Won­der Boy: Ben Kheng and Julie Tan

This month, Dick Lee is giv­ing us a ma­jor throw­back to the su­per ’70s with his biopic Won­der Boy. CLEO sat down with the film’s stars Ben­jamin Kheng and Julie Tan to find out more about that sex scene they had to do, and what they got up to while film­ing

CLEO (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

So let’s talk about Won­der Boy. The film is set in the ’70s, but ob­vi­ously nei­ther of you were around dur­ing that time. Is there any­thing about that era that stood out for you?

Ben: I think that’s when a lot of peo­ple were in­fat­u­ated with Western pop cul­ture. That’s when the first Star Wars came out, and ev­ery­one’s fa­mil­iar with it. That’s also when disco mu­sic first started go­ing into a more hip-hop ter­ri­tory and, of course, pop mu­sic like El­ton John started mak­ing its way to Sin­ga­pore. And be­cause of the whole ban on long hair and the clamp­ing down of some lo­cal mu­sic acts in Sin­ga­pore, I think there was this creative en­ergy sort of bub­bling un­der that needed to get out.

Julie: My par­ents were from that era, so I asked them to bring out their photo albums. I love the fash­ion of the ’70s – those big funky ear­rings, the bell bot­toms, the ban­gles, stuff like that. Did you have to do the wavy ’70s hair for the movie, or was it a shorter crop?

Julie: I had wavy hair. Ben: The ’fro man, the ’fro. I got to have the ’fro... and it was em­bar­rass­ing.

So, Julie, you play the love in­ter­est in this film. Can you tell us a bit more about the char­ac­ter?

Julie: She’s quite a rebel. She’s se­cre­tive and there’s a mo­tive be­hind the things she does. Ben, this is your sec­ond time play­ing Dick Lee. What’s it like re­vis­it­ing this role? Is there any­thing you did dif­fer­ently this time?

Ben: It’s very dif­fer­ent this time around. The first time was on stage. It was just a mono­logue re­count­ing his life, and it was mostly a mu­si­cal re­vue. This was a whole dif­fer­ent ball game. Usu­ally, biogra­phies are based on peo­ple who are dead, right? But [Dick Lee] is not only very alive, he’s also di­rect­ing the show. So I re­ally tried to avoid ask­ing him, “What would you do in this sit­u­a­tion?” Sim­i­larly, he didn’t want me to do an im­i­ta­tion or a mini-play. It was re­ally about cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter in­spired by him, so I was given a bit more free reign to go at it. It was a very cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­tu­ally.

There’s a sex scene in Won­der Boy that in­volved both of you. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Julie: That was ac­tu­ally our very first scene to­gether! Ben: Five hours, man. In the hot, stuffy room.

Was it awk­ward?

Julie: (Laughs) There was a “friend­ship gap” dur­ing the first take.

Ben: On the first take, we thought it was a close-up, right? So we were like, “OK, let’s just do some head act­ing and not worry about the rest of the body.” Then when we saw it on-screen, we re­alised it was ac­tu­ally a mid-shot and there was this mas­sive “friend­ship gap” be­tween us. Can­not, lah.

How did you pre­pare for it?

Julie: I was al­ready aware of that scene when I au­di­tioned for my role. In fact, I went over to Dick’s house be­fore film­ing, and he took out a photo al­bum and showed me the real-life per­son my char­ac­ter is based on. He showed me how she looked like, and briefly told me what hap­pened and things like that.

What was your favourite scene to shoot?

Ben: There’s a scene where my band mate con­fronts me in the hall­way of a school. It was one of those scenes where it had to be in­tense, and I was like, “OK, you want to do some­thing phys­i­cal, just go ahead and do it, but just let me know.” It was su­per in­tense but it turned out great. That was my favourite scene.

Julie: There was this bus stop scene where our char­ac­ters meet for the first time. I quite like that scene be­cause you can feel there’s ten­sion in a very dif­fer­ent way.

Ben: Also, we smoked a whole bunch of cigarettes!

Julie: Yeah, we just smoked, and I smoked in a school uni­form.

Ben: We chainsmoked through the whole scene, oh my gosh!

Dick has said that the story is time­less, and would res­onate with any­one who went through that type of strug­gle them­selves. Do you see any par­al­lel be­tween the events of the film, and maybe your own ex­pe­ri­ences?

Julie: When I was read­ing the script, I felt re­ally touched be­cause the whole process of how Dick be­came who he is to­day re­sem­bles what I’ve been through as well. I’ve been through the low­est – like you know, from be­ing a cale­fare then a part-time ac­tress, to to­day, where I’ve gained a lit­tle bit of recog­ni­tion and stuff like that. Noth­ing comes easy, but the thing is to not give up and press on to get to where you are.

Ben: Ex­actly. You re­alise that he messes up so much in this film, like, non-stop. And he’s so in­se­cure too. I think the two big­gest things about any­body who’s a creative is that your in­se­cu­ri­ties and mess-ups de­feat you all the time. But he didn’t let them set him back. It’s, like, if you want your ca­reer to move for­ward, you al­most clam­our to make a mis­take. So it’s a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and it’s quite cool to por­tray that.

How long were you guys film­ing in Pe­nang for? Did you do any­thing fun or hang out off-set?

Julie: I stayed there for… I think it was three weeks? Ben: I stayed there for a whole month.

Did you like it?

Ben: No! Be­cause Pe­nang food is good but I couldn’t eat any of it be­cause I had to main­tain a ’70s Dick Lee weight, which was 27 inches [around the waist]. So I couldn’t eat the amaz­ing Pe­nang Laksa. It was very painful. But it was good to just be in a dif­fer­ent headspace. We had this nice ho­tel by the coast and ev­ery night, you can hear the waves crash­ing. It re­ally puts you in a good mode to just clear your head and get in­side your char­ac­ter.

How about you, Julie?

Julie: Yeah, it was quite good. My fam­ily is in Pe­nang, so on some of my off-days, I’d go and visit my grandma and my cousin and stuff like that. I love the food there! Un­like Ben, I could eat, so I was quite happy there. We also went to do some sight­see­ing and stuff like that. Won­der Boy re­leases on Au­gust 3, 2017.

On Julie: Suede and shear­ling coat, lace dress, both REDValentino. Cot­ton knit top, $320, San­dro. Cot­ton ruf­fle shorts, $79.90, Top­shop.

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