Singaporean actor Ayden Sng on constructive criticism, Instagram and his upcoming YouTube channel
Style and substance
Ayden Sng is more than just a pretty face. His LinkedIn profile is fascinating, and unlike any other local actor's that I've seen before; the Raffles Institution alumni went hard as a Commando during his National Service, graduated from Duke University with a bucketload of leadership experience and a degree in International Comparative Studies (the course deals with culture, history and politics), and then went on to dabble in industries as diverse as retail, finance, investment banking, foreign affairs, and UX design.
Since beginning his journey in the local entertainment scene sometime last year, Ayden has quickly racked up some impressive credentials: a supporting role in Fann Wong-led Channel 8 drama Walk With Me, starring opposite model-turned-actress Sheila Sim as the male lead in actor Bryan Wong's directorial debut The Playbook, and finally, getting signed to Mediacorp as an artiste in May this year.
If his name or face seems familiar by this point, chances are you might have seen it on Instagram; Ayden has over 74,000 followers on the social media platform, and has a knack for collaborating with some of the country's most promising photographers on stylised shoots.
I sat down with him earlier this week to discuss his experience as an actor thus far, his relationship with social media as well as his upcoming men's grooming YouTube channel (he's a fan of Boy de Chanel).
Early on in your career, was acting on your mind at all?
It was never in the pipeline. I moved back to Singapore, because I wanted to do product management. Acting came as a surprise. It was never going to be my job, even though I had some theatre acting experience during college.
Even until now, my career in acting is not definitive. There are no tell-tale signs that I would succeed to the extent that I'm hoping for, but I have to give myself a chance to experience it and find out if it's suitable for me.
That sounds fair. Since entering the entertainment industry, what has surprised you?
Transparency is an issue. When I was in tech, feedback was important. In the entertainment industry, however, people don't like to share information or provide feedback. Instead of going with the flow and becoming a shady person, I've chosen to stay true to myself and be defiantly transparent.
Another thing I've noticed is that a lot of young artistes are comfortable being baby birds, waiting for whatever comes their way. If you truly want something in any other job, you have fight for it and position yourself strategically for more opportunities. Just because most artistes have a manager, it doesn't mean that the manager will always be available to babysit them. The responsibility lies on the artiste to make things happen too.
How have you made things happen for yourself?
The most effective way is to cultivate genuine relationships. These days, even aspiring influencers believe that they can't do free work. I feel that paid work is overrated. I've put myself out there and done as many free things as possible. I want to make a difference in other people's work, and hopefully in time, add value to myself.
You've written a piece about collaboration on Medium. How would you describe the collaborative process in acting so far?
For acting, I have to be a bit more sensitive. I feel grateful whenever I find someone willing to engage in this discourse with me, because it is helpful. It can get worrying when nobody wants to communicate with me about whether my work was good or not, because it might seem like they feel it's not even worth investing that time in me. On the other hand, I've been filming a new Channel 8 series called Old is Gold over the past two months, and my co-star Felicia Chin has been nothing short of amazing.
Your first leading role came in Bryan Wong's short film, The Playbook. What was it like working alongside more established actors?
Going in, I was concerned with my nerves. Given my relative inexperience, there were still certain scenes that I couldn't pull off since I didn't have the techniques in my arsenal. Complex emotional scenes where I had to be more expressive were hard to pull off.
Looking forward to your future productions, what do you want to do better?
I would like to grow my emotional strength as an actor, and be unfazed by criticism from my directors and colleagues. Unfortunately, I'm not at that point yet. Hopefully, my performance can be unaffected by it.
Another thing I would like to improve on is my ability to play off other actors. Acting is not a solo gig; it is a group effort and I have a responsibility to give my fellow actors what they need. Will I be able to match up to my more seasoned colleagues? What happens if their performances are affected by mine?
When I was acting with Sheila Sim in The Playbook, her character was suffering from a terminal illness and she was crying most of the time. She made it so real that I broke down into tears as well.
Have you tried to ad lib, or experiment while on set?
I have. Since I'm confident with both English and Mandarin, I have the ability to assist in refining the script to make it more coherent.
Let's talk about your upcoming productions. Let's start with Old is Gold.
I'll be playing a nurse in a old folks home in Old is Gold. Majority of my scenes are with Felicia Chin, who is the primary antagonist in the show.
I'll also be filming Loving You in Kuala Lumpur in October. I don't have much information about it now, besides the fact that I'm playing an ex-athlete turned delivery driver. I'm also starring alongside Jessica Liu, who happens to be a lot older than me in real life. The age gap is part of the storyline, so it'll be interesting. It's my first production in another country, and it's going to be a long one.
I hear that you're planning to launch a YouTube channel as well. What can you tell us about it?
I'm working together with influencer Danil Palma. The channel is about men's grooming, skincare and makeup — essentially everything around how men can look better. We're filming it right now and it'll be launched sometime in October or November.
I'm very passionate about men's grooming. These days, there's increasing pressure on men to look better, but many guys don't know how to get there. How can we go about discussing and normalising a lot of these conversations — these are issues that we hope to tackle.
What's one thing that you've done since becoming an actor that has made you look and feel better?
I've introduced double cleansing into my routine. Oil cleansers get rid of the makeup on my face after a long day on set. It also more of a lifestyle shift: taking care of my skin, eating well, going to the gym, and sleeping on time.
I read that you began to be active on Instagram only in September last year while filming. How would you describe your relationship with social media?
For me, it's about what social media can do for me professionally. I used to avoid cameras. There are almost no photos of me in college. I just thought that I would look bad in front of the camera. I was insecure about how I might look and how people might perceive me.
If I hide from social media, I wouldn't receive any response to my work. The only way I can grow as an artiste is to get feedback. Social media has eased my insecurity and fear of judgement by allowing me to be myself. Trust me, I still have a long way to go.
Catch Ayden Sng in Old is Gold (every Monday to Friday, at 7.30pm on Channel 8) and Last Madame on Toggle in September. He is currently preparing to be the male lead in Loving You, which starts production in Kuala Lumpur this October with a tentative telecast in March 2020. Look out for his Youtube channel, The Bronte Effect, later this year as well.
Buro 24/7 Selection