At 23, Benjamin Kheng is a singer-songwriter and part of the successful indie band The Sam Willows. He’s an ex-national swimmer and a stage thespian who once acted as Romeo and more recently as recruit Ken Chow in Ah Boys To Men: The Musical. Did we mention his gorgeous mug as well? Damn, we’re rightfully jealous.
To top it off, the eligible bachelor has a sensitive side too – he once confessed his teenage suicide attempt to a room full of silent strangers, and now sings of self-image and social issues.
The media just can’t get enough of the charismatic Benjamin as he flits from rehearsals, interviews to band activities. UrbanWire pulls him aside for a quick chat while the multi-hyphenate celeb catches his breath.
You’re juggling singing, song-writing, and performing in musicals. Can you share with us any productivity tips that help you stay on top of your work?
Feed yourself! Maintain a steady diet of new films, books, music and life experiences to fuel that creative engine. One of the downsides of an artist besides chasing for payment and paralyzing self-doubt is encountering creative blocks. There’s only so much output you can create; you need to feed the machine! Always go back to why you fell in love with what you do in the first place. That’s a great place to start again.
What’s a regular day of work for you?
Confusing. It could swing from a full-day shoot, to 2-3 separate rehearsals, to creative meetings and promo work, to a gig or 2, to absolutely nothing. Those days are the best (and worst).
You were once a student in the sports school. What inspired you to change almost 360 to a more artistically-inclined career?
It had to do with a piano in the boarding school’s dining hall. I started out with theatre and music at a young age, and those took a backseat when I got more serious with sports. But every time I sat at that piano and put my fingers to the ivory keys, I felt inspired again. It was really that simple. Also, I began to suck at swimming at the national level (Laughs).
Which did you get into first – acting or playing in The Sam Willows? How did you get started out in the creative field?
Acting started a little earlier than the band – I studied theatre in school and was involved in a few fringe productions, both as cast and crew at different times. Then sometime in May 2012, everything got busier. I got into a closed audition for my first professional theatre production from a friend who was seeking a replacement. The band formed out of my living room jam sessions. YouTube deserves some thanks for helping us get our name out there.
We read that you learn accents to cope with failing Chinese. What are some of the best accents you can pull off, and where did you learn them?
The accent thing is just plain fun. I’m not terribly amazing at any, but I try my best and they’re useful in voice-over work and awkward parties. Mandarin is a separate issue altogether. I picked up the Australian accent mostly from my foreign coaches as a swimmer. The rest were from friends and TV. I won’t profess to be amazing at any because I know people who are killer at this, but my favourites are Russian, Scottish, Irish, Southern and South African. Afrikaans is the killer one, really hard to imitate. Leo Dicaprio did a great job at it in Blood Diamond.
Since being on set, do you miss your days serving in the army? Have there been any flashbacks during scenes in Ah Boys To Men: The Musical?
Of course! But since we’re mixing it up with song and dance, the nostalgia bleeds out too fast for me to reminisce. Definitely the field camp scenes though – those get to me pretty easily. I remember the field camp letters; I was already tearing up anticipating letters from my dad and girlfriend. My girlfriend didn’t end up writing one and my dad started his letter with “Dear Son, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble getting into OCS”. I didn’t get into OCS.
As the new Ken Chow, do you feel any pressure about meeting any expectations?
Yes and no. Joshua basically made Ken Chow in the movies and has an amazing fan base, and I wouldn’t want to ruin their image of Ken in any way. But the truth is this is a different narrative in a different universe, and thus a different Ken Chow. His impetus to leave and then return to army is different, his friendships with Lobang (played by Wang Wei Liang) and crew are different, and he’s definitely less muscular.
Have there been any funny incidences on set?
Maxi (playing Aloysius Jin) broke a chair. To be fair he has lost a lot of weight since the start of rehearsals.
National swimmer. Singer-songwriter. Stage actor. What’s next after Ah Boys To Men?
I plan on growing my hair back out. I’m planning to further my studies but that hinges on a lot of things. After the musical, The Sam Willows head to the studio to flesh out some new music.