Not many people can enter a crowded room and bring such an aura with them. In this room, one woman captivates everyone from the moment she steps in, effortlessly displaying a range of expressions and emotions before the camera, which speaks volumes of her ﬁne pedigree in drama.
The protagonist is Oon Shu An.
Her oeuvre stands out for its versatility – she has displayed her magniﬁcent artistic range in more than 30 ﬁlms and plays. Some may remember the Singapore thespian for the role that catapulted her into Hollywood, that of a bewitching concubine in Netﬂix’s historical epic, Marco Polo.
She is also recognised for her portrayal of a cleavage-baring Japanese porn star in Han Yew Kwang’s sex comedy ﬁlm, Rubbers, and her role as a hard-nosed attorney in the Channel 5 legal drama, Code of Law.
More recently, she had an unforgettable outing as the university lecturer who embarked on a liaison with a student in Pangdemonium’s ﬁery play, This is What Happens to Pretty Girls, which was scripted in the wake of the #metoo movement.
Next up, the 32-year-old will star in the Toggle web series, I’m Madam, where she plays a beauty blogger who joins the army.
The real Shu An emerges during the interview – the vivacious viral sensation of the ongoing Tried and Tested Youtube beauty episodes by Clicknetwork, and her solo play and Youtube series, #Unicornmoment, produced with Checkpoint Theatre in 2014.
#Unicornmoment, which has a strong following of teens and young adults, explores the themes of family, love and personal identity. The script is no ﬂuffy fantasy – it was nominated for Best Original Script at The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards 2015, and the solo play was also brought to schools.
The petite actress strides conﬁdently towards you with a smile, tucks herself into her seat, and makes you feel that she is comfortable talking about anything.
“How’s your day so far?” she initiates the conversation before revealing that ﬁve years after its debut, a second instalment of #Unicornmoment is in the works.
“The purpose of #Unicornmoment is sharing experiences that one may not learn in school, like self-reﬂection. I use my life as an example, where there have been moments of ‘could have said this’ and ‘should have done that’. For example, I reﬂect on the projects I had turned down previously and why I wasn’t ready then,” says Shu An.
She explains: “It is to make sense of things in the past, link them to where you are now in life, and where you’re heading in the future.”
Of the title, the actress shares: “There is a unicorn in all of us. It symbolises something special within ourselves that we cannot see, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it in you.”
It’s hard to believe that the conversationalist – a star alumna of the Lasalle College of the Arts – was once a very shy child, so much so that her parents had to send her to speech and drama classes. Then, as a teenager, she joined the drama club in Methodist Girls’ School before taking on her ﬁrst acting role at 19 for the 2007 indie ﬁlm, Becoming Royston.
“I’m totally in my element when I’m acting,” she tells Her World. “The parts I love most are the rehearsals and the creative process in our discussions of our roles. I am drawn to difficult topics or themes, and this allows me to examine them closely and understand the issues.”
Indeed, acting has given Shu An a sense of self-awareness. Her parents, whom she looks up to as role models, have a lot to do with it, too. “My folks are good with selfreﬂection, and they aren’t afraid to admit that they’re wrong or say ‘I’m sorry, I got angry with you’. It took me a while to realise that my parents are a great gift in my life,” the elder of two siblings says proudly.
Shu An’s tendency to put things into perspective displays her maturity beyond her 32 years. Beneath that sparkly, straight talking personality is an old soul – one who is also refreshingly authentic.
She speaks of her love for her late grandmother, and her one big regret.
“A week before she passed away, something was nudging me to call her, but I didn’t want to disturb her. Looking back, I think she would’ve loved to hear from me, and I should have made that call then,” she says sombrely. “Even though it has been 16 years since she passed on, I still miss her dearly.”
While the actress enjoyed success in her career, Shu An hit a rough patch ﬁve years ago and slipped into depression. “My friend advised me to see a doctor, which I did, and I was on medication for about a year,” she says. “Therapy has helped me. Although I have been in a good place for several years now, I still try to go for therapy when I can, as it has given me insights into my emotions.”
She adds, candidly: “Sometimes when I am angry, I get really angry. But I’m conscious about my choice of words in the heat of the moment that may hurt people. It’s good to tell them how much they mean to you or say sorry when you pull back to look at things.
“Respect people for who and what they are. While you may not agree with certain views, there is no need to put someone down.”
When it comes to ﬁnding her own role models, Shu An isn’t short of them. Among the people she looks to are those at Checkpoint Theatre, who have been instrumental in her growth as an artiste.
“I admire their approach in nurturing younger artistes, and they have so much generosity in sharing their craft. They genuinely want you to be better in what you do,” says Shu An, who is single. “I also admire Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Trevor Noah, who effect change with their craft and talk shows, and the way each of them connects with people positively.”
And that’s what Shu An wants to continue to do.
“Acting is as much of a profession as it is my passion, and I want to be able to use it to do bigger things,” she says. “I hope #Unicornmoment will continue to engage and inspire the younger generation to explore and reﬂect on life.”
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IT’S GOOD TO TELL THEM HOW MUCH THEY MEAN TO YOU OR SAY SORRY WHEN YOU PULL BACK TO LOOK AT THINGS.
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RESPECT PEOPLE FOR WHO AND WHAT THEY ARE. WHILE YOU MAY NOT AGREEWITH CERTAIN VIEWS, THERE IS NO NEED TO PUT SOMEONE DOWN.
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TEXT HAYLEY TAI PHOTOGRAPHY GAN, ASSISTED BY LINA YUSOFF & LOY KOK WEE STYLING WINDY AULIA, ASSISTED BY SEAN THAM HAIR CALVIN GAN/ HAIRLOOM MAKEUP SAM ONG, USING CHANEL LOCATION ARTEMIS GRILL & SKY BAR