Photos: Tammi Tan, Channel 5, Toggle
Video: Philip Ang
Most of you might know Half-Chinese, American-born actor-host Alan Wong from his days as an MTV VJ, or as one-half of the energetic emcee duo for Asia’s Got Talent, or from his various acting gigs (including a stint on Channel 5’s Tanglin and, more recently, Toggle Originals Glitch!). All in all, pretty light-hearted and easy-going stuff.
That’s why his latest gig as a criminal profiler in supernatural drama Avenue 14, which premiered on Channel 5 last night (Nov 12), is a complete 180 from the image we’re used to seeing - and we’re not just talking about his perpetually furrowed “I mean serious business” brows.
“This is the most intense show I’ve ever done,” he told Toggle in an interview yesterday. “Most of the stuff I’ve done has been entertaining in a goofy way, and this was the first project where I got to be just not goofy at all.”
Part of Alan’s preparation for his role included bingeing on horror films and murder investigation thrillers, such as True Detective, Hannibal and Silence of the Lambs. He also watched movies “with severe torture scenes” because his own character “gets tortured quite intensely” at the end of the series. Yikes.
Enduring such brutal viewing was far from the toughest thing he had to go through for the sake of art. According to Alan, his character gets kidnapped by the main villain and gets his arms, legs and neck strapped into a chair, where he was stuck for four hours.
That’s four hours in real-life time, not four hours in the TV realm time, by the way. “I don’t know if it was a good idea, but I purposely asked them to leave me restrained between takes and during breaks,” he recalled, adding that he did get out just once to have lunch. “It was not fun.” You don’t say!
Jokes aside, Alan explained that he felt that such extreme, almost method acting-like behaviour was necessary to give him “that feeling of impossibility or impending doom”, as if he was never going to get out of that hopeless - and uncomfortable - position. “Getting into all my character’s darkness and pain was not a fun thing to do, but it was really satisfying and hopefully, the audience will see it and squirm,” he grinned.
One person who is definitely not going to enjoy this hard-to-stomach sequence is Alan’s own mother. “I sent her a picture from the torture scene and was like, ‘Mum, you’re not going to want to watch the end of this show,’” he said. “She can’t even handle it when I look sad, so me screaming may be a little too much for her!”
(Continued on next page: Alan Wong gushes about ‘Glitch!’ co-star Jayley Woo)
If you don’t think you could bear to witness such suffering either, then perhaps Alan’s other ongoing project Glitch! would be far more acceptable viewing material. In the four-part mini-series, he plays a gun-toting video game bot who, due to the titular glitch, finds himself in the real world without being aware of it.
While some of us may have taken this role as an excuse to, say, play video games for 12 hours straight every day (for research purposes, right?), Alan just went back to what he loves doing: watching movies. Specifically, Michael Fassbender’s human-like android character in sci-fi flick Prometheus, and the way he played with the concept of being “real and not real”, and how he spoke with no contractions (for example, saying “should not” instead of “shouldn’t”).
“I have a lot of insecurities about gaming,” Alan admitted sheepishly. “My older brother is a gamer and all he did was just beat me all the time, so gaming became about losing to me.” He doesn’t play much on his phone either, aside from a bit of Candy Crush and Dai Di, a Chinese poker game.
In fact, the biggest gamer among the Glitch! cast - according to Alan, at least - is Jayley Woo. “I’ve seen her as an actress and a social media influencer, but getting to know her on the show was really cool,” he praised. “She’s such a fun, quirky, sweet girl, and the reason she appealed to the creators was because she’s a proper gamer; she understood and took to the world of gaming right away, and even wanted to add more gaming terminology to the script.”
It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Alan in the coming months: besides Glitch! and Avenue 14 being available for viewing at the same time over the next few weeks, Avenue 14 will still be airing when the third season of Asia’s Got Talent, in which Alan returns as host once again, premieres early next year.
“I’m just hoping people won’t be confused because my character on Avenue 14 is so different from my persona as a TV host on Asia’s Got Talent!” he laughed. “Hopefully it won’t be uncomfortable for fans to watch, but I think people will be able to separate the two personalities.”