To celebrate his 20th anniversary in showbiz, beloved local actor/comedian Hossan Leong, 43, has decided to put together a show to look back on his journey in the entertainment industry thus far. While the path hasn’t always been easy, he has managed to maintain an infectiously optimistic attitude. Gwen Pew catches up with ‘Singapore Boy’.
29 Jun 2013:
The title of the show, Hossanah!, is a tribute to Leong’s grandmother, as that is how she used to pronounce his name. ‘This show is a “thank you concert” dedicated to my family, friends, fans and everyone who’s supported me over the past 20 years,’ he explains.
Leong never received any formal theatre training – in fact, he had originally studied to become an electronics technician at the French-Singapore Institute, having been kicked out of Anglo-Chinese Junior College after failing his Mandarin exam four times: ‘I can speak and understand the language but I just don’t understand the squiggles [of Chinese characters]!’
His first acting role was in Alvin Tan’s 1993 debut production of Off Centrewith The Necessary Stage. ‘I got thrown in the deep end and ended up spending six months researching what it’s like to have mental issues. It was intense!’
When Leong was six, he asked his parents for a piano. His mum asked if he was sure he’d play it, and then used her entire life savings to buy him a second-hand one, which he used until his teens. Piano remains one of his passions.
Though supportive, his father didn’t take his acting career seriously until he started appearing on TV and was eventually conferred the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2010: ‘I’ve never seen my father cry – but at the ceremony, he was in tears!’
He applied for a place at Sydney’s renowned National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and got through to the final audition round, but the dean at the time – Tony Knight – said he was doing Leong a favour by not accepting him. Now Knight is a Programme Leader for Musical Theatre at Lasalle, and has invited Leong to help direct the school’s graduate show next year. ‘I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, a window opens.’
‘My most embarrassing moment was when I did my first TV show [Channel 5’s Under One Roof in 1994],’ Leong admits. ‘No one had taught me how it works so I assumed that since the longshot camera was at the back of the room, I had to shout really loud. The guys on the sound deck were not happy as they indicated that the mic was actually right in front of me!’
He gets nervous before each show: ‘I feel constipated before I go on stage! But you know what they say – if you’re not nervous, you’re not doing it right. And once I get going, it’s fine; I enjoy entertaining.’
One of the songs that inspired him the most is Whitney Houston’s ‘I Look to You’. Can we expect a rendition of it in Hossanah!? ‘I’ll try!’
What else can we expect in the show? ‘An updated version of We Live in Singapura!’