to talk to them about their jobs. And right now, all three of us have shows that just came out (ed: Kheng Hua is on WarnerTV’s Kung Fu; Yu-Beng is on Netflix’s Mr MidnightBeware the Monsters). So we’re all like watching each other's shows and giving each other feedback (laughs). 

Back in the day: Pierre Png and Tan Kheng Hua in a scene from Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd. As a kindergartener who frequently visited the set, was Shi-An ever baffled that Pierre was playing her mother's husband? "I was not confused but quite amused later on in life when I discovered he was younger than my mum by quite a few years (ed: 10)," she says. 

Last month Kheng Hua took to Instagram to gush about your life plans and how you aren’t blindly following “Singapore paradigms” after graduation. It was an epic, emotional post waiting to be adapted into a movie someday. Have you ever said to her, “Ma, can you please tone it down a bit?” 

Never, never. I’m very grateful… I’m very aware that it’s rare to have this kind of relationship with your mother and I really don’t take it for granted, especially since I only see her like three times a year because she’s been away for like, the last four years. So yeah, I mean, we are quite different. I’m definitely a bit more introverted and I do not post anything remotely related to my emotions on Instagram. But I am, of course, as thoroughly moved as everyone else when I read it. And I'm glad that she feels so strongly that she wants to share it with other people.  

 

 

But the posts didn’t go down well with some people… 

It’s quite funny because one of the recent Instagram posts, um, got a bit misconstrued by some internet folks. I think she posted about how I’m not working right now, which I think some people thought to mean that she supports me living off her money, which is totally not the case — I am working. Other than my acting stuff, I actually work with an ad agency. I guess that’s the danger of posting your private life on social media. It can be misconstrued sometimes. But that’s just the nature of social media. She felt so bad when she read all those hate comments. But then I reminded her, “I love the post and these are just some trolls who don’t really understand”.  

In a post-script, she wanted everyone to check out your LinkedIn account. Which gives you more creative freedom, acting or designing?  

That's a really good question. I guess they do in the sense that they both exercise my creative brain and allow me to express myself in an artistic form. But other than that, no. Honestly, they’re quite separate. Especially since my design job right now is extremely technical and actually doesn’t require that much creativity other than software skills, like Adobe. But I think I need that contrast between the two fields. Because do you feel that creativity can burn you out sometimes (laughs)? 

Totally. When I need a break from writing, I watch ASMR clips and travel videos on YouTube, something that I don’t have to think too much about. 

So, that’s why I think it’s good that I have one job that is purely technical and my acting stuff provides me with a platform for creativity. So I think it’s a good balance. 

Does behind-the-scenes work interest you?  

Yeah, absolutely. Just recently I helped my friends with a theatre production, doing some production designs for them. I think I’m like definitely nowhere near as extrovert as my parents are. So that is like the struggle I guess when it comes to acting. Because I have to push myself a little bit beyond what’s comfortable for me. So behind-the-scenes work definitely comes more naturally to me. 

When you go for auditions, do you feel that you’re there because of your parents? 

Honestly, it might play a part. I don’t deny that. As actors whose parents are in the industry, you do get a bit more visibility, which I feel very grateful for. It is definitely a helpful stepping stone. By the same token, if I’m given this advantage, then I better make full use of it; I better work hard to make sure that my acting is good and that I truly deserve it. I think if we are truly terrible, nobody would give us a job (laughs). I used to feel very guilty about it; I don’t want people to think that I get jobs just because of my parents. But I think rather than feeling guilty about something that I absolutely can’t control, I might as well just make sure that I’m using it to my full advantage. I like getting feedback about my acting because I want to know if I am truly deserving of the part.  

Who are your acting heroes? 

I am a big fan of Rebecca Lim, who is also in Third Rail. I am constantly in awe of how she brings such honesty and vulnerability to her roles.  And, of course, my own parents are my acting heroes as well. I may be a little biased but I love watching their work and I know how much effort and time they put into their craft.

What’s your dream role? 

That is a hard one! There are so many roles that I would love to have and am dying to play. I recently watched CODA and Emilia Jones’ character is one that I would have loved to take on. She plays the only hearing member of her deaf family. It’s an amazing movie, please watch it! Also, the role required her to sing (laughs). I would love to sing on screen one day.   

When I spoke to Kheng Hua early this year,  I told her I had trouble wrapping my head around her guest appearance on this insane comedy show called Medical Police, where she played a prison gang leader.   

I thought that was really striking. Oh, also her cameo on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s quite funny as well. Just yesterday one of my friends bought up Medical Police. She rarely gets to act in comedic things. She’s always the serious mother (laughs). In real life, she’s extremely hilarious — she can get drunk without alcohol! So I don’t understand why she doesn’t get more comedic roles.  

What’s your favourite show of your father’s? Have you seen him in the cop drama Triple Nine?  

(Laughs) I actually haven’t seen Triple Nine, but I really should because it’s now on Netflix!  

Third Rail is now streaming on meWATCH, with two episodes every Monday. It’s also on Channel 5, Mon, 9.30pm as well as Mediacorp’s YouTube Drama Channel. Sephia is also available on meWATCH. Watch the first episode of Third Rail here: 

Photo: Tan Kheng Hua/Instagram

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