FINDING HER WAY

17 Apr 2024

Celebrated actress, influencer, online gamer, and now, avid golfer, Julie Tan talks about finding purpose and peace through golf.

Famous for her girl-next-door roles in Singaporean TV and film, 31-year-old actor Julie Tan is making a comeback in the world of show business. After a shock exit from the local television scene in 2017, Julie is currently playing the role of a cancer-stricken patient in the ‘Good Goodbye’, the latest local anthology film to hit the silver screen. But something else is also occupying her mind.

“No. 1,” she answers when asked where golf stands in her list of passions. Julie has only been playing golf regularly for about a year, but she hits the range about four times a week. She had a short dalliance with the game when her parents introduced her to the sport when she was seven. “They sent me for golf lessons but somehow, I just wasn’t interested then. I didn’t understand why I had to run after this small little white ball, and then stand at the range to hit hundreds of more. I just didn’t have the patience. You need a certain calmness to play golf.”

They say that golf has a way of imitating life. After years of fame, and going on a quest to rediscover her purpose and identity, she has returned to golf, and falling heads over heels with it this time.

“Acting, life and golf have all helped me to become a better person. They give me the strength to do the things that I do,” she reaffirms.

FINDING JULIE

Julie started acting at a tender age of 16. Within a decade, the talented actor had everything going for her – fame, accolades, and the adoration from fans for her lauded roles in TV shows like ‘That Girl in Pinafore’ and ‘The Dream Makers II’. Her promising career in acting was underscored by multiple nominations at the Star Awards and the Asian Television Awards over the years. Her success in TV culminated in a win at the 2016 Star Awards for Best Supporting Actress in her role as the villain Dong Zihuai in ‘The Dream Makers II’.

Then right at the peak of her acting career, Julie left.

The glare of celebrity and public scrutiny took a toll on her well-being in those early years. “I left because I wanted to be in a better head space. I had been acting from the age of 16 to 25 and there is a saying that you stop (growing emotionally) when you get famous. At the time, I felt like I was just going through the motion. I needed to figure out who I was and what I wanted in life.”

NEW BEGINNINGS

Julie wanted to start over. She loved acting but wanted to pursue her ambition differently, with an intentional shift from television towards movies. She shared, “In general, acting for movies typically involves more nuanced and subtle performances, whereas acting for TV often requires quicker pacing and the ability to convey emotions effectively in shorter scenes due to the episodic nature of television shows.”

She explored acting stints overseas, and also enrolled in the New York Film Academy’s school of acting. “My time at the NY Film Academy transformed my approach to acting, emphasising the profound connection between emotions and our craft. This experience highlighted the importance of addressing the emotional toll acting can take on our mental health. In the industry, there’s often an expectation to swiftly recover after emotional scenes to maintain production flow. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge our humanity despite our roles. Actors are human and deserve understanding and support.”

Then COVID-19 hit.

“I couldn’t do any acting work and started on TikTok during the pandemic to stay active creatively. Drawing inspiration from talented creators on the platform, I enjoyed being creative and having fun while engaging with my audience. I also live-streamed my online games Mobile Legends and Call of Duty on Twitch. All these became another career path,” shared Julie who has more than two million likes across her TikTok videos, and more than 250,000 followers on Instagram. Beyond being powerful business tools, these connections were the perfect outlets of engagement.

FULL CIRCLE

The relationship between Julie and her parents hasn’t always been smooth sailing. A self-confessed rebel, Julie refused to walk down the beaten path set before her. Instead of taking her O levels, Julie chose to study drama at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and pursue a career in acting, going against her parents’ plans. Her businessman father had always intended for her to follow in his footsteps.

“They just didn’t understand me,” Julie reveals.

But playing golf was the bridge to that disconnect. “When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why my mum played golf every day,” she reflects. “I used to resent her so much for going to the golf course, but now that I play, I understand.”

Julie realised that golf was a good sport for her “competitive” mother, Doris Khaw, who was once a regular in the local ladies’ golf scene. “Golf brought me closer to my mum,” Julie now admits. “’She’s the best person to play with as she’s very encouraging. Playing golf helps me to respect my parents in a different way. It’s interesting how everything has come full circle.”

The 1.68m-tall Julie canmhit the ball 100m with her pitching wedge though she clarifies that she struggles to break 100. Her goal for now is to play to a sub-30 handicap.

STAYING IN THE MOMENT

“Golf somehow feels very similar to acting. There’s this moment for actors, between ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’. In golf when you hold on to the club, position yourself, and then in that moment just before you hit the shot, right there and then, it feels the same as acting. You put in hours of practice and then comes the time to deliver and perform,” shares Julie.

“You have your foundation, you’ve practised and now you just need to hit the shot and not overthink. Sometimes with acting, you can get distracted and the audience can see it. Same for golf.

“If you’re distracted, you won’t hit a good shot. My coach Lip Ooi always tells me to ‘commit to the shot, just like how you commit to your acting role’. He understands me so well. My golf improved so much with him.”

Her passion for the game is palpable and infectious. Julie particularly enjoys the mental aspects of the game. “With golf, I love that you are always challenging yourself mentally. I really like putting because it’s very mental. I am always very eager to know where my ball goes and then I look up before I even putt, and that messes it up. This is so much like life. In the eagerness of wanting things to happen fast, you lose the experience of what is truly important, to simply be in the moment.”

IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

“Sometimes you don’t get off to a good start, maybe a bad tee shot. Once that gets in your head, you’re just not going to play well over the next few holes. It’s very important to recover,” Julie philosophises. “It’s the same for acting, you don’t just let one bad take get to you, you just have to continue. In that way, acting has actually helped me with golf, to bounce back and recover. It’s the same for life, say you have one bad day, you have to adjust and say it’s ok. Life happens, bad things happen and you just have to move on.

“When you do something that you are passionate about, even if you have a bad take or a bad shot, you just tell yourself ‘Hey it’s ok, I am only human’. I just trust that the next take or next shot will be better, and I try to improve,” shared Julie.

LEAVING A LEGACY

Embracing her influencer status, Julie is serious about connecting with her community of followers on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitch. “I see myself as someone who authentically shares my honest thoughts and advocates for things that truly matter to me. I am motivated by a desire to share knowledge, inspire others, and spark meaningful conversations about topics that resonate with me and reflect the world around me,” she explains.

“Through social media, I find inspiration in the diverse experiences, perspectives, and stories of the people around me, which fuel my creativity and drive to create engaging and impactful content.”

Across her social media platforms, we get a glimpse into the many facets of Julie’s world, from a glamorous fashion shoot in the Arabian desert, to rubbing shoulders with Tom Cruise at the movie premiere of Mission Impossible. Her most popular upload on TikTok is a funny 11-sec video about obsessive-compulsive behaviour which garnered 14.7 million plays. Then there are the more relatable ones, like one of her hitting an air shot, and her mother ‘roasting’ her for it in the most adorable way.

Acknowledging the power of social media, Julie also shares about its potential risks saying, “While it offers vast opportunities, misinformation and mental health concerns are prevalent. The youth should approach it cautiously and be mindful of its dangers.”

In one of her most popular Instagram posts, we see Julie getting her head shaved for her role as a cancer patient in Good Goodbye. Playing a social worker facing certain death, Julie reflects on the heavy topic: “In our lifetime, we all experience the loss of people, through death or broken relationships. I have a vision of myself in my 90s, on my deathbed, surrounded by loved ones, family, children, and grandchildren, telling them that I’ve led a great life and saying goodbye to the many people I have loved. That is the legacy I want to leave behind.”

This brings us back to her new-found love with the game. “Golf, to me, isn’t just golf, it’s a way of life. Golf is the best sport to find yourself, because you need to be honest, understand your body and know what works for you.”

And with that swing of a club and the crack of it hitting a dimpled ball, the talented actor looks to have found acceptance, inspiration, and purpose within her true authentic self.

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