Teaching basketball players to act

Teaching basketball players to act
Actor-turned-director Tay Ping Hui (in shirt) fielded a team of newbie actors in Meeting The Giant, most of whom are taller than him.

SINGAPORE - For popular home-grown actor Tay Ping Hui, it is one of the few times he is dwarfed. Standing beside the cast of his feature film directorial debut Meeting The Giant at a press event recently, the 1.86m-tall star looks at least half a head shorter than them.

That is what happens when you insist on casting a group of real-life top basketball players, the 43-year-old says with a smile.

"For the first time in my life, I have to keep looking up to talk to these guys.

My whole life, I've been looking down on people - literally," he says with a laugh about his actors who are 1.9m to 2m tall.

Meeting The Giant, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, centres on a group of basketball players from China who are brought into Singapore to help raise the standards of the team here. Away from home, the talent imports face various challenges and clashes of culture when they train with local players.

The film stars three guys who play for the Singapore Slingers, Singapore's professional basketball team that competes in the ASEAN Basketball League: Ng Han Bin, Lim Sheng Yu and Delvin Goh. Most of the other cast members in the film are also skilled basketball players who play for their school teams.

For Tay, having a bunch of genuine athletes in his film was important as he wanted the basketball scenes to look and feel authentic, he says.

"I could have cast real actors and have them undergo basketball training, but it just wouldn't look realistic when they play on screen.

"I was always clear that I wanted to have the basketball scenes as real and convincing as possible, so that's why I chose to cast real basketballers instead. In terms of acting, I decided I could help to teach them," he says of his cast, who were selected through open auditions.

The only professional actor in the main cast is Shanghai-born actor Ian Fang, who had reportedly lobbied the director to include him in the movie as he liked the story.

"Even then, I said yes to Ian only because I know that he can actually play basketball. Obviously, his basketball skills aren't as good as the national players in the cast, but he's definitely not new to the game."

For a first-time director, he sounds completely self-assured about his vision for the movie, which cost about $1.2 million to make.

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