In Public Enemy, Gerald Chew plays pragmatic businessman Lim Hock Seng – a character first created by Henrik Ibsen 133 years ago, but who could easily be living in Singapore today. Gerald chats with us about drawing inspiration for his character from Singapore as a global financial city, his own life and collaborating with director Glen Goei.
Tell us about your character.
Lim Hock Seng is a business leader, a typical businessman, in Singapore. When Dr. Chee releases his report about the toxic water supply in the country, my character initially sees improvements to the water system as something that’s business-friendly. Then, he finds out the financial consequences of Dr. Chee’s report. At that point, he makes a very quick turnaround.
That’s what I find wonderful about the character. He presents a conundrum for many audience members, especially in a pro-business city like Singapore. They might find themselves agreeing with him more than they would like! After all, so many decisions here are made purely for pragmatic reasons – not just at the systemic level, but at the personal, individual level too. Lim Hock Seng represents that point of view.
Ibsen wrote An Enemy of the People 133 years ago. Were you surprised by the play’s relevance today?
Absolutely. I think Ibsen – via David Harrower, who has updated the play – is presenting a very realistic situation to audiences. Our characters are arguably doing something that is possibly bad for us in the long term, but we still do it. It’s an allegory for the issues we face and decisions we make every day. Sometimes, countries encourage war because it increases their profits. And, of course, the play asks questions that are still relevant today. Good intentions, good theories and good ideas can exist and they should be an ideal to be aspired to. But do they hold true in practice?
What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
First of all, I tried not to judge my character. I also worked on finding the layers of truth in him. What was fascinating to me was that I found a lot of the energy and truth in creating this character from everything around me – in what I feel and know of my environment and the people I live and share this country with.
Tell us about working with your director, Glen Goei, and this cast.
It’s been a great experience. As an acting company, we feel very enabled to do, or ask, or create, yet trust that Glen is there to take care of the whole story. I feel very much in safe hands as an actor. The audience will be in safe hands as well! I think the play is dealt with incredibly well under his vision and guidance.
I’m so fortunate to be a part of this company. Everyone gets along well. We are all very generous with one another. And we’re all on the same page – we want the same things from the production. I’m really happy about it!