SINGAPORE - Lim Kay Tong will play Lee Kuan Yew in the upcoming movie 1965. The veteran actor explains why he rejected the role when first approached, and why he finally agreed.
Q: Why did you say no to the role when you were first approached?
Well it's about him, so, you know, that's my initial reaction, you know. In some ways, you know what I'm saying, "should I be doing this?" But I have committed, so, but my initial reaction was "no way".
But as I said earlier on, looking at the context of it, I thought it's doable. Because it's not a biopic about him. So, in that sense there's less pressure because it's not about him per say. It's about these fictitious characters who were around during that time.
In a sense I just marked the time that these events take place. Whenever LKY does appear, it's to put it within the time frame of the story. Merger, separation, that's when the story takes place in 1965.
Would I be given another opportunity to do this you know? So I think that changed my mind. Plus the fact that it was less daunting once I saw it on paper, what I had to do.
Q: How are you going to prepare for the role?
This time I have a lot of material you know what I mean. He's like an open book. Every aspect of the man's life is down there on print, it's on screen. So it's just a question of trying to absorb all the things that he is. And he's a man of many parts. So it's just trying to get that all in before we start filming, which is not a lot of time. I mean I did complain to Daniel you know, "What I got two months?" You know, this sort of thing I need a year or two to really get a hang, a feel of the man. But as it is, it is a film and you've got a deadline so I have to work with more intensity to hopefully give some credibility to the role.
Q: Do you think you look like Mr Lee Kuan Yew?
I don't think so! I think I'm dependent mainly on the make-up people. They did a good job on the imaging, so I think that is sort of taken care of. So it's up to me to sort of find the internal part of the man.
Q: Is this the most challenging role you've ever had?
In terms of it being based on a real life person and someone who as momentous and great as Lee Kuan Yew, sure. In terms of length of screen time, no. But that's not the point. It's just trying to get the essence of the man that's really my goal as an actor.
Q: Do you feel the pressure?
Sure! You know it's a job that I've undertaken so I'll do it to the best of my ability as an actor.
Q: Are you approaching this role any differently?
No. I try to treat it like every role I'm playing so it all does occupy you for part of the day when you're sort of thinking about it or researching or rehearsing. The normal working process. But I come from a school of acting where you don't lose any sleep, where you try not to lose any sleep over a role you know. You keep that separate from your private life. So that's the way I was trained. So no I'm not going to lose sleep.
Q: Have you read all of Mr Lee's books?
The one that really was important to me was The Singapore Story because that leads up to separation. So that is my main focus. And obviously a lot of the stuff that's on visual record, some of his speeches. Yeah, you study those things. I'm just skimming through the latest stuff about his opinions on the world and so on and so forth, because that was formed post '65. You know, all those opinions, about eugenics, whatever. That's all after Singapore became a sovereign nation. So the stuff leading up to that is more important, I think for me.
Q: Did any family member try to stop you from taking the role?
No, actually my wife said, "Do it". That was definitely a factor because I trust her instincts about things. She was very encouraging about it. I got rid of my cowardice and said yes. Generally encouraging. Some indifferent, I think, the younger ones, "Oh OK". Different reactions but generally positive.
Q: If you received a call from Mr Lee after the movie, what comments would you hope he would give?
Actually, you know, I'm hoping he doesn't call me. Just leave it at that.
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