American newbie scores lead role in Suria show
US actor-photographer is Malay TV channel's newest 'ang moh' face
He is the newest "ang moh" to greet Suria viewers on their TV screens.
American actor-photographer Chris Bucko has a lead role in new local Malay series Menantu International (International Daughter/Son-in-law).
He plays an American motivational speaker and marriage counsellor who falls in love with a local Malay social worker (played by Azzah Fariha), much to her father's dismay.
The 13-episode drama, which centres on cross-boundary and transnational relationships, airs every Wednesday at 9.30pm on Suria.
Bucko is the latest Caucasian, after TV personalities Bobby Tonelli and Paul Foster, to appear on Suria shows.
For the 39-year-old, landing the part in Menantu International is his big break since moving here from Los Angeles nearly six years ago.
The New York native told The New Paper: "I was on an MRT train when I got the confirmation for the role.
"I gasped and everyone turned to look at me, so I had to try and contain myself.
"When I announced it on Facebook on April 1, people were asking if it was an April Fools' Day joke.
"This is one of the most exciting moments in my life. I waited decades for this. It is excitingly overwhelming and hasn't quite hit me yet."
Bucko said fate had a part to play: "I was about to log off Facebook one day but something told me to scroll down just a bit more. That was when I saw the casting call.
"I auditioned (for) Azzah in early March and the rest is history."
Language was the biggest challenge for the bachelor who speaks "20 to 25 per cent" Malay in the show.
"I was learning parts of the language as I was memorising the script, so it took five times longer than it normally would," he said.
"I picked up a few phrases but it will be a while before I can converse in the language."
Bucko used to dabble in photography and videography but packed his bags for Singapore after his business partner scored a contract to work here in 2009.
What was supposed to be a year-long stay here for the communications graduate turned into a much longer stay.
Within a few months, he wiped out his savings of $3,000 but managed to get a job as general manager at backpacker pub Prince of Wales and then a hosting stint at Universal Studios Singapore.
Home, which used to be his friend's sofa, is now a room in a four-room HDB flat in Redhill that he has been renting for nearly three years.
In between, Bucko takes up freelance jobs to make inroads in the local entertainment industry, landing TV and print ads as well as small roles in Channel 5 shows like Zero Calling and Code Of Law.
Lady Luck is finally smiling on him.
"There have been many ups and downs but I don't regret a moment of my journey because it made me who I am today.
"It's an exciting beginning and I hope for more experiences like this," said Bucko, who has played the bit part of an alien in US TV series Star Trek: Enterprise and was a stand-in in US comedy Ugly Betty.
The entertainer, who recently scored a role in Channel 5's first long-form drama series Tanglin, has big dreams to produce or direct and set up his own production company.
But for now, he is channelling his energy towards Menantu International, which premiered last week and is still being filmed.
The crew and cast, including his co-star Azzah, do their part to help him with pronunciation and his lines.
"He is a conscientious guy who puts in effort and studies his lines diligently. He's still getting used to the way we speak, so it's quite funny to watch or listen to him sometimes," 28-year-old Azzah told TNP in a separate interview.
The freelance actress and teacher, who is married to Alif Abdullah of local hip-hop duo Sleeq, added: "We had great chemistry right from the beginning, during the auditions, and he is very easy to get along with.
"The go-to people are usually Bobby Tonelli and Paul Foster for these roles. Having someone new is quite refreshing and we are happy for Chris for landing this role."
Menantu International's concept creator and head writer, actress Haryani Othman, 37, said: "It's a reflection of what is happening in Singapore, where we see a rise in international people in our community.
"We see more cross-boundary marriages in recent years and we want to highlight that it's not always a bed of roses."
His Malay is 'too formal'
UPGRADING: Paul Foster is considering doing a conversational Malay class. PHOTOS: ST FILE, MEDIACORP SURIA
He played egotistical rugby coach Troy in Malay sports drama Rempuh, which ended earlier this month.
For local actor-host Paul Foster, who is of British-Peranakan descent, this role was the latest addition to his list of roles on Suria.
He played Ash, a British chef who marries a local woman in Walimah 2 (2014).
He also played property agent Ashton in Papa, Rock! (2011).
The 34-year-old, who is signed to Beam Artistes, describes the local Malay community as supportive.
"Some 'makciks' and 'pakciks' (Malay for aunties and uncles) came up to me and said, 'You're so 'jahat' (Malay for evil) in Rempuh, I wanted to whack you', but that's good because that means I played my character well," Foster told The New Paper.
"It's a community that watches TV and supports the cast."
Foster, who studied Malay for two years at United World College of South East Asia, had more Malay lines in Rempuh compared to his previous roles.
Foster said: "I'm still the 'orang putih' (Malay for Caucasian) character. For the longest time, I kept getting corrected for my pronunciation and I kept second-guessing myself.
"When I finally asked the assistant director, he told me my pronunciation was 'too good or too formal' and Malays don't normally converse in that manner.
"I had to learn to speak in a more casual way."
Having played the role of a baddie twice and a love interest once, Foster remains neutral over the possibility of being typecast.
"It's just how we look. By default, we are the white guys and there is a limited pool of us you can choose from," said Foster, who will next host Okto documentary Singapore Archipelago and star in Channel 5 shows Working Class and Lion Moms.
"It's not a good or bad thing, someone has to play the foreigner.
"I'm considering doing a conversational Malay class to improve and use it as a launch pad for a bigger market. Hopefully, more doors will open."
Real experience for the reel
ON A ROLL: Bobby Tonelli sees his involvement with Suria as a form of cultural education. PHOTOS: BH FILE, MEDIACORP SURIA
This year alone, US actor-host and former radio DJ Bobby Tonelli was in two drama series on Suria.
The Fly Entertainment artist played malicious and flamboyant fashion designer Runway Rio who attempts to jeopardise a fashion show in Interns.
He also played devoted husband James in Kosmopolitan.
Tonelli previously appeared in Munah & Hirzi: Action!, Atas Heights, Fajar Ramadan, Ummi Season 2 and BFF.
For the 39-year-old, his involvement with Suria is a form of cultural education, not only for him but for Malay viewers as well.
"To the masses, it's about telling the story of two different cultures that are getting more and more media attention these days," said Tonelli, whose sci-fi movie thriller Lost In The Pacific will be released at the end of the year in China.
"We can be from different backgrounds, but the message is that love is love and acceptance is the one common thing," added Tonelli.
Tonelli, who has been dating a 39-year-old Indonesian Muslim in the jewellery distribution business, was able to use his personal experience for his role in Kosmopolitan.
He said of the two-year relationship: "I've been picking up a bit of Bahasa (Indonesia), which is similar to Malay, from my girlfriend. I've also been learning more about Islam, which somewhat parallels my character in the show.
"The community's response has been encouraging. I would love to act in another Malay drama in future.
"You can't live in a bubble in South-east Asia because of the diverse culture. TV shows open up your mind to understanding foreigners as well as locals and their different cultures."