Tay Ying: My dream is to have a breakthrough role

by Chelsia Tan  /   February 28, 2022

As the daughter of local acting veterans Zheng Geping and Hong Huifang, Tay Ying has always
fuelled public interest thanks to her famous parents. This time around, the newly minted actress is ready to take centre stage

With her long hair pulled into a ponytail and a steely glint in her eyes, a tall and lithe young woman starts executing swift high kicks while her opponent moves swiftly to deflect her advances. In a split-second, she works a series of powerful punches into his abdomen, taking him by surprise as he stumbles to overcome her rapid-fire attack.

This dizzying scene is just one of the few action-packed sequences from The Good Fight, a high-octane martial arts drama that stars Tay Ying, alongside A-listers Rebecca Lim and Andie Chen. Released in 2020, the 20-episode production was led by executive producer (EP) Zheng Geping, who also happens to be Tay Ying’s father.

The 26-year-old, who has been acting since 2017, remembers what it was like working with her dad during the four-month production.

“It was strictly professional, so there was no discussion. He’s the kind where if you have any [questions] about your role, you go and talk to your director. Even when we went to work together, in the car we were silent, because he was thinking about his own EP stuff, and I was thinking about my character.

“On set, I called him jian zhi (executive producer), because he was my boss. He auditioned me as well. It went through different layers of management to make sure that there wasn’t a conflict of interest. While I’m pretty sure people would think there could have been, I actually auditioned for it,” she says matter-of-factly.

It’s inevitable that the public would associate Tay Ying with her famous familial ties. After all, her mother, Hong Huifang, has won acting awards for her acclaimed turns in local dramas like Samsui Women and The Price of Peace, while her father is an award-winning actor known for his martial arts expertise. Her younger brother, Calvert Tay, announced his debut as a singer-songwriter last year.

This year, the spotlight belongs to Tay Ying. Earlier in January, the actress announced on Instagram that she had joined Mediacorp as an artiste. While it’s a move that many might have expected, Tay Ying says she was initially hesitant to work full-time with the local broadcaster: “In the beginning, when I expressed interest in this industry, [Mediacorp] did offer me [a chance] to join, but at that point, I felt that I didn’t have my foundation yet, like I had no experience in acting – zero, nothing.”

She shares that she had struggled with the pressure of being from an acting family, which could have been why she didn’t join Mediacorp “immediately”.

“That was one of the reasons why I went to China for training, because I wanted to know what life was like just on my own, without being in my parents’ shadows.”

I know everyone says you have to venture overseas. I don’t mind doing that for projects, but if you ask me to [move] to another country, I don’t think I can do it, because the people at home mean more to me than my career

Stepping out of her comfort zone

Tay Ying’s desire to stand on her own two feet led her to audition for a course at the Shanghai-based Motown Acting School in 2019. Her routine, which involved a blend of dance and martial arts, landed her an impressive seventh place out of 700 applicants. Her entrance into Motown marked the start of a gruelling three months, where she studied and trained for about 16 hours, six days a week, and was assessed every two weeks.

Exhausting as it might have been, the long hours paid off as she picked up useful acting skills and techniques, such as how to dissect a character and script, and the different ways that she could approach a role. “I think it really changed the way I looked at the industry, because when I first started, I was just chiong-ing (charging through it), you know, and I never really knew how to work smart,” she says.

Silk blazer, and silk shantung blouse, Valentino. Mesmera crystal and rhodium-plated ring, $235, Swarovski
Bejewelled silk corset, and bejewelled cotton and leather pants, Gucci

Tay Ying shares that being in Shanghai alone was lonely and difficult, as her loved ones were back in Singapore. Still, she decided to stay in the city for a while longer to learn how the country’s entertainment industry worked.

“I actually booked my own castings on WeChat, and went for auditions myself. Then the next day, I would carry my luggage and take a train to another city on my own, just for an audition or commercial. That was me experiencing what it was like without a manager. It was not easy at all, especially for a foreigner like me,” she reflects.

After living in China for six months, Tay Ying knew she was ready to return to Singapore.

“I felt that I couldn’t leave my family and friends behind. To me, that was more important than whatever fame and fortune I could get. I know everyone says that you have to venture overseas. I don’t mind [doing that] for projects, but if you ask me to [move] to another country, I don’t think I could do it, because the people at home mean more to me than my career,” she says.

In all the interviews and stuff, people are always very curious, but there really is nothing that special. We are just like any other Singaporean family to me

Family comes first

Scroll through Tay Ying’s Instagram account (@tayying_), and it’s obvious that her family is extremely close-knit. Peppered between personal musings, dance videos and glamorous fashion shots are heartfelt posts dedicated to her parents, and her parents are effusively supportive in their comments, often responding with words of encouragement and emojis.

“We are a very, very open family. In fact, when people ask me what it’s like to have famous parents, to me it feels like, huh, we are just like a normal family leh. We don’t live differently; other than the fact that we have attention from the public, everything else is pretty much the same,” she says with bemusement.

The curiosity around her family is something she still grapples with, and throughout the interview, she reiterates just how normal they are. “In all the interviews and stuff, people are always very curious, but there really is nothing that special. We are just like any other Singaporean family to me.”

Printed cotton T-shirt, denim jeans, and tweed and leather cap, Coach
Embroidered knit sweater, denim jeans, and acrylic earrings, Coach

Taking a stand

Tay Ying speaks with candour and conviction, but as a child, she was not always this poised and confident. She was an introvert in primary school who didn’t really know how to “talk” to her peers. This, coupled with the fact that she had famous parents, caused Tay Ying to become a target for bullies at school, who even took to bullying her online.

“There was something called Friendster (a now-defunct social media platform). I had some ‘friends’ who posted not very nice stuff on my page, and it was open to the public. Back then, I didn’t really know what to do. I was bullied in person before, but I had never been cyberbullied.

“Of course, I turned to my parents for help, but we didn’t want to blow the matter up. So we just deleted everything. There was no point in confronting them, because we were all primary school kids, and we didn’t know better.”

Knit vest and acrylic earrings, Tory Burch
Silk blazer and silk bra top, Valentino

Tay Ying came out of her shell in secondary school, which she says was the best time of her life. “That’s where I met a lot of lifelong friends,” she remembers fondly. She later attended Temasek Polytechnic, where she studied hospitality and tourism, picked up activities like touch rugby and contemporary dance, and took on part-time work.

In 2019, Tay Ying graduated from SIM-RMIT University with a degree in marketing. While she has come to terms with being a survivor of bullying, the question of whether celebrities should put up with brickbats from netizens remains on her mind – and the outspoken actress does not mince her words.

“[People] always say, when you’re in the industry you have to be open to criticism, and there will be those who are not going to like you and say mean things about you. But are we really going to just let that happen to us? Are we really going to think that it’s normal? I don’t think that’s normal. I feel that we should all be kind to each other, no
matter what. ”

Tay Ying adds that she has learnt to ignore any mean and hurtful comments online.

“I don’t really bother, because I feel like I’m in a place where I’m doing what I want to do, and what’s important to me. My worry is that my parents see it, because even though they are in the industry, they are still parents after all. They are still like any other parent who cares about their kid.”

It’s not about how famous or skilled you are; it’s really your attitude about learning new things, and towards approaching people and your job

Making her mark

At the moment, Tay Ying is immersed in her acting career and her love of performing – a passion that she was not always sure of before.

“I’d always been in denial about my love of performing, until I had some time during the transition from polytechnic to university, when I decided to just give it a try.

“I was given an opportunity to do a cameo in While We Are Young (2017), and even though it was just a very, very short cameo, I realised that this was something I could do. And I asked myself, are you finally facing up to reality, are you finally going to admit that you enjoy this?” says the actress, who later took on a supporting role in local English drama Missing, and co-hosted a Mandarin beauty variety web series, Get It Beauty On The Road, with fellow actress Chantalle Ng and K-pop singer Sandara Park, in 2018.

Since then, Tay Ying has sunk her teeth into more complex roles, like her lead character in The Lying Theory, a 2021 five-episode Mandarin comedy-drama, where she plays a young woman who has the ability to “see” how many lies a person has told. The role presented a new and interesting challenge to the budding actress, as she had to portray the depth of her character’s thoughts.

“There were a lot of voice-overs, and I had to memorise these voice-overs because they translated to my emotions. When we’re on set and there is a voice-over, there is literally silence, and I’m reacting to that voice-over in my head. It has to be natural but still understandable, so that was the challenge.”

She adds that the short production was also a very meaningful one. “Everyone on set had amazing chemistry, and we had so much fun. We had three directors, and they were very patient with me and open to suggestions.”

Outfit and bag, Coach
Silk dress, Coach

Currently, she is working on a period drama that has just started filming this month. And while Tay Ying hopes to land a breakthrough character one day – “Of course, everyone’s dream is to have a breakout role where you really get recognised for your work and skills” – she now just wants to take on as many roles as possible as she’s still at the “gaining experience” phase.

“When I started my career in 2017, I was 21. There were a lot of things I was just learning on the go. I didn’t know how to read or dissect a script, I just learnt as I went. It’s quite crazy to think about it now, that I never knew that I would be an actress in the first place,” says Tay Ying, as she reflects on her journey.

“I hope that one day, I’ll have a role that I can do very well, hopefully, and people can see that I actually am serious about this. I don’t speak for all of us [second-generation actors], but at least in my experience, people say that we are here just because of our parents, that our parents influenced us, or worse, they forced us to be in the limelight.

“I think for my family, our parents are very respectful of what we want. I really hope that one day, people can see us in a different light, that we are here for a reason, and not just here because of our parents,” she says.

PHOTOGRAPHY Wee Khim, assisted by Ivan Teo
HAIR Cejay Siew/Monsoon, using Shiseido Professional
MAKEUP Lydia Thong