Ferlyn Wong, star of 'Matthew's Story', on acting with Nathan Hartono and dealing with pressure as newbie

The cast of "Matthew's Story", (from left) Ferlyn Wong, Charlie Goh and Bernard Tan. (PHOTO: Ferlyn Wong)

SINGAPORE — Back when the Korean Hallyu wave was first taking the world by storm, Ferlyn Wong joined Skarf, a girl group made up of Singaporeans and Koreans. They sang, danced and trained diligently for hours on end, all in the hopes of becoming K-pop’s next big thing.

Unfortunately, while that dream never really came to be, Ferlyn has since moved on to launch a solo singing career before moving on to acting. Her first movie, When Ghost Meets Zombie, was released earlier this year, where she starred opposite local singer Nathan Hartono (coincidentally also in his first movie role). Her most recent role was as Fiona in the web series, Matthew’s Story, a spin-off of the Channel 5 series Kin, on Toggle now.

Dressed simply in a grey top and track pants, Ferlyn cut a stylish figure as she arrived to the interview while commenting on the aches and pains from the physical training for her next project. She sat down with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore to talk about the transition from singing to acting, as well as her hopes for the future.

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Hi Ferlyn, nice to meet you! Previously you started out singing and performing, first in a group and then as a solo star. What was your motivation to transition into acting?

Actually it really came out of the blue. I’d never considered myself an actress. When I went to the public casting for When Ghost Meets Zombie, I was actually at a point where I was about to give up on a career in entertainment. But my friend told me that at the age of 26, maybe I should just give it one more go and try acting.

It was very awkward because people recognised me at the casting, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue. I had had a few lessons in Korea, but it was very different then because the whole lesson was in Korean and I couldn’t really understand all of it.

My Mandarin also wasn’t very good. I had to translate it in my own understanding. However, the judges liked my performance because it was very different from what everybody else had done.

So that really paid off, knowing that you came from a bit of a blank slate.

Yes, and they were actually looking for that. After that, they flew down a trainer and I went through a whole six months of training. Once again I couldn’t fully understand the Chinese, and the speed they talked at was very fast. By the middle of the training, I had already half given up on myself already. Some of the other girls in the casting were from Malaysia and their Chinese was good, they had no problem understanding what the teacher was trying to tell us. I felt like I was fighting a battle that I was really losing.

Ferlyn Wong with Bryan Wong on the set of "Fiona's Story". (PHOTO: Ferlyn Wong)

But you kept pushing on?

The other girls were very nice. One of them actually stayed back and went through scripts with me. I had to have all my hanyu pinyin written down! Even in the beginning when I wasn’t as close to the girls, I had to call my boss, who is from Taiwan, so his Chinese is very good, and he went through the scripts with me. I had a lot of support, but it was very tough on me because I wasn’t excited, because I thought I was already losing.

I think I was very lucky, at the end of the whole training I got the role and that wasn’t the end of the story. That was the beginning of everything. But then I realised that in the movie, I’m doing most of the talking because Nathan Hartono plays a zombie and has no script! I thought that it was a love story so both of us would have to communicate.

Once again I felt a lot of stress and pressure. Everybody had given me a chance and I was very, very afraid of letting them down. Since everybody else in it were all experienced and good actors and actresses, I thought that if this movie fails, it would be because of me.

But that at the same time also sparked off a passion for acting.

When I did my first role, my passion for acting didn’t grow as much because I was still doubting myself about whether or not I was an actress. I thought When Ghost Meet Zombie was going to be my only acting project, so I wanted to do well. After that I had so many good responses that it was scary. I did music for years and the difference between the amount of time I spent doing music to get that number of good responses, and the amount of time I spent acting to get a similar number of good responses, was really too drastic. It made me think that maybe I’ve been missing out on something that I can do. It was very hard for me to accept that all these years, I was actually better in another set of talents.

Did you feel that the singing and performing helped to prepare you for acting?

Maybe. Because when I’m on stage I’m also acting. Performing is also a kind of acting. But I’ve never challenged myself in terms of language, memorising the script or talking to another character. But I feel there’s a part in me where I like to be different. I like to take different kind of characters and explore different parts in me that I didn’t know existed.

And I think that acting has really pulled that out of me, understanding myself better emotionally, mentally, and what kind of trigger really makes me emotional. During the tragic scenes in When Ghost Meets Zombie, I didn’t realise how much I cared for Nathan as a friend. Similarly, when I worked on Fiona’s Story and had a scene where the character’s father was going to die, I didn’t know that I could feel that sad.

What was it about the role of Fiona that attracted you to it at first?

First things first, it’s an English drama, and after When Ghost Meets Zombie I wanted to do something that I was more comfortable with. When I took up the role, I liked the idea that it looked at the dark side of the world and wasn’t just an innocent love story. Fiona is not really innocent because she knows what is going on, but she’s quite a shrewd character.

Ferlyn training for an upcoming role as an elite military recruit. (Photo: Red Dot Artists)

How is Fiona similar to you?

Playing this role, I also found a lot of similarities between Fiona and myself. I want to say that I’m a loyal person, as a friend or as family. There’s a lot of secrets that I keep. I also like the fact that she wants to protect everybody around her, and I’m very protective of the people around me, even my colleagues. However, the transition from Matthew’s Story to Fiona’s Story, that was the part where I had to think twice because it takes place five years later and a lot of things happened. I had to show a different Fiona that was still the same character. I put a lot of creative thought into it. The director gave me a lot of help, he was the one who brought a different side of Fiona out. Although I did my homework, there were some things on set that the director said that made me see Fiona differently. It was really teamwork. All of us want it to do well. I’m very lucky that the crew wants me to go into Kin, so they want me to do well in Fiona’s story so there’s a higher chance that she will be a part of Kin.

Viewers really wanted to see Fiona and Matthew reconnect, so is it possible for this to happen in Kin?

Everybody was just assuming, there was just a lot of assumption and I didn’t know if it would happen!

What do you think it is about Fiona that viewers connect with the most?

I feel that Fiona is the only character that everybody wants to keep secrets from, even her father and boyfriend. She has no idea and still wants to support and protect the people around her. I believe all of us have been deceived before because of love or something you want to protect.

I understand that you’ve been training for your new project, which starts filming in August. Could you tell us more about that?

This will be my third Chinese role, but my first supporting role, and I struggle a lot at that part also because you have to support the lead. There is another set of responsibilities that come with it.

It’s a female army recruit show that focuses on six recruits, all with different motives for joining the army. We all start out not liking each other and there is a Best Recruit title that all of us want to achieve, so we end up competing against each other. I play a character called Veronique, who is from an elite family, and there is a lot of family pressure wanting her to be as successful as her parents. She is very snobby and I think everybody will hate her at the start. It’s my first time playing such a character.

It’s quite stressful because I’m supposed to be an elite recruit, but I’ve never done any combat stunts before. I’m sure the camera will make me look good, but I have to play my part also. We actually have to train with real guns which were surprisingly heavy. As an actor, the most important thing is to bring out the character and the story. But when we were training, even our trainer from the army said he found it difficult with the helmet on, so that really distracted us. We still have to do our lines and look like we can do it even though it’s our first time doing it.

That sounds very tough!

I’m trying to mentally prepare myself to shoot with all of that in the heat, but I decided to take up this role to push myself to the next level. I challenged myself to portray a different character every time I take a new role. I don’t want you to watch my previous projects and see the shadow of my previous role. I think my journey now seems to be the way I want it to be. I find myself doing a lot of homework like watching other dramas, or going out to cafes to sit down and watch people, just to absorb what other behaviours and habits other people have that I’ve never seen before so I can use that for my next character. I think it’s a challenge but it’s a fun challenge, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing and hopefully I can do this for a very long time.


Viewers can catch Ferlyn Wong as Fiona in Matthew’s Story, a spin-off of the Channel 5 series Kin, on Toggle now.