William San has been involved in the performing arts since childhood. Twenty years on, he has become a familiar face in the local entertainment scene and his passion and enthusiasm remain as strong as ever. For health reasons, he took a break from television to try a stint as DJ for One FM and even guest starred in several movies. William thoroughly enjoys acting for the personal satisfaction he derives from putting on a different personality. As for his future plans, he honestly doesn’t have a clue, but has not ruled out the possibility of going into business. In this interview, Chivalrystyle.com tries to get inside the head of William San and find out what makes him tick.
You started off as a designer so what made you decide to break into the entertainment industry?
After graduating from high school, I wanted to work in the art industry, so I went to Hong Kong to study photography. When I returned to Malaysia I began considering fashion design instead because my cousin Sonny San was doing quite well in that industry – he’s the founder of the fashion brand Eclipse. As I foresaw a bright future ahead, I decided to work for his company.
My first job after graduation was in the the men’s apparel department. Basically, all I did was enlarge the clothing blueprints which were already designed and hand them over to tailors to produce a sample. If there was no work to be done, I would just sit at my station from nine to five. Although I loved design I lacked patience. I just couldn’t sit in the office all day long.
Later, I got to know a friend from the advertising industry. They were rushing a job, so I switched to become a fashion stylist. Not long afterwards, the company closed down.
Then, I met another friend, a local drama image consultant. He told me that a TV station was hiring actors and that I should go for an audition. I was selected and that kick-started my acting career. So in 1996 I began acting in dramas. In 1999, I got the chance to shoot television commercials and even tried some modelling.
How did you get into radio?
Three years ago, One FM ran a programme called Happy Hour to search for new DJs. I love to talk so they approached me and felt that I could do the job well. At that time, filming for dramas always ended late at night and sometimes I would doze off even before shooting was over.
I remember a time when I was hosting the show Morning Kaki. For three consecutive days I went without sleep. I really wanted to go home or check into a hotel just to get some sleep because the following day I needed to go back to work.
One night, I even suffered a memory lapse. I was driving home from the office and everything seemed fine but when I reached home and saw my dog, I just couldn’t recall how I made my way back.
My doctor told me my condition was serious – I was physically and mentally exhausted. Moreover, I wasn’t getting any younger, and as such, unable to keep on staying up late.
Fortunately, One FM gave me this opportunity to take a break which I gladly accepted. I had to change my routine, as my new working hours were from 12:00 noon to 8:00 pm. At first it was difficult for me to adapt to this new routine and it did make me feel ill at ease because for years I have been my own boss. It took me almost two years to get used to the new routine.
As you can see, I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone and had to face new challenges. No longer could I also tap on all of my previous work experience. But for the sake of my health and job security, I knew I had to at least try it out and see if it worked. No, I don’t regret my decision at all or all the risks I had to take. After all, if I hadn’t given it a go, I would have remained an actor all my life.
You’ve acted in some local movies. Do you wish to be more involved in this industry?
Since making my debut, I have starred in about 50 dramas…I’ve been to almost everywhere in Malaysia and I’ve played many different characters. I must thank ntv7 for giving me a lot of opportunities and for occasionally letting me take a break from acting so that I can be a DJ in a radio station.
As long as the script and the characters are decent, and if I have the opportunity to go on a holiday, I will definitely go back to acting. I find that movies are more suited for me because I cope better with the shorter shooting schedule that lasts only two or three weeks. TV dramas, on the other hand, would require two or three months to complete – and because of the long schedule I may not be able to take the physical pressure.
Television shows and movies are also different in terms of length. A movie normally runs for about two hours. And if you have a good script, you can tell a story within a couple of hours. But as for dramas, viewers have to follow every episode in order to enjoy the unfolding drama…the mood just isn’t the same.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in show business?
I think my greatest achievement in recent years was to join a group of like-minded entertainment industry friends. It all started with the dramas Forget Me Not and Summer Brothers – that was where I got to know Coby Chong, Jojo Goh, Wayne Chua and Miau Lim. We all became friends, helping each other in our acting and everyone was committed to give their best to the show.
For instance, when one of us was in the spotlight during a particular scene, the rest of us would try not to ruin it by upstaging the leading actor. Throughout filming we all work hard to create a friendly atmosphere and help the main actors enjoy playing their roles with confidence.
I’m particularly close to Coby Chong. Friends call me Ah Goh and Coby Ah Dee because in the drama Forget Me Not we were cast as brothers. I really thought of him as my brother, and when he broke down and cried, that affected me too. Come to think of it, when the story took a tragic turn, even the crew couldn’t hold back their tears. You see there was this camaraderie among us all…everyone, including the entire camera crew, felt it, and I believe viewers would feel that too. This sense of friendship…it is so rare. We shall always treasure it thanks to these two dramas.
Show business is a cutthroat industry. Have you given a thought about what you will be doing 10 or even 20 years down the road?
It’s a tough world, I know. As for what I would be doing in future, I’m still pondering over that. I’ve been changing careers – from acting to talking on the radio – and I’m keen on seeing how long my career [in radio] can last but I’m not saying that the station does not want me, or I do not want to stay with it.
While I’m currently an entertainer, I know I should prepare myself for the future. I have no business experience but if I can work with friends who are entrepreneurs, I don’t mind trying. I’ve moved from acting to presenting on One FM, and I can do that all over again. I’ve come this far and I’m ready for what comes next.
As a long-time actor for HVD productions, do you think the local film industry is going through a rough patch?
Actually I’m not from HVD. I only filmed one drama with them but everyone thought I was one of their regular cast members. Sometimes, information on the Internet can be misleading, but it’s no big deal in this case.
Anyway, I think the local film industry is going through a bumpy ride because we only have 20% of the population watching Chinese dramas, and more than half of that group only watch Hong Kong and Taiwanese dramas. Those who watch local Chinese dramas are only a minority.
My involvement in the movie industry is a personal one and I’m optimistic about its future – that is why I’m still in the industry. Although the local Chinese market is so unpredictable, I hope there will be more dramas featuring our local culture. Perhaps through this cultural connection, our viewers will be able to identify with the characters.
Take for example Yeo Yann Yann who starred in Ilo Ilo. Although the film featured an authentic Singaporean setting, it still managed to win the Taiwanese Golden Horse Award for Best Drama.
Culture is an art and it is through really good TV shows and movies that culture and people are best represented. As such, we should strive to keep local dramas alive and tie them with our local culture. That’s something that truly belongs to us and I hope our viewers will appreciate what our film-makers are attempting to do. cs