Lim Kay Tong talks playing Lee Kuan Yew

Lim Kay Tong talks playing Lee Kuan Yew

Lim Kay Tong plays Lee Kuan Yew in "1965".

Veteran actor Lim Kay Tong can currently be seen on the big screen in Singapore playing the late Singapore's founding father, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the SG50 film, "1965".

With the film scheduled for 20 August 2015 in Malaysia but still subject to censorship, we managed to interview the star at the movie's press conference at the Capitol Theatre in Singapore recently, where Lim admitted to Cinema Online that he was at first apprehensive of playing the important role.

"1965" is filmed in celebration of Singapore's 50th year of independence, it tells the engaging and touching stories of immigrants and natives during the time leading up to the independence of Singapore.

Read on to find out why Lim eventually decided to take the role, the challenge he faced playing it; and he also spills that he will be starring with Malaysian radio personality, Patrick Teoh, in a "seniors' road movie" next.

Lim Kay Tong (far left) with the rest of the "1965" cast.

Cinema Online: Hi Mr. Lim, can you tell us about your character in "1965"?
Lim Kay Tong: I play Lee Kuan Yew. He's about the only real character in the film because obviously it's about the lives of fictitious characters in Singapore between 1963 and 1965. So, Lee Kuan Yew is part of an ensemble cast, he's not a central character. He frames the time in which the event takes place.

Why did you decide to take on the role? And what was the challenge in playing it?
I think that's the reason why I took it, because it's not too big for me. It's all about him. The challenge I found in doing this, I only had about 8 to 10 minutes of screen time in the film, so I have to make an impact in that short period of time. That was the challenge for me. But that's why I took the role, it was interesting, he doesn't appear a lot. "How am I going to do this?" That was a very interesting question for me.

It was said that at first you didn't want to take the role?
No, I was interviewed by Esquire Singapore and they were asking me about it. "If you were asked to play would you do it?" I said no. Don't ask me the real reasons why I said no. I guess it was just quite a daunting prospect to have to play someone who at that time was still alive. And I think that was main reservation was, portraying someone who was still living. But after I read the script, I thought it was doable and I took the offer.

Lim Kay Tong poses with Cinnamon the Lion during the interview.

How was it like filming it?
Basically, I didn't have to interact with anybody because Lee Kuan Yew is the real character, all the other characters are fictitious. So all their lives are being turned upside down and Lee Kuan Yew is in the background, giving a radio broadcast, giving a press conference, to try and calm people down. So basically I was acting in limbo, because I was acting as him but on my own so I really had no interaction in terms of filming with any other character.

The centerpiece for Lee Kuan Yew in this movie is the press conference, where he announced the separation from Malaysia. So that was my main scene and my main concern in terms of how do I get it right for the film.

What are your future projects?
I got a telemovie coming up on Singapore's national day, 9 August. I think it's being telecast after the National Day parade. It's a drama about a man who's got dementia and living in an old folks' home. He and the others decide to break out of the home and go to Malaysia, where his estranged daughter's getting married. He and his daughter do not have a good relationship but he still feels that he needs to attend his daughter's wedding. We shot the telemovie a few months ago in Kuala Selangor. It's a seniors' road movie [laughs]. Patrick Teoh, I think he's quite well-known in Malaysia, is one of the characters. It's called "Second Chances".

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