She ditched a 9-5 to act. Now she's starring in 'Crazy Rich Asians.' Here's her story.

When Tan Kheng Hua was offered the role of Kerry Chu in "Crazy Rich Asians," she didn't hesitate to accept it.

Though the Singaporean actress has certainly made a name for herself on big screens in southeastern Asia, the opportunity to act in a major U.S. film — a historic film at that — was a unparalleled opportunity.

"Did we honestly have to wait so long for an all-Asian Hollywood film to come out?" Tan asks me during our candid interview.


All images courtesy of "Crazy Rich Asians"/Warner Bros.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is the first Hollywood film to feature a predominately Asian cast in more than 20 years.

Based on the beloved book, "Crazy Rich Asians" follows Rachel Chu and Nick Young through a meet-the-parents summer in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, though, the parents she's meeting are excessively wealthy and raised her boyfriend in a literal castle. Helping her navigate this unexpected terrain is her fierce and firm mom, Kerry.

The character Kerry Chu.

Kerry Chu is the opposite of the overbearing, only-grades-matter Asian tropes usually shown in U.S. film and television.

Kerry offers a refreshing and not-typically-seen representation of balanced parenting, something that reminded Tan of raising her own children.

"My relationship with my daughter is very similar to the one that Carrie has with Rachel in that verbal communication is a tool," she explains. "We talk to each other, we verbalize feelings, we express our wants and needs of each other. And this verbal communication is something that I consider is actually very Western. And my own parents who are very [stereotypically] Asian brought me up in a completely different way and in a very Asian way."

Tan further explains her definition of parenting "the Asian Way," saying:

"As a child I was expected to do a lot of housework and expected to come home every day at dinner time and have a meal and to sit down at the table with my entire family. Let me just tell you, I love my parents to death. They are the best parents in the world. But, times have changed ... and contemporary Western culture has changed many of the traditional Asian ways of a leading life."

As a former marketing professional, Tan's dedication to excellence and bucking the status quo has been a decades-long endeavor.

"I went to Indiana University at Bloomington and I got myself a Bachelor of Science, but in my heart, I'd always loved the arts," she says. "I loved my job, don't get me wrong. I was also good at it. But I thought to myself,  'I have devoted most of the hours of my day to this corporate job and devoted also a large portion of my time to my passion — which was acting — and I've got enough money saved up. Why don't I try to just see what it feels like to wake up in the morning and to be a indulging this passion for acting for the whole day?'"

Since that decision, Tan has appeared in a number of films and shows, such as her role as Margaret Phua in "Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd," Ali Tan in "Cages," and the Empress Dowager in "Marco Polo."

But now, she's stepped into another world in "Crazy Rich Asians."

Tan joins a cast that hails from Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore, nodding to the diversity inherent of Asian identities.

As a supporting actress in the highly anticipated film, Tan has been surrounded by a work energy that she hasn't seen in her career, largely because the people that play the characters actually reflect the characters in the book.

"What matters is that a group of people are coming together," Tan says. "A group of people who have immense talent, at all levels, from all over the world coming together to tell this story that was so beautifully put together and a story about culture that I am a part of, that I feel has never been told."

And as for the future? Tan dreams of one where it doesn't take nearly 30 years for another all-Asian film to be greenlit by Hollywood.

"I would like audiences to look at 'Crazy Rich Asians' and to enjoy the movie and to see how good it is," she says, "and hopefully one day just be able to just look at pieces of work and just say, 'Oh wow, it was good. It's so well-made. It's so funny.' And [I want people to] not just keep dividing the world into races and faiths. I would also like everybody to see talent — and not just for my own country — but from around the world."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Walt Disney Television / Flickr and The Simpsons Wiki

Actor Hank Azaria's relationship with "The Simpsons" character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon holds a mirror up to how America has progressed as a society on the issue of race over the past three decades. Last year, he announced he'd no longer be performing the character, but that came after a long, slow journey of understanding.

"It's 1988, and somebody says to me, 'Hey, can you do an Indian accent?' It was, like, one line. I said, 'Yeah, I think so.' And Apu comes out. We're like 'OK, that was funny' and we all laugh. So that keeps going from there, and over the years it develops," he revealed on Dax Shepard and Monica Padman's "Armchair Expert" podcast.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less