Looking at actor extraordinaire Adrian Pang, 46, sitting across from me in casual clothes and a pair of black plastic slippers, all smiles as he leans against the wall with one leg carelessly flung across the other knee, he seems like the friendliest man in the world. And yet he declares that he’s a Grinch when it comes to the festive seasons.
“I’m usually that guy at the party getting drunk in the corner by myself. When it gets close to Christmas my wife always says ‘Oh God it’s that time of year again – Adrian’s going to be even more miserable than usual!’ And she’s right,” he chuckles.
Despite his assertion, however, he could hardly keep the grin off his face as he talked about his upcoming show – the annual festive extravaganza Crazy Christmas.
“I’m a Crazy Christmas virgin. I’ve never done it before and haven’t even watched any of the previous productions, but if the rehearsals are anything to go by, it’s all just going to be unadulterated silliness!” he laughs. “We act like a bunch of 12-year-olds in there and get up to all sorts of nonsense. I’ve worked with and known most of the cast for years, so it’s really just a group of friends having a laugh. It’s great!”
The production, now in its fifth year, will have the theme of ‘Silver Screen Meets Silver Bell’ and feature various actors and references to movies from the golden age of the 1930s and 40s. Expect to say hello to Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, and see warped excerpts of ‘Singing in the Rain’ amongst many others. And as for Pang’s role in all of this?
“Well it sort of switches as the whole thing’s a series of song-and-dance skits,” he says. He rubs his hand across his face as he bursts out laughing again. “But I will be playing Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz in the style of Marlon Brando at one point… You’ve been warned!”
“The show is a chance for friends and family to get together and relive old times, and just be children again… But it’s still really not my usual kind of thing, it’s an anomaly!” he quickly adds. “They only got me to agree to do this by dangling a carrot in front of me, saying my two sons can act alongside me, and I was like ‘Oh you clever bastards!’”
As great a thespian as Pang is, he insists that the most important role he plays is as a father to Zack, 13, and Xander, 12.
“Having children changed my life – it’s like now I know why God put me on this Earth!” he says, emphasising the gravity of the event by miming an explosion above his head with his hand.
While his schedule is certainly hectic – he started up a theatre company, Pangdemonium!, with his wife Tracie two years ago, and his stage presence is so prevalent that his face almost never leaves the billboards – he makes sure that he still gets some quality family time.
“I get very upset whenever I feel like I’m not spending enough time with my boys. When that happens, something’s got to give and I just have to say no to something,” he says. “I’m in a very fortunate place right now where I can choose which projects I take on, so I make sure to choose very carefully and selectively.”
“Three years ago I felt very tied down,” he adds in reference to his previous involvement in TV. “If we had this conversation back then I would’ve been complaining about everything! I was really miserable. But now, I’m very happy with my life. I’m fortunate to be doing what I love and I count my blessings every day. I still do TV occasionally – when something good turns up – but I’ve found that I’m most at home when I’m on stage before a live audience.”
Pang spent eight years acting in the UK after graduating from Keele University and only came back to Singapore in 2001 when he got enticed by a phone call from the former TV company MediaWorks (which got swallowed up by MediaCorp in 2005). Speaking as someone who has acted on both sides of the world, he believes that the theatre scene in Singapore still has a long way to grow.
“Acting in Singapore is definitely very different compared to the UK, and I have to try and bridge the gap in sensibility between the two places,” he says. “I think Singapore as a country is still trying to define its identity, but we should start realising that the audience here is intelligent enough to figure things out on their own. We don’t need to relocate a play to Singapore in order for them to be able to relate to it – they are smart enough to work that out for themselves.”
“But in my 20 years of acting, I’ve learnt that you’re never going to please everyone. You’re always going to piss somebody off, so the only thing I can do is to try my best and hopefully get something out of it,” he continues. “Sometimes I get projects where I fall in love with the people, fall in love with the process, and the final product is a piece of shit, but that’s fine, at least we had fun. The worst ones are when you didn’t have fun, you hated every minute of it, and the final thing is still a piece of shit…”
Judging by the way that he banged on about Crazy Christmas, however, we’re willing to bet that this is one production that he definitely had fun with – even though he confessed that his dance moves still needs a lot of work and that ‘there are some terrible jokes in it, in a nudge-wink, knowingly-terrible way’.
“I might even learn to spread some Christmas joy,” he concludes. “It’s terrible, really!”