It’s hard to believe John Tan wasn’t practising to be a model all his life. During the photo shoot for this cover story, Tan strikes perfect poses no matter what the photographer asks him to do.
Jump? No problem. He is all too familiar with giving the right facial expression as the camera clicks away. Change pose? You name it, he does it – smile, don’t smile, look away, look directly into camera.
But this wasn’t the case some eight years ago, says the 28-year-old, whose full name is Tan Wei Jun.
“The first time I modelled was at a competition in Penang. An agency had invited me to participate in a modelling competition after seeing my photos on Facebook. During the catwalk, I didn’t know what to do. My cousin, who came to the show with me, told me I walked too fast, (that) there wasn’t enough time for the judges to look at me,” recalls Tan with a laugh.
However, this Kedah-born looker always strives to be the best. By the time he participated in the Manhunt Malaysia competition in 2012, Tan was so good that he was crowned champion.
A year later, after completing his tertiary studies, he moved to Kuala Lumpur to pursue a career in modelling, and became a fitness trainer in the process.
“I am the kind of person who wants to do everything properly. I will work on something till I get it right,” adds Tan.
Practise Makes Perfect
This same reasoning is what drove Tan to give his all when he was cast in Saw Teong Hin’s 2017 Hokkien flick You Mean The World To Me. His effort once again bore fruit; it earned Tan the Best New Actor trophy at the 29th Malaysia Film Festival last year.
“Getting the award was so surreal. I wasn’t expecting to be nominated, what more to win anything at all,” he remembers.
In the film, Tan plays Ah Boy, the mentally-challenged elder brother to the protagonist.
For the role, Tan not only lost 7kg from his already lean frame (he stands at 1.83m and weighs 89kg) to appear smaller but also worked out the mechanics on how to play Ah Boy with his acting coach for months before the shoot.
Tan found portraying a character who is an unfortunate catalyst for some of the tragic events that occur within the family quite daunting.
One of the reasons the actor found the role challenging was because he couldn’t tap on personal childhood memories for the role.
“I had a pretty good childhood, growing up in Bukit Pinang surrounded by rubber trees, padi fields and rivers, catching fish in the evening. The most traumatic thing that happened to me was my father’s death, seven years ago,” he says.
In school, Tan excelled both academically and in extra-curricular activities. Among his siblings (one older brother and an older sister), Tan says he’d be the last to reach home from school because of his busy schedule.
“I was active in sports both in primary and secondary schools – athletics when I was younger. Then I took up basketball in Form Three and shot-put in Form Five. I was also into singing and performing,” says John.
Although he went to Chinese schools during his primary and secondary years, Tan represented Kedah in public speaking competitions both in English and Malay. He adds that his mastery in languages came from reading Malay and English newspapers.
(When Star2.com spoke to John Tan, who is into fitness training, he said he could do more than 20 burpees under a minute. We asked him to prove it. Tan sent us the video above from his home in Bukit Pinang, Kedah where he’s celebrating Chinese New Year.)
Achieving The Goals
Although he was a sporty kid, Tan wrestled with his weight issue. When he was in Form Three, Tan says he weighed 110kg. “I was active, but I ate a lot too!” he reasons.
That desire to excel in whatever he does is also what pushed him to lose weight after Form Six, and before going to Universiti Sains Malaysia to study marketing.
“I wanted to look good,” he states before continuing, “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 by going to a gym in Kedah where he trained alongside police cadets who also worked out there because the regime was better. He researched on healthy eating and figured out how to change his diet to lose weight. Till today, no matter how busy he is, Tan still prepares his own food.
“I love cooking. When I was younger, I would spend a lot time in the kitchen helping my mother. I am very close to my mother, we are 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 dish of hers be? “Chicken curry,” he answers promptly.
“She encouraged me to perform, and has always, always, supported us in whatever we three wanted to do,” says Tan.
“My mother raised us alone, she would baby-sit and make paper deliveries in the morning just so we’d have enough money for everyday use,” he says about the time his mother had to take on the parenting load alone as his father had gone to Japan to work for a few years.
His mum’s determination is definitely one of the things Tan inherited, and it has served him well as a model, fitness trainer and now, actor.
“I never thought I would be a model or an actor when I was in school. All I knew was I didn’t want an office job that ties me down from 9 to 5,” he explains.
Tan says he’s ready for new challenges that come his way. “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.
“For me there is no limit to where I can go and what I can do. I just have to work at it.”