Image: Julie Tan / The Straits Times
Singapore actress Julie Tan is settling just fine into her temporary new life in New York City, where she is living alone for the next three months while attending acting classes at the New York Film Academy.
The 23-year-old, who has starred in Channel 8 dramas such as The Dream Makers II (2015), says she is accustomed to cleaning up after herself and whipping up meals after her mother "chased" her out of their family home. "About two years ago, my mother told me to move out. She feels that children should be independent once they grow up," says Tan, an only child, in a telephone interview with The Straits Times. "I was very well taken care of at home. Then I had to live on my own, wash my clothes and mop the floor. Now I'm glad for the two years of living alone as it has totally helped me."
Since arriving in the Big Apple three weeks ago, she has had some hiccups, including getting lost in the subway and having to lug three pieces of luggage up six flights of stairs to her apartment because it has no lift. Her decision to study in New York arose from feelings of inadequacy that washed over her at a Channel 8 drama roadshow last August.
"I remember the moment very clearly, when the camera lights were flashing in my face at the roadshow. I realised I wasn't happy, I felt that I was settling into my comfort zone. I wanted to be a better version of myself," says Tan, who graduated with a theatre diploma from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts three years ago. This is despite her having carved out her place as one of local television's promising young actresses and winning the Best Supporting Actress trophy at this year's Star Awards for her role as a vindictive scriptwriter in The Dream Makers II.
Returning to school life has been nothing but a joy, even if it means 12-hour days of acting, directing and script-writing classes since the start of this month. She rattles on about picking up acting techniques in crying scenes and how to better get in touch with a character's emotions.
Why the New York Film Academy, though? "This is my first time in New York. I've always wanted to visit. To me, New York is a place where dreams are made," she says, singing the hit tune Empire State Of Mind by Alicia Keys and Jay Z.
"Everyone here is so passionate about what they want to do. In the subway, I saw a young boy playing Mozart and Beethoven tunes on the keyboard as if it were his concert. It made me feel so driven."
Initially scheduled to be away from Singapore for half a year, she cut short her New York stay to take on exciting projects back home, including a Channel 8 blockbuster in November. She has no intention to scoot off for long-term studies at the moment, but may take short courses in subjects such as film-making in the future.
Now, as she is basking in summer in New York on her days off, watching plays and hunting down good food, she relishes the anonymity of living in a foreign land. "I can walk anywhere without people looking at me, taking photos of me. No one is here to judge me. If I'm sick, I can blow my nose without worrying about people taking a photo and posting it on Instagram," says Tan, who is the daughter of a businessman and a housewife.
The actress, who recently broke up with her boyfriend of six months, is in no hurry to find a new beau. She says: "I feel whole as a person, whether or not I'm in a relationship. To me, having a relationship is a bonus. Some friends say guys may be intimidated by me, feel that I'm strong and hard to handle. But some guys like strong women. They will like me for who I am.
"People are also saying that New York is full of hot guys. But I'm too busy with school to have a summer fling."
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on July 21, 2016. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.