Lawrence Wong has been on the up for the last few years and now, he is branching out. Stratospheric as his success might seem today, it did not come overnight. The actor has been a steady presence in the local entertainment industry for over a decade; first with a breakthrough role in the 2010 telemovie The Promise (for which he nabbed his first Star Awards nomination), and then with supporting roles on hit TV dramas such as 118 and Three Wishes. But it took a gamble on his career and leaving the country for the Malaysian-born actor to finally hit the big time. Wong left Singapore for China in 2016, and in that much more competitive and crowded field, he managed to nab a role in the imperial drama Story of Yanxi Palace.
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The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The show was one of China’s biggest modern television successes, streamed billions of times around the world; Wong’s star has been on the rise since. After Yanxi Palace, he returned to Singapore to take on the lead role in My One in a Million before headlining the Chinese production Girlfriend.
Wong will next be seen in this year’s The Ferryman: Legends of Nanyang, for which he spent a chunk of last year filming in his home state of Johor. The pandemic had scuttled his plans to return to China after the last Chinese New Year to resume work, so he spent most of the past year here in Singapore and Malaysia. While others baked, cooked and crafted up a storm, Wong spent all that pandemic-enforced free time on something bigger—developing and realising an idea that has been brewing in his head for years: A botanical skincare line. The results were recently unveiled, the first product being the Do-It-All mask under his newly launched Grail brand. We talk to Wong about a difficult year, his journey so far and his new venture.
What was the past year like for you?
It was weird. We’ve all had to make a lot of changes to our lifestyles, but I think a lot of people discovered that they were actually able to do a lot of things. I think everyone learned that when humans are put into certain circumstances, we can actually accomplish a lot. For example, during the circuit-breaker period, I had to do promos for my show Girlfriend and I realised that I can actually do my own lighting, record my own stuff, style my own hair—which I haven’t done in the longest time. It was a period of rediscovering myself as well as new ways to make things work.
Why have you decided to launch a skincare brand?
I’ve always had problem skin since I was young. After my acne cleared, I developed really sensitive skin. It acts up if I use the wrong makeup, or if it’s dusty, or even if I scratch it just a bit. I’m also easily allergic to a lot of things, so I’m quite particular about what I use on my face. Quality is really important to me, but as a guy, I also need quite simple stuff—I can never do one of those seven-step routines. And I think because I’m so fair, I always get asked, “What do you use?” So I thought, why not formulate my own product that works for me and also a majority of people?
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It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years and years, but this past year with the circuit-breaker period definitely helped to fast-track the process. I’m a big believer in fate. I’ve met people with very innovative ideas, but just never the right person who could make it happen the way I want it—until my business partner, whom I met during this period. We just hit it off because the things we want to do are very similar—we want something clean, sustainable, honest and for everyone.
What else about Grail sets it apart in this crowded market?
I called it Grail because I think of the products as being the holy grail of what you need (to achieve good skin). For example, the first product is a mask called Do-It-All because I wanted it to be all-encompassing. I’m really proud of it. All the ingredients are organic, eco-certified and things I really believe in. There’s African aloe vera, Icelandic camomile, and sea grapes for anti-ageing. The entire packaging is biodegradable and our mask sheet is made of a one-of-a-kind patented Japanese material. I don’t want to do just skincare though; I want it to be a lifestyle brand—are so many other things I want to do.
What other products do you have in mind?
I’m coming up with a pure-soya candle—it’s cheaper to do a regular candle, but I insisted on pure soya. There will be amethyst crystals in it as well because I’m a firm believer in the power of crystals. You don’t have to have crystals because they add to the cost, but I have very particular ideas of how I want things to be.
What are your thoughts on the entertainment industry, having been part of it for over a decade?
I think there’s a vicious cycle here in Singapore. It’s sad to say, but the fact is that we’re losing audience share. It’s because we’re not doing good shows, but that in \itself is also because of many things: Budgets, the limitations that our TV station faces, the lack of talent produce things that are comparable to what is being done overseas. It’s sad because we do have talent in Singapore, but talent—be it an actor, a singer, a makeup artist or a painter—needs to be in the right environment to blossom. And at this moment, the arts aren’t really being nurtured here.
What would be a dream role for you or something you want to do that people might not necessarily associate with you?
I’d like to do art-house films. I’ve always wanted to do that, but firstly, I haven’t come across a good one and secondly, my management company always says that movie actors don’t earn much (laughs). As for roles, there are still so many characters that I haven’t had a chance to portray, so I can’t say for sure. Ask me again in 10 years?