Desmond gives the skinny on weight loss

Home-grown actor and heart-throb Desmond Tan is looking a lot thinner than his usual muscular self these days.

At an interview with Life! at Goodwood Park Hotel recently, the 27-year-old, usually noted for his buff arms and sculpted chest, appeared uncharacteristically skinny.

Ask him about it and he lets on that the new look is all for his latest role in Channel 8's historical drama The Journey: A Voyage, in which he plays a tin mine worker addicted to opium.

Adding that he lost "between 12 and 15kg over a month-plus", he says: "No one asked me to do this, but I really wanted to because I think this will make the role appear more convincing. I want to prove to people that I take my work seriously."

He lost the weight through a combination of "dieting on soda crackers" and also from lack of weight-training at the gym.

"My metabolism level is quite high, so I lost the weight quite fast as soon as I stopped going to the gym. Basically, I lost all of my muscle mass," he added.

In fact, the bachelor had hoped to lose even more weight, but was advised not to by the drama's production crew.

"I wanted to make it more extreme, to lose weight until I looked like Christian Bale in The Machinist (2004) where you can see all of his bones. But the producers didn't let me - they were worried about my health."

Bale had famously lost over 27kg to look emaciated in the title role of the psychological thriller film.

Tan says: "I just really wanted to try that type of method acting for myself. I want people to know that I'm serious about my job and that I'm serious about acting. I can only go back to the gym now that I've finished filming this drama."

Perhaps he felt like he had something to prove, as the rising star had for a long time, been noted first for his good looks before anything else.

He debuted in 2007 after emerging runner-up to actor Andie Chen at the Star Search TV talent contest, and subsequently got a number of supporting roles in dramas such as The Dream Catchers (2008) and The Ultimatum (2009).

In between his acting commitments, he pursued and completed his bachelor's degree in real estate from the National University Of Singapore.

Only when he graduated in 2011 did he get his big break, taking on the meaty role of a rickshaw puller in period drama A Song To Remember (2011).

That role bagged him a Rocket Award at last year's Star Awards, which is given to the star who has shown the greatest improvement in acting.

He says: "I've been lucky to have been given different opportunities, but I will always think back to my role in A Song To Remember as a role that I'm proud of.

"I put a lot of effort into that role because I knew it would be a make-it-or-break-it role for me at the time.

"I've heard good things about that performance, but I only hope that I'll keep getting better and better. I want to keep acting for a long time."

1 Your new TV drama The Journey: A Voyage also stars veteran Li Nanxing, 49. What was it like working with him?

I was so star-struck when I first met him. I've been watching his shows since I was a kid, and to me, he's like the Chow Yun Fatt of Singapore.

So when I first met him, I was really quite nervous, but he's so down-to-earth and friendly, and willing to teach us newer actors about acting. He has a wealth of experience and he was a really good mentor.

2 Is his career something you would like to emulate, acting all the way into your 40s and 50s?

Yes, because I'm addicted to acting and I really want to continue for a long time. I don't want to be the guy who just plays the rich kid or the good young man. I want to be someone who has played many different roles in my life, and to grow as an actor and person along with my career.

3 After Star Search, you insisted on going back to university and completing your degree in real estate. Was that a back-up plan for you?

No, it wasn't a back-up plan because it was always my first plan. Even before joining Star Search, I already had a place at the university and I really wanted to pursue it and get my degree. Education is important to me. I'm glad I made that decision because I don't think I would have been as ready to enter showbusiness at the tender age of 21. Going through university helped me to be more down-to-earth and remind me that acting should not be about fame-chasing.

4 Were you worried that you were missing out on big acting opportunities while you were in university?

Yes, a little, because I saw people from my Star Search batch going on to get a lot of good roles and getting nominated for awards and stuff like that.

I even thought that maybe showbusiness wasn't for me and that I should quit the acting dream altogether, but then I asked myself, "How can you quit before you even try acting full time?" So I just continued studying, graduated, and was really lucky to get the role in A Song To Remember.

5 Who do you see as the greatest competition in the entertainment industry?

I know this answer is so expected and cliche, but I think my greatest competition is myself. There's always so much I want to learn to better myself. I am always challenging myself so I don't stop to see other people as a challenge.

But of course, I set benchmarks for myself. For example, I see Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai as my role model and someone I aspire to become. I don't have small dreams - only big ones.

6 Have you considered going overseas to act, like how actor Christopher Lee, 42, is now based in Taiwan?

Yes, I think it's important for actors to always try new things, so I would love to go overseas and explore other opportunities as well and to see how other people work. I want to carry the Singapore flag and proudly wave it wherever I go.

7 Your skin always looks so tanned. Is that natural or do you go for tanning sessions a la Hong Kong actor Louis Koo, who tans himself to stand out?

Mine is definitely natural. In fact, I always joke and say that I'm so tanned because my name is Tan (laughs).

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I want to be someone who has contributed to the local showbusiness industry. I don't want to be a wallflower. I don't want to be the guy who 10 years from now, will be referred to by everyone as "the guy who didn't do anything for showbusiness". So I will continue to work hard and do my very best.

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