S’pore actor Chin Han on his big Hollywood break: I just never gave up

Singaporean actor Chin Han at the premiere of Contagion (Getty Images)
Singaporean actor Chin Han at the premiere of Contagion (Getty Images)

He's acted in Hollywood blockbusters like The Dark Knight, 2012 and Contagion, as well as shared precious screen time with the likes of Lawrence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, John Cusack and the late Heath Ledger.

Most recently, he scored a role on supernatural thriller series Fringe and is now filming on the set American military TV drama series, "The Last Resort".

With a resume as impressive as this, it's tough to imagine that 43-year-old Singaporean actor Chin Han first starring role onscreen was in then-TCS's first-ever (and much-panned) English drama, Masters of the Sea.

Widely acknowledged as Singapore's first actor to make it big in Hollywood and has also been recognized by CNNGo as one of Asia's 25 greatest actors of all time, Chin tells Yahoo! Singapore in a phone interview there's no big secret in his Hollywood breakthough.

"I think it was just a question of being in the right place at the right time," said Chin, chuckling with embarrassment.

"But I think it's also not giving up. I've always loved the business whether it was acting in theatre, film, or television. I always look for material either to act in or produce or direct."

Breaking into Hollywood

His perseverance in the notoriously competitive Hollywood film industry where fame and fad can be as fleeting is what finally landed him his breakthrough role in The Dark Knight as Lau, an accountant working for mobsters.

"That kept me around long enough for a movie like 'The Dark Knight' to come along and for a director like Chris Nolan to want to use me. I think it's a question of being passionate about it to stick around even when times were tough. So I think that would explain it."

That, and hard work — not one to rest on his laurels, Chin jets all around the world for work and never seems to pause for a breath.

Chin Han at the premiere of Dark Night with actors Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman (Getty Images)
Chin Han at the premiere of Dark Night with actors Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman (Getty Images)

Even now, he is speaking on location from Hawaii, where he is guest-starring in military TV drama "The Last Resort" as a Chinese ambassador supplying food and medicine to a rogue US submarine crew.

Prior to filming for The Last Resort, Chin was working on HBO Asia's "Serangoon Road", a noir-style, 60s crime thriller. He also has a starring role opposite Michelle Yeoh in upcoming rom-com "Cook Tales", directed by Korean Tina Kim and produced by CJ Entertainment.

"I get to do a lot cooking in it as well which is great," said Chin.

On 'The Last Resort'

The always-affable Chin shared with Yahoo! his fascination with the set of The Last Resort, describing it as "on the north shore of Hawaii, where the surf is big and the waves are strong".

As part of his preparation for his role as Ambassador Zhang, Chin brought himself up to speed with weapons, culture and yes, geography.

"I looked into submarine technology, the US military, and that was very interesting. Secondly also I researched the Polynesian islands to get a sense of what kind of islands they were, what kind of languages they spoke here. Hawaii is geographically so interesting, with an active volcano," enthused Chin.

He described Ambassador Zhang as "a very interesting and politically savvy man, a humanist" who finds a soulmate in the character of Captain Chaplin, played by Emmy-Award winning actor Andre Braugher.

According to Chin, this connection extended both on reel and in real life as the actors, both coming from theatre backgrounds, bonded on set.

"I started out in the theatre and so did Braugher. The way we prepared for our scenes very much reminds me of the days when I did stage plays, when we would rehearse and go through it over and over again before shooting. That's a luxury in the current film and television industry and I have enjoyed every moment of it," he said.

Missing Home

Chin spends most of his time these days in Los Angeles, where he is based, but tries to come home to Singapore at least twice a year during festive seasons to meet up with friends and family.

"I come back at least once a year, either during Lunar New Year or Christmas, because the Christmas Orchard Road light-up is stunning," said Chin.

"Either that, or the Chinese New Year light-up in Chinatown."

But more than the bright lights of Singapore -- and just like a true-blue Singaporean-- what Chin misses most about the sunny island is the food.

"I miss the food. The food is just… well everyone I've spoken to loves the food in Singapore."

"I miss my chai tao kway in the morning. Black, with a lot of sweet sauce. I love that, and I love my teh tarik to go with that," said Chin wistfully.

Looks like you can take the man out of Singapore, but not the Singapore out of the man.

The Last Resort is on every Tuesday at 10 pm on AXN

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