There was a time not so long ago when Chen Yixi and Chen Yixin, the children of celebrity couple Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun, declared that they probably would never follow in the footsteps of their famous parents to become actors.
Fast forward about two years, and that statement has turned into a classic example of speaking too soon: not only did they go on to appear in several Channel 8 dramas, Yixi quit his design job to pursue a full-time showbiz career, and two weekends ago, both siblings jetted off to Shanghai, China with fellow second-gen star Tay Ying to undergo a rigorous selection process for an entertainment training course at a school called Motown.
When we caught up with Yixi at last week’s launch of Lights. Camera. Singapore, the 27-year-old Mediacorp artiste admitted that if not for Edmund’s insistence, he wouldn’t have even tagged along for the trip, which was organised by celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee for Yixin and Tay Ying (the girls are signed on with Addy’s 3X Media Production).
“I happened to have a free period, and my dad has always told me that as an actor, you should keep finding ways to improve yourself, so when this opportunity came up he was like, ‘Go! And you might as well take care of your sister,’” he chuckled. “He also told me that if I didn’t go for this one, he would’ve found something else for me anyway.”
You might be wondering, why the sudden persistence?
Well, according to Yixi, his dad caught a couple of his dramas and, “He was like, ‘You need to improve’. (Laughs)” Now, this doesn’t mean that Edmund thought his son was doing a bad job – he just believes one can always be better. “He would point out certain scenes and make comments like, ‘Oh, you can go slower’ or ‘Feel the weight of the line you’re delivering’.”
“Besides,” Yixi continued. “As an actor that’s just starting out, it would be dumb to not take any opportunity to learn that comes along - I should embrace and cherish it, rather than deny it.”
And so, despite being fearful and stressed out, Yixi found himself reciting a cheem (complicated) sounding, poem-like phrase from the script of a Chinese period drama in front of a panel. The audition also required participants to do a little “freestyle”, so Yixi broke into a “random hosting segment” that garnered praise from the judges.
“They were like, ‘Oh, you can host!’ and I was like, ‘I can…?’ (Laughs) I guess I learned something new about myself that I didn’t know before - that I can host in Chinese very well!”
Other things Yixi picked up during those few minutes were how to speak and carry himself properly, and how to be “clean” in his acting.
“Sometimes, because you’re nervous or rushing, you might do too many unnecessary little actions [that look cluttered on camera], so you should be more straightforward and ‘clean’,” he explained. “It’s actually something my parents have told me before but it didn’t sink in, but when you hear that in an acting school, it hits you in a different way.”
While he had two weeks to prepare for the trip and three days to memorise the excerpt for the audition, something that caught him - and the other two girls - entirely off guard was a date with the Chinese media and their famously enormous mic flags, as some of you may have seen on Instagram.
“We thought we were only going there to audition, and suddenly there was an interview! What was that about!?” he exclaimed. “None of us knew that was going to happen - did you see our faces in the photos? (Laughs)”
Fortunately for him, Yixi reported that he is much more confident in his Mandarin compared to the past, so he was able to handle the session without a hitch. As for what the reporters there were so eager to find out about, we learned that their interest mainly revolved around Singaporeans going over to China to develop their craft and career.
Another reason Yixi wanted to take this major step out of his comfort zone was so he could prove - both to others and himself - that he is 100 percent serious about acting and not just “playing around”, as some have asked or at least insinuated to him (likely because of his more smooth-sailing foray into the industry as the offspring of respected veterans).
“As with all forms of art, there’s always discipline and commitment involved, and some people don’t think I’m as committed to [acting] as I am, so this is how I want to show my dedication.”
Take that, doubters!