How does a father of three take on the role of a childless husband? The actor discusses this and more as he prepares for Checkpoint Theatre’s “The Fourth Trimester”.
“I was the team captain of the soccer club in secondary school. So when I went to Temasek Polytechnic, I was set on joining soccer as a co-curricular activity. But a very good friend of mine persuaded me to take up drama together.
A few months later, that idiotic friend of mine quit the drama club and I ended up being stuck there. [Laughs] But by the second year, my interest in acting and theatre had already grown. By the third year, I was determined to make acting a career.
What I like about acting is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Well, maybe not the ability, but rather, the opportunity to understand another person’s perspective. I think that’s very important in helping shape a person’s humanity.
As Singaporeans, we have become rather individualistic. It’s just how the world is moving; how the country is moving. It’s fast-paced and you often have to prioritise yourself. We don’t get to pause, look around, and reflect on what’s going on – and I think theatre helps us do that.
In The Fourth Trimester, I play Johan, a public servant who works for a statutory board. He’s been trying really hard to have a child with his wife Sofia, whom he has been married to for the past two years.
In real life, I’m a father to three kids. As Matin, I will personally never fully understand the struggles faced by Johan. Yet as an actor, I can believe and I can become this other character, even though I’ve never gone through his pain or his hardships.
And as much as I love acting, because it allows me to empathise and be someone else, it’s not as smooth and pleasant an experience any more as I grow older. Your emotional capacity has limitations; but as an actor, this is my challenge to overcome.
Thankfully, our director Claire Wong helps us find the missing ingredients that complete our characters. I appreciate her patience and ability to manoeuvre and recalibrate whenever I have a mental block. She gives us clear direction yet freedom to explore our characters.
My research to prepare for Johan comes in the form of real-life references. I spoke to my sister-in-law, who worked so hard to afford IVF because she really wanted a child. I also talked to a friend who suffered miscarriages but never gave up.
After ten years of marriage, she and her husband finally had a kid. And one year after that, they had their second child. Whenever I visit them, the appreciation and love this couple has for their children really warms my heart.
The beautiful thing about what playwright Faith Ng has done is that she has given audiences the opportunity to reflect and introspect on their lives. You know, when I was younger, my mum, like any other mother, constantly reminded me of how hard and painful her labour was.
It was only after my wife delivered our children that I truly understood what my mum has been trying to tell me all these years. As I mentioned before – the chance to reflect and introspect. Now that I’m older, I try to be extra polite, understanding, caring, and gentle with my mum.
My mum also told me that the first five years of marriage are the most difficult. As a couple tries to understand how they each work in a marriage and truly become a team, they will be tested with trials and tribulations like never before.
So I hope audiences who watch The Fourth Trimester will have more empathy and compassion for others. Stop putting pressure on and asking people when they’re going to have kids. It’s such a sensitive question.
You never know what a couple is going through behind closed doors. Especially during this COVID-19 period, where everyone is trying to recalibrate their mental space, it’s so important to be compassionate.” – Al-Matin
Interview by: Arman Shah