Fame is fickle, or so the saying goes, but you can argue that it’s pretty consistent too. Take this universal law for instance, an inverse relationship — the more famous you are, the more elusive you become. Sure, social media helps break down some of these walls; you see Chris Pratt sneakily filming a behind-the-scenes video from the set of Avengers: Endgame, Ariana Grande replying to her fans’ tweets (someone else’s, never yours), even good old Jennifer Lawrence fumbling over her words, and you feel that surge of connection that makes your heart go “celebrities, they’re just like us!”. Except, they aren’t.
Along with the recognition and distinction of being a celebrity, comes an aura of mystery, that despite how connected you feel to someone, they’ll always feel surreal, untouchable. That’s how I always felt about our local artistes too, actors and actresses who appear on our television screens, trained to flash bright smiles at meet-and-greets, maybe reveal a bit about themselves in “tell-all” interviews that happen to tie in to the next thing they’re promoting, and then after all that’s done, they retreat into private lives we’ll never really be privy to. Before I met Julie Tan, she seemed that way too — another celebrity, another showbiz personality. Now? I can imagine how her eyes would widen in alarming disdain if I’d dare call her “typical”.
Her path to stardom started familiar enough; the actress entered the entertainment industry at a young age, 17 years old, and has since enjoyed an illustrious career she can be proud of, starring in a long list of Channel 8 television dramas, and even lead roles in a couple of movies too, including That Girl In Pinafore (2013) and Wonderboy (2017). In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that she was labelled a rising star at Mediacorp, one to watch, especially after receiving the honour of Best Supporting Actress at the 2016 Star Awards, for her role in The Dream Makers II. There, she starred as Jeanette Aw’s sister, and as the show’s antagonist, played the part to gleeful perfection. The next year, however, marked a surprising one for her fans — the full-time artiste announced her decision to leave Mediacorp.
She hasn’t looked back since.
MAKEUP (ALL laNCÔME):
FACE (makeup worn throughout)
advanced gÉnifique, $130
teint idole ultra wear foundation in 025, $68
teint miracle loose powder, $75
blush subtil palette in 030, $60
FENDI jacket with leather trim, $3,650
One thing that took me by surprise was how Julie was unlike your typical Mediacorp artiste, or at least the image they project. Sweet, demure and toeing the company line? Don’t expect her to be any of that.
It was only after our photoshoot, during our interview, that she drops her professional persona — and like a breath of fresh air, revealed how truly feisty and independent she can be. When asked about her departure from Mediacorp, she speaks with unfiltered candour: “The main reason why I left is because I needed to have a life of my own, basically. Once you step out of the box, you’ll realise the world is so big, there are many other things that I can do, I can explore.” It wasn’t a difficult decision, she says, because she was absolutely certain about what she had to do.
She also isn’t afraid to admit that her bold personality might sometimes be mistaken as arrogance: “People know me for being straightforward, I’ll just speak whatever’s on my mind. I don’t like to bullshit around. It’s better that I say it in front of you, and that’s true for no matter how many people I meet. I’ll go, why, okay give me a reason and I’ll accept it. The thing is, being in the [entertainment] industry, people will go, “wow she is so intimidating”, but I’m just being upfront and honest. The world is fake enough, I don’t want to be that and I want to stay true to myself.”
Speaking her mind, and having a bit of a rebellious streak, has been consistent throughout various stages of her life — whether it’s being labelled a ‘troublemaker’ in secondary school (and leaving her test papers blank), or fighting for her own YouTube channel while still under her previous media company. Could her “strong” personality — ironically, a euphemism when used to describe females — be an unfair double standard? After all, that kind of boldness is so often admired, and rewarded, in males. Absolutely yes, she chimes in. “If it’s a guy who knows what he wants and calls you out, you’d go “omg he’s so charming”, but today, if it’s a female who does that, you’d go, “omg she’s being a bitch!”
That said, now at 27 years old, she’s content with who she is, even welcoming the challenges that come with her newfound independence. And why not? Since 2017, she has moved on to fresh endeavours. Being an actress is still a large part of what she does, but she’s also gone on to start her own entertainment company, 1Wolf Entertainment, where she’s eager to seek out talent and collaborations within the creative industry. Together with two business partners, her long-time friend and cousin, they’ve gone on to start a new cafe concept, Botany, where you can immediately tell how involved she is as you hear her describing each menu item. There’s also that YouTube channel that she finally did start after all.
So, here you’ll find the story of Julie Tan, the actress who left a flourishing career to find her own greener pastures — and trust us, she’s in a good place now.
ON HER UPCOMING PROJECTS
“Currently, I’m filming a Toggle series called True Lies. It’s a WaWa Pictures production; I’m working with a China actor so they’re planning to air it over there as well. I’ve been busy with filming that, and then in mid-May I’ll be starting production on an upcoming movie.”
THE ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY SHE STARTED, 1WOLF ENTERTAINMENT
“I’ve always wanted to have my own entertainment company, and now I’m writing some scripts and concepts that I’m pitching to others. Ideally, next time, we’d be able to collaborate with bigger companies to come up with movies and drama series, but currently, we’re just a small company so we’re still looking for collaborations. We’re still growing!
It’s different because we won’t be touching artiste management. So recently I’ve got one girl on — she came to Singapore from Malaysia and wants to try out acting locally, and I’m asking if there are any roles available. I’d say we’re more about find opportunities, seeing how people can come together and work together.”
MAKEUP (ALL laNCÔME):
LOUIS VUITTON dress and earrings, poa
HER EXPERIENCE RUNNING THE COMPANY
“I’ve always been an actress, but business-wise, my family runs businesses so I’ve always been in touch with that since I was young. I’d say it’s not really difficult. As a boss, you need to find the right people to run things for you. Let’s say, I’m in production and won’t be able to execute certain things — that’s why we have roles like managers, agents, and all that to help execute this part of the company, so it’s clear what I do. But I’ve learnt things too, like, I’ve got a lot of ideas, but I realised that not being able to execute them doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t good. Maybe the environment doesn’t allow it, or you can’t find the right people to do it, or there are other difficulties, like how the people you want to work with might not have the same goals as you. I’ve been quite chill about that though. If it works, I’ll do it, and if it doesn’t, I’ll just move on.”
HER YOUTUBE CHANNEL
“I had wanted to start it a few years back, when I was in Mediacorp. I was in Korea, and I saw online that this Korean artiste had a vlog on the Mnet channel, and they were showing her attending award ceremonies, her daily life, and that was what inspired me. I realised that locally, artistes were not doing it, or at least very few were. I went to approach my management and told them what I wanted to do, and they said “oh it’s a good idea, but where do you want to put that up?” Mediacorp artistes were not allowed their own YouTube channel, so I asked about suggestions, whether Channel 8 may want to do a vlog-style show? Anyway, it just didn’t happen. Then they told me, yes, I can find my own team, just give them the end-product that they will put it up on the TCA [The Celebrity Agency] YouTube channel. So I asked if TCA’s gonna fund it, and they said… no. That doesn’t make sense! I couldn’t do things on my own, so I only started my channel after I left.
You want people to relate to you. Yes, you’re a so-called “celebrity”, but really, my YouTube channel‘s a sneak peek of what I normally do, or certain things I wanna share, my feelings and everything. For now, it’s more daily content or what I’m up to when I travel, but hopefully, I can share more heart-to-heart stuff in the future.”
WHY SHE LEFT MEDIACORP
“I left Mediacorp two years ago, at my peak. Back then, everyone was asking, “why do you want to leave, is it the right time to leave?”, but I said, there’s never a right time for anything. If I’m just gonna wait around, I would not be able to do the things I wanted to do.
Honestly, it was never a hard decision, it was pretty clear-cut actually. Four years at Mediacorp, that’s a lot. I was filming drama after drama, everything was back-to-back, and after filming ends you’d be doing roadshows, then interviews… it’s a cycle. After a while, I realised that I wasn’t growing. Back then, I felt stuck, it was the same thing over and over again; I felt I wasn’t learning. Being stuck in that cycle, you kind of lose yourself.
I was asking myself, who is Julie Tan, what does she do, what makes her stand out? And I realised I didn’t know, I felt like I had no substance, nothing inside. Even my acting — I was watching my shows back and I just had the same few expressions. Like sure, I’d be crying, yeah, but no depth! How come my characters are all the same? I mean, that’s how I felt about my own acting! And that’s when I realised I needed to do something about it.”
THE MOMENT THAT LED TO HER DECISION
“I was filming The Lead, and I felt really, really tired and needed a break, a change of environment. Everything was good on set, the people, my colleagues, they’re all nice. I’d still say that Mediacorp’s my home; I grew up there, I spent my teenage years there, my adulthood too. But the moment came when I felt like, what’s the most important thing to me? Is it being at a certain status, or living a life? I think I’d feel empty [if I stayed]. The main reason why I left is because I needed to have a life of my own, basically. Once you step out of the box, you’ll realise the world is so big, there are many other things that I can do, I can explore.”
MAKEUP (ALL laNCÔME):
swimsuit, $1,130 ; denim jeans, $1,830 ; chain belt, $6,240
LIFE AFTER MEDIACORP, AND GOING INDEPENDENT
“So recently I’ve been doing interviews, and they’d ask “oh, you’ve suddenly opened a restaurant”, then I ask, is that strange? Back then, when I left Mediacorp, it was “sudden”. Same for when I went to China. It’s just me. I don’t go around and tell people my plans until I do it, I make my decision. That’s why a lot of people feel that way. My friends won’t feel like it’s sudden, but maybe to the public or the media it is.
When I left Mediacorp a few years ago, I was already planning to start something, but back then, I didn’t know how to. I felt like I wasn’t ready, and I wanted to experience what was out there first. I went over to China and asked around: why they have their own studios instead of signing on to a bigger company, what are the issues? I wanted to understand what the culture’s like, and I kept thinking, why doesn’t that work in Singapore? Even right now, I’m still trying to figure it out. There are certain things I want to do here, but there’s a reason why it doesn’t work. There’s a lot of trial and error.”
THE CHALLENGES SHE’S HAD TO OVERCOME
“Of course, life can be simpler, I can always stick to Mediacorp, I can be comfortable. I don’t have to put myself through this, to be honest, it’s very tiring! Why do I wanna do that? But I realise that through this process, I learn so much more about life, about being human, about human relationships. For example, sharing my personal contacts — I’ve always been open about it, but I’ve been advised that not everyone thinks like that, there are people who might not to do that, who might be afraid of losing out. But if we can change the way we think and understand that, with social media world, you can just look people up so easily! I believe in the goodness of people. We talk so much about empowering one another, but are we doing it? No. I know a few who are trying their best, but because of how other people respond, they get disappointed and take a step back. It’s tough to be open, and yes this is very naive, I am aware of that, but I hope that I can start somewhere. It’s like kindness, you pass it on. That’s the most I can do right? Baby steps.
I feel like a lot of people give up when they experience difficulty. To be honest, at my lowest points, I really feel like giving up too because it’s easier. But, the thing is, I’m rebellious at heart, so I’ll go, no, no matter how difficult I’ll grit my teeth and carry on. No matter how tough, I’ll want to walk it through. If it’s not ideal, I won’t just give up. It takes a lot of tries to get something right —there’s this saying that you can try and fail 99 times, but maybe there’s success in that 100th time.
I want to learn, to grow, to challenge myself — even the people around me as well. I believe that by doing that, you can become a better person. Even among my friends, we’re not afraid to call each other out, with no hard feelings. All my friends are like that! That’s quite scary huh, come to think of it, people will think we’re arguing but we aren’t. Whenever there’s a conflict, we all talk about it. Like, “hey Julie you don’t have to be so harsh here”, and I’d think, yeah maybe okay, I’m sorry about that. Our communication is all laid out on the table, it’s all very open.”
ON HER “STRONG” PERSONALITY
“People know me for being straightforward, I’ll just speak whatever’s on my mind. I don’t like to bullshit around. It’s better that I say it in front of you, and that’s true for no matter how many people I meet. I’ll go, why, okay give me a reason and I’ll accept it. The thing is, being in the [entertainment] industry, people will go, “wow she is so intimidating”, but I’m just being upfront and honest. The world is fake enough, I don’t want to be that and I want to stay true to myself. Some people won’t be into it, but I don’t really care. When I was 17, people used to go, “oh she’s difficult, she’s this, she’s that”. But now that I’m 27, they go, “actually Julie’s just like that”. Time tells right? If that’s not my persona, it’ll reveal that, but that’s who I am. Maybe I got milder! [laughs]
AND HOW IT’S PERCEIVED BY OTHERS
“If it’s a guy who knows what he wants and calls you out, you’d go “omg he’s so charming”, but today, if it’s a female who does that, you’d go, “omg she’s being a bitch!” Even guys would be intimidated by me, thinking “she’s too difficult”. That’s the word! But I’m just telling you how I feel. In a way, when you know what you want, it’s tiring to play along with them.
Be it in friendships, relationships, or with family, I’ve always been straightforward — since I was young. But really, I’m open to listening and working things out. When something happens, I like to find a solution, not keep going ‘then how, then how’.
There was a period of time that I realised this behaviour of mine caused my girl friends a bit of stress because, me being me, I tend to protect the people I care about. I’m almost like a mom. At the time, I was angry with my friend, and was telling her, “can’t you see that he’s trying to play with your feelings, you’re gonna get yourself hurt”. We didn’t talk for three months. True enough, later on I heard that she wasn’t okay, so I went to talk to her and she was crying. I told her, I may not be there when you’re the happiest, but when you’re down I’ll be there to pick you up. It upsets me when my closest friends get hurt.”
ON ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
“I realise that I need to find someone who’s stronger than me so I’m able to show my ‘weaker’ side. People seldom see that, except for my close friends and family. If I were to find a future one, that person has to be strong — in terms of character, and also strong enough to handle me because I’m not the easiest person. [laughs] If I realise you’re doing something that isn’t right I’ll call you out, and keep asking why until I get an answer that makes sense, something I can accept. I’m not the easiest person to get along with! I cannot stand guys that I can’t respect. So if I realise that, we can’t even be together. I don’t like to be the one wearing the pants in a relationship — throughout my past ones, I’ve been doing that, so I think I’ve had enough of that.”
HER SCHOOL DAYS
“When I was younger, I’d be climbing trees, and you can hear my mother screaming “don’t do it!”, but I’ll already be halfway up. [laughs] I’m active — I need to move around. Even back in school, my teachers would be “Julie is a very talkative person”, really, that’s the only remark they gave me! That’s why I’m in this industry right? My teachers would put me at the back of the class, right in front, or a single table on my own, and I’d still be talking to my classmates. Once, my teacher even put me outside the classroom, along the corridor, but I’d be saying hi to the people walking past.
I know what I want, even when I was younger. So I was in Normal Academic, and was supposed to take my O-Levels but I didn’t, I left school before that. I had already submitted my applications for art schools — I was so set on leaving school. We had some mock tests for the first semester, but I just left all my test papers blank; the only thing I wrote was my name. At the Meet The Parents session, I didn’t even tell my parents, but my teacher called them to come down. You could see them heartbroken, and my teachers would say “she’s not going anywhere”, but I told them, it’s not that I don’t wanna do it, this is not the place for me. It was a statement, “you need to put me in the right place for my talent to be discovered”, those were my words back then. “I’m going to places!” And when I got accepted into NAFA [Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts], I wore a nice dress, walked in to my secondary school, passed them my withdrawal letter, and told them, I got accepted!
Back then, people just thought I was a troublemaker, someone who doesn’t know what she wants, but damn, I know what I want, that I wasn’t supposed to be there! I told my parents to put me in the right place so that I can shine. Yeah, I was also rebellious and stubborn, I know, and I’ve been consistently so since 1992.”
MAKEUP (ALL laNCÔME):
longchamp leopard print dress, $750
STARTING A NEW CAFE: BOTANY
“Serene and my cousin [Cassandra] have been working together on Dazzling Café previously, and it has been around for 4 to 5 years. The vibe of it is very girly though, and as we got older, we started to feel less attached to it. So, my cousin was like, I think we need to have a change. Yes, Dazzling worked when we were in our early twenties, but we wanted something more sustainable, more refined and sophisticated, and that’s when we decided on a different style. My cousin and I believe in being eco-friendly, so with Botany, so we’re trying to move towards that direction. I’d say that it’s a reflection of our current selves; we’re evolving.
It’s also about empowering and supporting one another — between the three of us, we each have different strengths, or maybe flaws too, but we complement one another. In fact, we actually held our cafe’s soft launch on International Women’s Day. We also work with a lot of business partners, like Peggy from Tiramisu Heroes. They’re all strong women. Who says that we need to be competitive? I still show support, and vice versa. Oh, business support is so much stronger than entertainment support! We all know that competition is a good thing, because without it, we’ll be complacent. Plus, we can learn from each other. When you meet like-minded people, it’s very comforting.”
THE CAFE’S INSPIRATION, AND THE FOOD
“I’d say, half the menu’s from Dazzling Café, so we still have the signature mentaiko fries and honey toast. Then there’s a new set of items too. You see, it’s hard for the three of us to have a meal together because it’s very rare that we’ll agree to have the same thing — Serene and I lean towards Western food, while my cousin would ask us for porridge. So we were like, imagine a place that’d have both, then we don’t have to argue so much. For Botany, we have chicken congee and mapo tofu, and also the Western dishes like salads and soups. We have vegetarian friends as well, so there’s also the Impossible Burger, and there’s more than a few options if your friends are vegan or vegetarian.
We also have meal sets — let’s talk about the breakfast one. We have a base, so either French Toast or Rosti, sweet or savoury, and on top of that you choose your sides. The thing is that typical breakfast sets, for instance, will always have mushrooms, so when I ask to replace that, they’ll be like “oh no we can’t”, and the food will go to waste. So we came up with this concept where people get to choose their own sides and mains, so there’s no food wastage. When we clear the plates, they’re normally clean — people finish their food because it’s the things they choose. It’s only fair to the customer. The base is $15. There are people who ask, “why so expensive?” It’s still cheaper than what you get elsewhere! There are business owners who understand, who then ask, how much will you earn from this, because you won’t earn much! But we want to make it affordable for people, so people will come everyday. We use Himalayan salt, olive oil, and we’re trying to cut down on processed food as well. A lot consumers want to have the power of choice. We want to make the experience new each time too.”
MAKEUP (ALL laNCÔME):
hypnôse palette, $90
l’absolu rouge in 264, $49
HERMÈS jacket and body suit, poa
TIFFANY & CO. lady bug necklace, $1,750 ; semi-precious stone ring, $2,050
A DAY IN THE LIFE
“On a normal day, I’d be on set, filming. It’d be a half-day shoot, then I’ll go down to Botany. Clear some emails, take pictures for social media. Say, there’s half an hour in between then I’ll be like… PUBG! [laughs] Even if I’m not filming, I’ll still need to read and prepare my script for the next day, so that’s part of my working hours too. Sometimes during weekends, I’ll need to go down to Botany to help out. The day after the soft launch for instance, the three of us were serving people, taking orders! It’s a good thing we were there. There’s basically no fixed working hours — but that’s what I like about it, everyday’s different. I can’t sit still.”
ON BEING AN INFLUENCER (AND STILL BUYING HER OWN PRODUCTS)
“Lancôme was just talking about this! We went for an event a few months back, and the person I bought [the Advanced Génifique] from, she was there. I didn’t think much about it — I needed it, and just bought it.
I don’t like to trouble people. If I can support, of course I’ll do my best to do that. It’s easy to ask for a sponsorship, but the best way to support someone is to really give them the money. I feel like sometimes artistes or influencers feel entitled, but nah, I know a few people who’d buy their products as well, it’s a misconception. Not everybody would be so bold to ask for freebies, it’s not very nice, we can’t take advantage of it. Also if it’s something I don’t believe in, say I don’t relate to the brand, I’ll turn it down. At least you’re authentic to your audience. If not, it’s just a commercial, so where’s the value in that?”
ON USING HER INFLUENCE FOR THINGS THAT MATTER
“As I grow older, I want to be in touch with more serious issues, because I realise that with my influence, I can influence people’s perspectives, and this is something that’s so important. Things like recycling — you can’t change the world, but it’s a daily effort. I spoke to someone about how I want to impact people to avoid single-use plastics, but he said “oh I think you think too highly of yourself”. But am I? I’m not trying to change the world, just the people around me.
Social media helps, the reach is there, and people are constantly on their phones. Still, good news travels slow but bad news travels the fastest — people respond to negative stuff much more, and you feel like, wow, they’re really on! When it comes to condemning people, they go out in full force. It’s worrying! Compared to 10 years ago, it was bad then, but not this bad. Our generation’s growing up, and without the right guidance, of course they’ll go down that path! Freedom of speech, we can say what we want! But what if you hurt someone else? Maybe it’s not people’s priorities anymore? All I can think about is how I want to give back to society. It’s not about me any more. You know when you’re a teenager, you’re like, everything’s about me! Now I’m past that — how do I make society a better place? Back when everyone was doing the #10YearChallenge, I posted one on the environment and said, guys, this is the only 10 year challenge you should be concerned about! Even now, I don’t really wanna talk about what shows I’ve done, because to me, yes I’m an actress, but I want to take the opportunity to talk about things that matter.”
Follow Julie on Instagram here.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADELE CHAN, USING THE LEICA M10-P WITH THE SUMMILUX-M 35MM F/1.4 ASPH LENS.
MAKEUP BY lina tock using LANCÔME.
HAIR BY issac ng FROM TONI&GUY.
STYLING BY MARTIN WONG.