Young stars brave heat, cold and flies

In the seminal 1991 road trip movie Thelma & Louise, the former character played by Geena Davis compared hitting the open road to answering the call of the wild.

For the three young leads of actress-director Michelle Chong's new movie 3 Peas In A Pod, the Australian outback issued the call - and with gusto too.

When they filmed in Melbourne and The Grampians National Park earlier this year, a heatwave swept the state of Victoria.

Temperatures broke records and soared to as high as 37 deg C. "We're like three 'chao ta' (Hokkien for charred) peas in a pod now," said newbie Singapore actress Jae Liew, referring to her co-stars Alexander Lee Eusebio and Calvin Chen, as well as to the movie's title.

Liew, 22, was shielding her eyes from the glaring sun between takes at the Grampians as she told this to Life!, who tagged along for part of the shoot at the invitation of Tourism Victoria.

She, Eusebio, a South Korea-based singer-actor, and Chen, a Taiwanese singer-actor who was a member of the boyband Fahrenheit, play three foreign students in Australia who go on a road trip and love blossoms among them.

While sparks flew in reel life, the heatwave brought the good-looking cast an unexpected audience in the form of pesky flies. "We always have hairspray and make-up on and we smell so good that the flies always come to us," said Eusebio, 25, waving his hands around in mock exasperation.

Earlier that morning, the cast also had to contend with bone-chilling gusts that definitely felt colder than the recorded temperature of 13 deg C.

It was a tearjerking scene and a turning point in the movie, but as they were filming on a cliff's edge, the actors had to emote without giving away the fact that their teeth were chattering. Just out of frame, two crew members were holding up a gigantic board in a valiant attempt to block the wind.

Eusebio said: "The scariest thing was, there was a hole next to where we were sitting and if you looked down, it was like a straight drop, all the way."

But there was no time for the cast and crew to fret about the crazy weather swings or vertigo-inducing drops, given their rigorous filming schedule: They had less than a month to shoot in multiple locations around Victoria.

A typical day saw them rise before the sun at 6am, grab a quick breakfast of fruit salad and cup noodles, and film till about 7pm. With dialogue to memorise and hours on the road, everyone had only about four to five hours' sleep every night, said Chen, 32.

The packed schedule also saw the actors having some run-ins with director Chong.

Once, when a communication breakdown led to a 20-minute delay during the shooting of a critical scene, Chong, a self-described perfectionist directing her second film, had no qualms making her displeasure known. "Hurry up, hurry up!" she shouted at the cast and crew. "How come the reporters can get here before any of you?"

It turned out they were doing their hair and make-up a few hundred metres away from the shooting area. But the 36-year-old actress-turned- director visibly softened later and went up to each actor to offer pointers between takes.

Eusebio said: "Michelle's a perfectionist, but not in a way that's mean or cruel. She'd say, 'Do you want to try one more time?' and she would advise us. She provides an actor's perspective."

"I'm the mama-san and these are my young punks," said Chong wryly.

One thing that kept the actors motivated through the long days were their hardcore fans, said both male leads.

The two heart-throbs - both of them sing, act and host - said they were pleasantly surprised to see their fans greet them at the airport when they landed and even gamely played extras when filming took place at the University of Melbourne.

Chen said: "They were really accommodating. They would watch us quietly as we filmed and would be our background actors."

For Liew, who made her acting debut after beating more than 800 other aspirants in auditions, it was her boisterous male leads that kept her afloat.

While Chen was the mentor - an experienced show business insider who was generous with his know-how - Eusebio was the goofball and the livewire on set.

In one on-campus scene, the K-pop star of Portuguese, Chinese and Korean descent was waiting for the camera to get in position when he heard some music in the background and broke into a spontaneous dance.

Liew said: "I couldn't stop laughing in the background and Michelle was shushing me because I was distracting him. He's not a goof only on set, he's a goof everywhere."

Such spontaneous moments and feelings were exactly what Chong hoped the movie would evoke in viewers.

Speaking to Life!, she recalled her Victoria Junior College days when she queued overnight and was first in line for tickets to Michael Jackson's concert in Singapore in 1993. For her efforts, she was featured on the cover of The Straits Times, The New Paper and Lianhe Zaobao.

"I was officially certified by the media as Michael Jackson's No. 1 fan in Singapore. Those are the crazy things you do when you're young," she said, drawing parallels with the movie, in which its youthful characters make snap or even rash decisions such as going on a grand road trip and being willing to jump in with both feet and have fun.

"When you think about it, it's only when you are young that you bother to have fun. When you are older, you just do things for the sake of doing them. Making the movie, it's just reminiscing.

"I mean, obviously, I won't do something like queue up for tickets to a concert now. But you never ever regret doing things like that."

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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