TAN LI YANG made his professional acting debut in a stage production called The Rascal I Once Loved in 2014, and walked away with the Best Male Newcomer award at the 11th Asli Drama Awards.
Then, four years later, he took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his stage performance in an adaptation of China playwright Cao Yu’s Peking Man, where he played four characters – a grandfather, a son, a grandson and son-in-law.
Since then, the actor has churned out several mesmerising performances, not just on the stage, but also on the small screen and even the silver screen.
“I discovered my love for acting very late in my life,” says Tan who has a Masters in Biomedical Science.
“I have never acted in school stage plays.”
The first time he was introduced to the world of acting was at the age of 19, while studying at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) where he took a degree in Biomedical Science.
There was an art festival being held in UKM, and the organiser was looking for actors.
Wanting to add extracurricular activities to his portfolio, he decided to be one of the actors. His first role was playing the son to a man who was haunted by his past memories.
That first university stage production instilled a love for acting in him.
“It was fun to be somebody else,” he says.
The other reason he fell in love with acting is connected with a painful memory from his past.
“When I was in secondary school, I was fat,” he says.
“My classmates always ridiculed me about my weight. Their sharp words broke my confidence.
“[But] when I am acting, I feel more confident in myself, and I feel at peace with myself.”
It was only three years ago that he decided to leave his stable job in a software accounting company and pursue acting full time.
Naturally his parents – his father was a teacher who later became a manager for a car spare part company, while his mother is still a full-time teacher – were concerned about his new career path.
“They never stopped me from pursuing my dreams,” says Tan, who has a younger brother who is a chemical engineer.
“They said as long as I can stand on my own two feet, I should chase after my dreams. I am glad to have supportive parents. Now I have to prove to my parents that I have made the right decision.”
He has acted outside Malaysia, playing supporting roles in a movie from Taiwan, and two movies from China. In the future, he hopes to build a bigger name in the entertainment scene in China.
Last year, his agent took him to China, and introduced him to several key players in the entertainment scene there. At the moment, all the projects that were discussed have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.
Once the pandemic is over, Tan is going full steam ahead with his dreams of making a name for himself in the China entertainment scene.
This year, he expanded his horizons by taking on his first Malay language role in a TV drama called Teratek Cinta under the direction of Nazir Jamaludin, playing a character called Reggie Tan who is a car racer.
“If you are an actor in Malaysia, you have to diversify,” says Tan, who had previously only acted in Chinese and English language productions.
“The opportunities are limited if you stick to one language,” he says.
He states that his favourite actor is Meryl Streep.
“She can become anybody she wants to be,” he says.
“What I admire most about her is that she is very humble. I read somewhere where she said that she is not a genius actor, and she needs time to get into her character.
“If Meryl Streep can do homework for her roles, we should do the same.”
As for what he does to get into the skin of his character, he says he always creates a backstory for his character that is not in the script. He also believes in working together with the rest of the cast to create chemistry between them.
What asked about his regime to stay fit, he says: “I must admit I work so much that I do not have enough energy to go to the gym.”
But the pandemic has changed that. He has fewer job offers, so he has more time to build his muscles.
“I am also very conscious of what I put in my body,” he says.
“I do not consume dairy products.”
He is also an actor who does not believe in putting all his eggs in one basket. Last July, Tan joined hands with local fashion designer Beatrice Looi, and created a fashion line called Byusby where they presented hand painted denim brands.
His friends describe him as someone who listens to their problems and gives good advice.
“I love giving hope,” he says.
“I always believe the world is a beautiful place and we are not beautiful enough for the world.”