E-Junkies: Xenia Tan plays Mark Lee's daughter — can she handle his teasing?
We've all heard the saying that art imitates life.
Actress Xenia Tan's new role in upcoming Hokkien/Mandarin movie The Last Letters has a striking resemblance to her own life trajectory.
The 28-year-old plays Eileen, daughter to single dad Loke (Mark Lee) who wants to give her the best education possible. He convinces her to study in New York, telling her he can afford it, but actually sells his kampung house and moves to a one-room apartment to save money for her education.
In an interview with AsiaOne earlier this month, Mark explained: "My character places all of his aspirations onto his daughter. In the 1980s (when the movie is set), everyone felt that being educated in English was the best option.
"So, if Eileen wants to study abroad in the United States, even though my character doesn't have enough money for it, he still does whatever he can to send his daughter overseas."
In real life, Xenia also studied in the US, taking acting classes for a few months, but Mark appeared unimpressed with the results.
"You went to the US to study acting? Wow, I don't recommend you guys go there anymore," Mark, 54, joked to laughter from Xenia. "It seems like it didn't help improve your acting at all."
In her defence, Xenia said self-deprecatingly: "Hey, I used to be worse, I've improved a little bit now, okay?"
Mark then praised Xenia for her work ethic, considering The Last Letters marks her first time speaking Hokkien in a role.
"We filmed a lot of scenes together in the first few days, and she actually surprised me with her Hokkien," Mark revealed. "Even though she said some stuff with a more ang moh (Western) accent, she worked very hard to study and correct her pronunciation."
He added that though it wasn't "perfect," he still deemed it to be acceptable in the end.
"It's better than hiring certain youngsters, who can only shoot one scene after we've been teaching them for half a day — that's very painful.
"So I think she's actually really good."
He teased the young actress further: "Her remuneration is cheap too, she is good and we should cast her more often. Grab the chance before she increases her rates and cast her more often!"
Xenia does speak Hokkien — especially "some simple stuff" with her grandparents — but admitted that though she can understand it, speaking Hokkien is something she needs more practice with.
"But because this movie takes place in the 1980s, the most common language used was Mandarin and Chinese dialects. After accepting the offer for this movie, I really had to practise and Mark has helped me a lot."
She added in English: "So I think because of this movie I got to learn what feels like a new language to me."
Mark praised his co-star again: "She's hardworking, I get that feeling from her because she used various methods, be it the form or writing, recording or whatever.
"She'd also come and bother you when you're resting, 'Hey Mark, how do you pronounce this word again?' Yes, it's a little bit annoying but at least I can see the effort."
'Dads give their daughters a sense of security'
Xenia described The Last Letters as a show that depicts the relationship between a dad and daughter.
"I think the pair really love each other but they don't know how to express it," she said.
Mark added: "I think this was quite a common issue within households in the 1980s."
Another similarity between Eileen and herself, Xenia reckoned, is that she feels fortunate to have a loving father.
"Just like Mark's character, my own dad would do everything he can to help me if I needed help," she said. "[Dads like this] also give their daughters a sense of security."
When alone overseas and feeling afraid, Xenia assumed that people would usually pray away the fear of ghosts, but she thinks of her dad in those situations instead.
"Once his face is in my mind, I won't be scared anymore," she said.
Mark asked: "So his face scares away the ghosts instead?"
"Correct, his face is scarier than the ghosts," Xenia replied without missing a beat. "Just kidding!"
Watch our E-Junkies video for the full interview.
The Last Letters, directed by Chai Yee Wei, also stars Peter Yu, Renee Chua, Rajeswary, Zhang Wei, Johnny Ng and Janice Seah, and is currently in production. It's scheduled to be released in cinemas at the end of this year or early 2024.
ALSO READ: Xenia Tan changes hairstyle after 3 years, fans divided over 80s-inspired cut
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