It is 8pm and Chen Yixin has just finished a 12-hour day of filming for the second season of Titoudao, an English language period series. Dressed in a simple white tank top and looking surprisingly refreshed, she takes our video call in the back seat of the car as her mother, Singapore actor Xiang Yun, drives her home.
There are no complaints about how hard the day had been, even though Yixin plays a physically scarred character whose makeup has been causing outbreaks on her sensitive skin. She breaks into a smile as we chat, and there’s a note of positivity in her voice. When I thank her for making time despite her packed schedule, she starts off brightly: “It’s been a long day, but we ended off on a good note.”
In a crowd of rising second generation stars such as Chantalle Ng, Tay Ying and Eleanor Lee, the 22-year-old, with her girl-next-door vibes, may not yet be a familiar face among local audiences, but she is determined to push herself to be the best she can be. Yixin is the first among them to score an international leading role as Ling in the recently released 13-episode Netflix series Mr Midnight: Beware the Monsters, which is adapted from the local horror-mystery children’s book series of the same name.
The show, which chronicles the adventures of four youths who investigate paranormal activities in the small fictional town of Tanah Merah, also features Malaysian actor Idan Aedan as Tyar, a teenager who has developed a connection with the spirit world, and local thespian Lim Yu Beng, as Ling’s father, Uncle Tan. Yixin discovered her love for performing when she joined Chinese dance as a co-curricular activity in secondary school, and she later enrolled in Singapore Polytechnic’s applied drama and psychology course.
During that time, she struggled to reconcile her passion with a gnawing sense of insecurity, but she is slowly learning how to embrace confidence with humility – without the guilt.
She shares: “Acting has always been very present in my life. Mingling and interacting with people who are so passionate about the arts really inspired me, and I fell in love with it over the years. Performing has always been something that makes me happy.”
But she almost never entered the industry because of the intense scrutiny she has always been under, thanks to her famous parents, both of whom have starred in beloved local productions such as The Awakening (1984), and Zero to Hero (2005). Xiang Yun, 61, has even been dubbed one of Singapore’s first A-list TV stars.
The scrutiny was especially harsh during her growing up years. As a teenager, Yixin battled skin problems and was “on the heavier side”. She recalled: “People would comment online or come up to me saying, ‘Why do you have very bad skin? Why [do] you never take care of your skin?’ – as if I wanted to have acne problems. I was only 14 [and] people would tell me not to eat so much.
“There would be discussions on the Internet on ‘why the parents look like this and she looks like that’. These unhealthy beauty standards triggered me a lot. I wasn’t angry, but more hurt, I guess.”
As we converse, it becomes apparent that it wasn’t so much what other people thought of Yixin that contributed to her confidence struggles, but because she is fiercely protective of her family, especially her parents, whom she considers her inspiration.
“If I mess up, if I’m not good at acting on set, if I do a lot of NG (no good) takes, it’s not Yixin that messed up, it’s that ‘Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun’s daughter cannot act’. That’s the kind of narrative that has been played, and it has affected me more than it should.”
Yixin’s previous acting experiences include being a shy nine-year-old in a cameo role with her elder brother Chen Xi in Echoing Love, an indie film directed by their father Edmund Chen, and as Sissy in last year’s television reboot of the 1998 local movie The Teenage Textbook.
The Teenage Textbook and Mr Midnight marked turning points for her not just professionally, but also personally.
She says: “I usually cringe when I watch my own shows, but the environment in The Teenage Textbook was so safe and encouraging that I dared to play out of my character. Sissy Song is way more outspoken and extroverted than I am. Having to act sassy, bitchy and walk around in heels took me out of my element, but I had a blast.
“The director and producer would tell me where I got it right or was doing too much. I realised that no one had ever stopped me from making mistakes; it was all expectations that I had put on myself.”
One day, while the cast was going through the weekly rushes (unedited raw footage) on the set of Mr Midnight, Yixin squirmed at her scenes, even though the director said she did well. It was not lost on the director, who chided her and asked why she would brush compliments aside.
“They told me that I was not being nice to myself, and that I should embrace it and accept that I’m good when I’m told so,” she shared.
“Since then, I have taken notice of how I react and the way I behave when I get compliments. I think it stems from my mother telling me that no matter how far I go in the industry, I must be grateful and not big-headed. But I’ve learnt that it’s good to practise confidence, even though I may not be feeling my best at that point in time. It’s ok to tell yourself that you are doing well and good.”
Again, the fear of her parents’ reputation being tarnished rears its head. “One of the stereotypes of being associated with our parents is that we’re all very arrogant and ungrateful, but we are all human; we make mistakes, we go through hard times, yet we are pressured to be constantly at our best,” she says.
Chasing her dreams
Yixin’s career is her priority now – dream roles include being a villain and starring in an action movie – and she plans to attend acting courses overseas to gain experience. Mr Midnight is a significant feather in her cap – she went through four global auditions, without knowing it would be on Netflix, before clinching the role of Ling. In one of the auditions, different sets of actors for the lead roles were put through spontaneous scripts to assess the combination with the best rapport. Each round’s results were only revealed three months later.
“When my manager told me that I got the role, I screamed! It was at the beginning of Covid in 2020, so it was the craziest news ever,” she said, beaming. Her other passions are travel and photography, and both are well expressed through her Instagram pages (@chxnyixin, 91K followers and @xineries, 2,500 followers), which showcase scenery and behind-the-scenes shots captured with her Fujifilm X100V camera.
Her romance with fellow actor Gavin Teo, who shares similar interests, is also going swimmingly, and the duo have been travelling together and with Yixin’s family. Family bonds remain strong, and Yixin and her brother Chen Xi are often each other’s sounding boards on acting, food and his sketches. The family also makes time to have dinner together at home at least once a week.
Yixin is especially thankful that she can talk about “anything under the sun” with her parents, and wants to create the same safe space in her industry.
She says: “They’re very understanding of my emotions, which is not very common in Asian families. I’ve been brought up in an environment where I can safely speak my thoughts and how I feel, and I am very grateful for that. I feel that words matter and being authentic is important, and that’s the kind of environment I would always want to provide for my fellow cast and colleagues.”
Yixin’s top three travel destinations
PADAR ISLAND, INDONESIA: “It’s affordable, and there are fewer drone restrictions. The views are astounding, and the places to visit, never-ending.”
SANTORINI, GREECE: “The sunsets there are magical, and there are many beautiful towns such as Oia to explore.”
CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY: “It’s not as expensive as Greece, and the history is equally rich. Going on a hot air balloon there was an experience of a lifetime. ”
PHOTOGRAPHY Wee Khim, assisted by Ivan Teo
CREATIVE DIRECTION Windy Aulia
ART DIRECTION Ray Ticsay
HAIR Gary Low / Passion Hair Salon
MAKEUP Shaun Lee, using NARS