You know that the weight of Singapore's pride is resting on Oon Shu An's shoulders this December, but did you know that she is the only Singaporean actress to be nominated at the inaugural Asian Academy Creative Awards (AAAs) loves ASMR? Well, neither did we!
We speak to the Singaporean supernova and ask her about the hard hitting things that make her tick — like, what her guilty pleasures are and what she's wearing for the AAAs (spoiler: she hasn't decided! Eek!)
Did you always want to be an actor? What drew you to acting?
I never knew I wanted to be a full-time actor! My parents sent me to speech and drama classes because I was really shy, and they wanted to bring me out of my shell. I kept at it through school and youth theatre groups, and the thing I love most about it is the sense of community and camaraderie. Everyone coming together to create this world.
What's your earliest memory of performance (as an actor, or even spectator)?
Hmmmm! I think this veers off a bit but my earliest memories were of vintage cartoon animations. They just transported you to this beautiful, magical world. I used to watch those ON. REPEAT.
What inspires you?
The magic of human connection.
Aside from performing, what else are you passionate about?
Finding ways to work with people I love!
What do you like to do when you have no work commitments?
Spend time with my family and friends or sleep!! Hahaha.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Watching ASMR eating videos! Hahaha.
They say that you are as good as your last lobster meal, so let me ask you this, how's your ASMR career coming along?
Hahaha! Oh my god. It is so much fun, but I think I should stick to my day job.
Describe your personal style.
Hahahaha! It really depends on my mood. I've been so used to taking on different characters' styles! Generally simple and quite laidback.
Describe your biggest fashion risk?
Actually, I don't think I am that big of a risk taker.
Favourite article of fashion — clothing, accessory, and why?
I don't know what my favourite article of clothing is really. Well, I really love t-shirts, they're simple, they're easy to throw on and you don't have to think so much with them. And if it were really up to me, I'd wear the same thing everyday. Different versions of the same things, because you don't have to think so much.
How do you usually prepare for a role?
Read the script a lot! And figure out why people are saying what they are saying. Understanding the world they live in and where they come from.
Which actor/actress do you look up to?
Benedict Cumberbatch and Michelle Yeoh!
Stage or screen?
For me, I love both stage and screen. It just really depends on the people I am working with. It really does. It depends on the environment, it depends on the script, it depends on how everyone is working together. To me, that's why I feel in love with acting in the first place — I love the rehearsal room so much. I love being in there — working out scripts, and discussing how to make a scene happen. That camaraderie, like how we'd go for supper or drinks after a long day's work...
As a performer, do you see a difference between stage and screen? Do you prefer breaking the fourth wall with a live audience, or through a camera?
I think there definitely is a difference. For theatre, once you step on stage, the show is going on — no matter what happens. I like how there is a through line when it comes to a theatre production. Like how even if you jump through the years, or back and forth in time, there is a sense of continuity from the beginning to the end of the performance.
Whereas for a film, everything is not in chronological order, because of logistics, scenes just aren't filmed that way, we could film the ending first and then the beginning…and everything is cut and pieced together in the editing room.
And as an actor, there is this sense of satisfaction you get from a theatre performance after you've pushed through two hours. Whereas for a film, you have to constantly ask yourself what you were thinking in the scene before – to get back into that state of mind, and how does it link to how I am about to do this scene; how it would make sense to the overall story, or the next episode…
You mentioned to me before that musicals aren't necessarily your thing, why's that?
I don't really do musicals because my singing voice is at best, only passable. Also, I once has a really traumatic experience singing, and after that, I was like okay no more musicals. Ever. Hahaha!
Let's talk about the role that you are nominated for in How to be a Good Girl. How did you prepare for Frances Lee? I'd imagine it to be mentally exhausting to properly portray a convict, and subsequently an ex-con…
I think for me, one of the main things that I was trying to think about is the idea of redemption — redemption from the people around you, from society, from yourself, and the different levels of redemption. And whether or not you are able to forgive yourself and (if) other people don't, how do you cope with that. And that was what I was processing for Frances — her adjusting to civilian life.
I think it gets extremely exhausting to play a role like that because she really gets buffeted around quite a bit. It's tiring because in some ways, it's so close to your everyday life and I guess you could use the term micro-aggressions? And micro-aggressions are difficult to deal with because you can't just point it out and say, hey that's not cool. And she faces so many of them, yet she has to be cool about it and power through. And that's what makes it so tiring, because it feels like you're constantly being attacked, which is so incredibly draining for anybody.
When the director yelled cut, how did you decompress from this role?
Actually, I decompress really fast. Haha. I remember watching Friends on Netflix and silly clips on YouTube. And I don't ever watch sad shows, because I get very affected and it takes me weeks to get over it.
And only because I love period dramas here, let's talk about Marco Polo, how long were you in hair and makeup for?
For Marco Polo, it took us only about one to two hours to get ready. Quite fast.
How long did it take for you to learn how to dance like Jing Fei (read: how many outtakes)?
Haha! For the role of Jing Fei, I had to learn the sword dance, and the fan dance. Which took me about three months to really nail it to a T. And I don't think I made any mistake actually! Hahaha! I totally aced the choreography. I mean there are takes that are not as good, but no outtakes. Haha! And you know the biggest shocker is that I actually had a dance double, and they didn't end up using any of her takes!
What is the one thing you will never compromise about yourself for a role?
I would never compromise my integrity. I think that keeps me sane. And nudity is something that I feel, right now, is a no for me. Well, I don't know if it will ever change, but I think no. Haha!
Are you excited about the Asian Academy Creative Awards?
Do you know what you're going to wear?
No I don't! I'm actually stressing about that right now, because we're about a few weeks away, and I haven't got anything to wear!
Do you know how you're going to prepare yourself for the awards at least?
I think I am going to try and listen to the people around me and not stress too much and try to enjoy the moment as much as I can.
Let's put ourselves 24 hours before the awards, mentally how do you see yourself?
24 hours! God, I'm starting to palpitate! Haha! Mentally, I'd be asking if my clothes are ready, hair and makeup's all set to go – what looks we're doing, and I would probably do a facial, the day before. And try to breathe. Haha.
Tell us something others may not know about you.
I'm super messy. Like super, super messy.