It’s hard to believe Malaysian actor John Tan Wei Jun wasn’t practising to be a model his entire life. During the photo shoot for Star2, he strikes perfect poses with everything the photographer asks of him.
Jump? No problem. He’s all too familiar with serving the right expression as the camera clicks. Change position. Smile. Don’t smile. Look away. Look directly into camera. He does it.
This wasn’t the case eight years ago, says the 28-year-old. “The first time I modelled was in Penang. An agency invited me to participate in a competition after seeing my pictures on Facebook,” Tan recalls.
“During the runway, I didn’t know what to do. My cousin, who came to the show with me, told me I walked too fast and there wasn’t time for the judges to look at me,” he says with a laugh.
Since then, the Kedah-born looker has always strived to be the best. By the time he participated in Manhunt Malaysia 2012, he was good enough to win the challenge. A year later, after completing his tertiary education, he moved to Kuala Lumpur to pursue modelling and became a fitness trainer in the process.
“I am the kind of person who wants to do everything properly,” he says. “I will work on something till I get it right.”
Practise Makes Perfect
The same reasoning drove Tan to give his best in director Saw Teong Hin’s critically acclaimed and award-winning 2017 Hokkien-language film, You Mean The World To Me. His efforts earned him the Best New Actor award at the 29th Malaysia Film Festival.
“Getting the award was so surreal,” he remembers. “I wasn’t expecting to be nominated, what more to win anything at all.”
Tan played Ah Boy, the elder brother to the protagonist. He shed 7kg from his already lean frame – he’s 1.83m tall and 89kg – to appear smaller, but also worked with an acting coach for months before the shoot, on how to play someone with an intellectual disability.
Portraying a character who was an unfortunate catalyst for the tragic events in the family was quite daunting for Tan. One reason he found the part challenging was because he couldn’t tap into his own childhood memories.
“I had a pretty good childhood growing up in Bukit Pinang, Kedah surrounded by rubber trees, paddy fields and rivers, catching fish in the evening,” he says. “The most traumatic thing that happened to me was my father’s death seven years ago.”
Tan excelled academically and in extra-curricular activities at school. Between him and his older siblings – a brother and a sister – Tan says he’d be the last to reach home because of his schedule.
“I was active in sports in primary and secondary school; athletics when I was younger. Then I took up basketball in Form 3 and shot-put in Form 5. I was also into singing and performing,” Tan says.
Though he was in a Chinese-language school, Tan represented Kedah state in public speaking competitions in English and Bahasa Malaysia. He says his mastery of languages came from reading newspapers in both languages.
Achieving The Goals
Though he was sporty, Tan says he wrestled with his weight as a kid. At age 15 he was 110kg. “I was active, but I ate a lot too!” he reasons. But his desire to excel motivated him to lose the kilos after Form 6, before he attended Universiti Sains Malaysia to study marketing.
“I wanted to look good,” he states. “I made it my goal to achieve that before going to university. It would be a brand new environment and I wanted to project a brand new me.”
He started going to a gym and worked out alongside police cadets who trained there, because the fitness regime was better. He researched healthy diets and changed his eating habits. Even today, no matter how busy he gets, Tan prepares his own food.
“I love cooking. When I was younger, I spent a lot time in the kitchen helping my mother,” he says. “I’m very close to my mother. We’re more like friends because we have similar personalities.
“I learned a lot from her. She taught me how to make traditional kueh like seri muka and kueh kapit. Every Chinese New Year, I will go back home to make kueh kapit for the family.”
And what might his favourite mum’s dish be? “Chicken curry,” he answers immediately.
“My mother raised us alone,” Tan says about the time she parented all three children herself after their father moved to Japan for a few years for work. “She would babysit and make paper deliveries in the morning, just so we’d have enough money for everyday use.”
Her determination is one thing Tan inherited, and it has served him well as a model, fitness trainer and actor. Tan says, “She encouraged me to perform and has always – always – supported us in whatever we wanted to do.”
“I never thought I would be a model or an actor when I was in school,” he adds. “All I knew was, I didn’t want an office job that tied me down from 9 to 5.”
Tan says he’s ready for new challenges. “With everything, there is a process. We just have to open up to new opportunities.”
“I am still on the learning path when it comes to acting, but I know every character will teach me something,” he adds. “For me, there is no limit to where I can go and what I can do. I just have to work at it.”