No Pierre Pressure
From sculpting a six-pack for his first Hollywood role in CrazyRichAsians to sending his beloved furkid Woofie across the Rainbow Bridge, it’s been a roller coaster year for Pierre Png. He talks about loss, love, and taking it all off for Tinseltown.
Imagine Pierre Png donning a black leotard, ballet slippers, and doing pirouettes among a class of young prancing girls. Yes, that’s what the local actor did in 2016 in preparation for his role in Channel 8’s The Gentlemen, and boy, did the 45-year-old face that challenge head-on—or should we say, en pointe. “And not just for the show, mind you,” adds his wife, Andrea De Cruz, 44, with a chuckle. “He carried on with the ballet lessons after filming!”
It turns out that the Mediacorp heartthrob simply can’t say no when given a challenge. He strikes us as the kind of chap who would pick ‘dare’ during a game of Truth or Dare— every single time. Just look at his life choices: other than picking atypical sports like unicycling and aikido, the Star Awards 2018 Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes awardee has acted in theatre, a Chinese musical, local films, both Channel 5 and 8 dramas (even though it’s an open secret that Mandarin isn’t his forte). Now, he’s made his first foray into Hollywood—he plays the role of Michael Teo in the highly anticipated film, Crazy Rich Asians, which is slated for release this August.
Even when faced with the daunting realisation that his then-fiance suffered liver failure after taking slimming pills in 2002, Pierre gave Andrea his liver without batting an eyelid. And when the couple was told post-surgery that Andrea’s body might reject the liver after 20 years, the couple got married soon after. Theirs is the kind of love that you come across only in Korean dramas and romance novels.
Yet, it’s not all about dramatic gestures and life-threatening sacrifices. During the photo shoot, Andrea was more than happy to let her husband shine while she played the role of supportive wife and paw-rent to their two Shih Tzus, Oreo, 12, and Cookie, 5. Throughout the numerous curveballs that life seems to keep throwing at this steadfast couple—from Andrea discovering she had early stage cervical cancer in 2015 to the death of Woofie, their beloved 15-year-old Shih Tzu, last year—it’s undeniable that
Pierre and Andrea have each other’s backs.
Speaking with Pierre feels almost like a pep talk—he oozes unwavering positivity and spouts nuggets of wisdom that can only be cultivated through years of fortitude in the face of trials and tribulations. “I constantly have to remind myself, and I do the same with Andrea, that life isn’t about preparing for the what-ifs,” he says with conviction. “If I were to take a plane and it were about to crash, would I be happy with myself? I’d say, yeah, I pretty much made the best decisions given the circumstances. No regrets.”
You’re on Crazy Rich Asians. Tell us about the Hollywood experience.
Pierre: It’s just amazing, and so professional. The experience was a real eye-opener. Now that I’ve seen what goes into making a Hollywood movie, I know why it’s called a Hollywood movie—everyone is so good at what they do.
How was the experience different from local showbiz?
Pierre: The budget’s much bigger, and the most significant difference is that we have our own trailers, which at most, two people share at one time. The outfits and the script for the day are all on your table. You have your own fridge, toilet, air-conditioning, and TV. You don’t even want to step out of your trailer because it’s so conducive. They only call you when they need you. This is why Hollywood actors can give their all and their performances are magical. They’re not distracted or asked to do anything other than act.
What made you venture into Hollywood? Andrea: It came to him. (laughs)
Pierre: Everything in my life has found me in one way or another. I auditioned, submitted a showreel, and left it all to fate. In fact, I auditioned for two roles in Crazy Rich Asians— the lead role and the lead role’s best buddy. I was one of the last few actors to be auditioned on the final day, and I thought I was a goner because they didn’t want me for either role. And then they offered me this role.
You have a kiss scene in Crazy Rich Asians right?
Pierre: Let’s just say it wasn’t a kiss scene—it was more of a making out scene (with Brit actress Gemma Chan who plays his wife in the film). I really don’t know how those
“If Woofie had been human, he’d have made the most pe rfect son.”
X-rated movie actors do it! There were two cameras pointing specifically at whatever they wanted to capture. I’d never felt more uncomfortable. It feels nothing like what you see. (laughs) When you’re doing it, you’re just so conscious of yourself. Plus, I was on a Hollywood set so I couldn’t relax. I felt the pressure to give my all.
Was that the most intimate scene you’ve ever filmed?
Andrea: I think so.
Pierre: No lah.
Andrea: It has to be. When have you ever had to take off all your clothes on-screen? On local TV, you just have to do this (mocks a kissing scene), then that’s it. Cut.
Pierre: For Zero Calling with Cynthia Koh... Andrea: No, it wasn’t to this extent.
Pierre: Well, what Andrea says is true. Strip for a Hollywood movie? Why not? They even got me a trainer just for the movie. This is Hollywood for you. If they want you a particular shape or build, they’ll make sure you get there.
How have you evolved as an actor over the past two decades?
Andrea: His Mandarin has improved tremendously. (laughs)
Pierre: It is not where I want it to be, but it’s definitely a huge leap from when I graduated from school.
Given your massive struggle with Mandarin, did you ever feel like giving up?
Pierre: Honestly, there were so many times I wanted to give up. But giving up would have meant that I threw in the towel. I would have caused somebody else going through a similar route to have self-doubt. If I’m going to beat someone, I’m going to beat them at their own game. So if somebody’s going to laugh at me and my Mandarin, fine. I’m going to make sure they laugh with me—not at me—the next time. The day Mediacorp says: “Zhan Fa (Pierre’s Mandarin name), buay tahan liao (Hokkien for ‘can’t tolerate anymore’)”, I’ll accept it. Otherwise, I’m not going to give up on myself.
Are awards like Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes still important to you?
Pierre: In all honesty, it means a lot to me. But it is not the sole reason why I act. These accolades are like milestones in your career, but at the same time, I don’t live for these awards. Each time I want to say that it means nothing to me, I look at other people who’ve never been given the chance. I look at those who would give an arm and a leg to be where I am right now, and I bite my tongue.
We’re really sorry to hear about Woofie’s passing. Can you tell us what happened? Andrea: Woofie got misdiagnosed. The vets said that he had pancreatitis, but he’s never had pancreatitis. He actually had a heart condition, but they put him on a drip, which caused his lungs to fill up with fluid. He nearly died, so I rushed him to the animal hospital and he stayed there for two weeks. After we brought him out, he lasted another four months. We syringe-fed him until he was finally able to eat on his own and gave him acupuncture treatment almost every day. Unfortunately when your heart starts to fail, your other organs start to break down. Eventually, he died of kidney failure.
What was so special about him?
Andrea: He was just a darling and always aimed to please.
Pierre: He was very in tune with our feelings and just knew how to comfort us. Woofie made me feel complete. When I was away from home or if I were to suddenly croak, I knew that he would be that one thing that would pull Andrea together. If he had been human, he’d have made the most perfect son.
You were in Thailand filming when Woofie passed.
Andrea: We FaceTimed Woofie’s final hours, so Pierre got to see everything.
Pierre: Immediately after he passed, I felt so lost. Fortunately, we were already done for the day, so I aimlessly walked out of my hotel room and into a convenience store. I was calm and lost at the same time. I knew we did the best we could, and I’m very proud of my wife and thankful for my helper. Although I wasn’t there when Woofie passed, I knew Andrea was in good hands and I knew there was nothing I could do. I had accepted it a long time ago, but when shit hits the fan
and when it actually happened, I felt numb. Andrea: We held off the cremation until Pierre returned to Singapore. We brought Woofie to Mount Pleasant Veterinary Clinic at Whitley Road and they kept him in cold storage.
Pierre: Andrea wrapped him in my sarong because that’s how I always comfort my furkids—I put them in my sarong and stroke them to sleep. At the crematorium, I took my scapular and put it over Woofie. (chokes up) I then held him and put him in the furnace.
How have things at home changed since Woofie passed?
Pierre: Lately, Oreo has been behaving a little like Woofie. She’s become very impatient and vocal.
Andrea: Actually, everything that’s changed in the two girls happened after their brother left. If you’re eating and ignore Oreo, she’ll yell at you. If you’re asleep at 3am and she wants you to bring her upstairs, she’ll bark. She never used to be like this, so it’s very strange.
Pierre: And this one (gestures to Cookie) suddenly became very needy.
Andrea: She’s also become like a male dog. She never used to hump, but she started to do so after Woofie left. They developed all these strange behaviours!
Do you have any plans to grow your fur clan?
Pierre: At the moment, no. But never say never. I don’t think we’ll ever stop having animals or dogs in our lives. We might take a break for now, but we love having fur babies too much to not ever have more.
Is there a reason behind adopting only Shih Tzus?
Andrea: Destiny, really. From the first one to the last one, people have always approached us with, “We’ve got a Shih Tzu, you want?”
It’s refreshing to see paw-rents who are so pro-adoption.
Andrea: Knowing that we can’t have any children of our own, we’ve always thought and taught about adopting kids. So when it came to having pets, we were also of the mindset that we could and should adopt. We didn’t need to buy.
Pierre: It’s also because we’ve had personal experiences with rescued and adopted dogs that are as loving and intelligent as any furkid, and can give just as much joy. Also, we have an affinity with pups that have been neglected or are unwanted.
Speaking of children, there was talk of you guys possibly trying for kids during the 10th anniversary of Andrea’s liver transplant in 2012.
Pierre: Over the years, we’ve accepted the fact that Andrea’s health may never be what it used to be. We leave everything in God’s hands.
Andrea: I’m quite closed on that topic already, only because my health hasn’t been great since the transplant. I realised that if I brought a kid into our lives and if I didn’t manage to stay around long enough, I think it’d be pretty tough on Pierre to take care of the child alone. Both of us have kind of settled into this marriage that is pretty childless—with just furkids.
When your health is like a roller coaster, you just want to enjoy life. You don’t want the extra stress. I know having kids will bring joy to one’s life. I wanted about six when we got married. But now, I’ve eased into the fact that motherhood is just not going to happen. And you know what? We’re beginning to enjoy it more and more because we have so much time for each other. I couldn’t see myself dedicating as much time to him as
I do now. I love this job as a wife, I love this marriage, and I love my life. Plus, I don’t think I have the energy for a child anymore.
Andrea, you’ve had a few bouts of liver rejection. How do you feel physically when that happens?
Andrea: When your liver function isn’t good, no matter how much rest you get, you’re just flat out tired.
Pierre: That sounds like me after every Chinese drama.
Andrea: With liver rejection, it’s much worse. You also feel nauseous and you lose your appetite. I have to be put on steroids, which makes me bloat.
Do you get dejected whenever you
experience liver rejection or your liver function dips?
Andrea: It used to affect me. Not anymore. A couple of months back, I wasn’t feeling great and it turned out my liver function wasn’t good. The results made me think that maybe we’re closing in on time’s up. But it doesn’t bug me as much as it used to. When I talked about my recent liver function results with Pierre, he said that we’ve been through this before and we can get through this again. After a while, we get quite numb to all of this.
Pierre, how has your health been? Pierre: Occasionally, I test my liver to see if it’s still working by going out for drinks. (laughs) I have to. Monthly check-ups, you know?
It’s a big question, and I know you get asked this very often…
Pierre: (interrupts) Yes...I’m straight. (laughs)
Well, 2022 will mark the 20th year since Andrea had her liver transplant. How do you handle the fact that she might be living on borrowed time?
Pierre: I personally feel it’s not the years in her life but the life in her years. So I tell Andrea this all the time and I’m not afraid to tell you this, but everyone’s life is a 50-50 chance. You could walk out on the streets and the traffic lights could be in your favour, but you could still be run over. I could be healthy, and tomorrow I walk out and some NASA satellite falls on me and I’m dead. Andrea could be a transplant recipient and go through cervical cancer, but she might live longer than me. So what’s the difference?
The difference is how you live your life from now until what-if.
Andrea, how has Pierre fared through the thick and thin?
Andrea: He’s been a very supportive husband in every way. Whatever business I wish to do or if I want to study again, he’ll say, “You do it better than me or you study better, so you go ahead and do it.” There’s nothing he’s ever said no to. Even if he knows that I might fail at it, he allows me to endeavour.
Pierre: Whenever Andrea wants to do something that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll say, “Hang on to that thought. Let me go find out more.” I try to be supportive, like no other friend can. If I say no, I will explain why. And not, “No, end of discussion.”
Andrea: He’ll play devil’s advocate, for sure. But he’s super supportive. When it comes to health, he’s the calm one. With Chinese scripts, maybe not so calm. (laughs)
Pierre: With acceptance speeches, even worse. (laughs)
The media often paints you as the perfect husband. How true or untrue is it?
Pierre: Before Andrea answers, I’ve only got one thing to say: I’ve made mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes, but I will do whatever I can not to repeat them. I remind myself that every day is an opportunity to be a good husband. It’s easier said than done, but I try. All I can say is I try to be a good husband.
Andrea: I’m not protecting his career or anything, because if there was something really bad, I’d say it. Trust me. (laughs) But he’s a great husband by all counts. He’s supportive in every way. He’s a good guy— truly. Not because he gave me his liver. Pierre: This girl ah, very demanding you know. She didn’t just want an engagement ring. But wah, liver also want. (laughs)