The spark that turned into the flame in Glenn Yong’s acting career was ignited by Leonardo DiCaprio. “When I watched Catch Me If You Can, where he played a con man who impersonated, among other things, a pilot, banker, lawyer and policeman, it made me realise that as an actor, you can really try out so many lives. That’s not something you can do with an office job,” says Yong.
These days, the 25-year-old has plenty of imaginary lives to keep him busy. Yong made his debut as a lead actor this past September in Mediacorp’s Live Your Dreams and can be seen next in the latest instalment of Jack Neo’s Ah Boys to Men movie franchise, Ah Girls Go Army, slated for release next year.
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It wasn’t so long ago that Yong himself was an army recruit with time on his hands and social media at his disposal. “I was doing my National Service in 2018 and I started posting a lot of TikTok videos. That was when TikTok really took off and I was probably one of its earlier adopters. Some of those videos went viral, and that’s kind of when people started noticing me and asking me for shoots and shows,” he shares.
Since then, it has been a swift rise for Yong. “This past year has really been a breakthrough year for me: I got my first lead role on TV and then my first lead role in a movie. Those were two things I set for myself as goals and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to achieve them at such an early stage in my career.”
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That’s not to say that the journey has been without bumps. “There are definitely a lot of doubters—people who don’t want to see me succeed and so they do or say a lot of things behind my back,” he explains. “That is not something that I was familiar with. Before I was an actor, I never knew anybody in the media or entertainment industry. In the past two years, I’ve realised that there are so many things that are different from what I expected—what you see may not always be what you get.”
But through it all, Yong remains optimistic. “I tell myself that for every hater, there are 10 more people who love and support me,” he says. “So many people have carried me on this journey; my priority is making sure that I do well so that they can be proud of me. I guess what I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that I can only be myself, no matter how messy the world is.”
Yong definitely has his sights set on the things that truly matter, like using his new-found platform for good. “There is a deeper purpose behind why I do what I do,” he lets on. “Of course, there’s that passion for acting, for living out all these different roles. But I’ve also always wanted to be an activist, to fight for the causes I believe in. And in order to do that, I need to be in a position of influence.”
The cause closest to Yong’s heart is for youths to be unimpeded. “I deeply believe in young people being idealistic—a lot of times, people think that youths should be realistic, study hard, get a normal job. I really want to encourage young people, especially those who are not so privileged, to reach for their dreams,” he shares. “Even though you may not have the same starting point, that doesn’t mean your dreams are impossible.”
This is something Yong feels so strongly about because it is personal. “My own experiences definitely played a huge part. A lot of people in my life have told me that I’m too optimistic, or maybe I’m young, that’s why I think so many things are possible. That may be true to a certain extent,” he concedes, “but I don’t think you should discourage young people from dreaming. What if they are the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs? What I really want is to make an impact on other people’s lives. If I die as a rich person or a successful one but no one’s life was impacted by my existence, I would see that as a failure.”
This article was first published in the December 2021 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore