Gavin Yap (right) directing his first movie.
In Malaysia, as in many other parts of the world including Hollywood, it’s not easy for an actor to make a living only through acting. Many do it part-time, having day jobs – their so-called bread and butter work – while auditioning for plays, TV shows and movies.
Perhaps some opt for this because acting is something they enjoy doing – a kind of hobby for them. Or perhaps they want to play it safe and have something to fall back on in case their acting careers don’t take off.
When Gavin Yap decided to become an actor, it wasn’t just a passion for him but something he wanted to pursue as his career. And he didn’t want to play it safe either. So, no moonlighting or doing it part time. He was playing for keeps.
Of course it is very hard to make a living on acting alone, so he also did some script writing to supplement his income and later, when opportunities to direct plays came along, he did that too.
Last year, he managed to write, produce and direct his own movie, Take Me To Dinner, which was a personal achievement for him, 12 years after returning to Malaysia from the US and the UK where he did his studies.
“I consider Take Me To Dinner to be a success from an artistic, personal and financial perspective,” says Gavin. “It was a very well made film. I was happy with the end result and we didn’t end up owning anyone any money!”
And it has opened doors for him. He already has two other film projects in the works. Unlike his first film, his next two will not be self-funded but are backed by investors, so there’s more money involved.
Although he’s a bona fide movie director now, Gavin still does acting and writing work. “Ultimately, I consider myself a storyteller,” he says. “Acting, writing, directing… these are all part of the storytelling process, so I yo-yo among these activities, although these days I tend to be more focused on directing, with these two upcoming movies in the works.”
He is also wary of complacency creeping in. “I’m very happy and thankful to be where I am right now but I realize it could all go away very fast,” he says. “Every day, there’s a new batch of people who could come in and eat your lunch. That fear of unemployment when I was starting out, it’s still there. It never goes away.”
Only the paranoid survive, indeed.
For many in the performing arts industry, Gavin is at an ideal point in his career. Which actor doesn’t also want to write and direct their own productions eventually? But getting there was not something that he specifically engineered. It wasn’t by accident but neither was there a grand plan.
“I guess you could say there was a vague plan,” says Gavin. “I knew I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to write and eventually to direct. But there wasn’t a template or a methodology in place for me to follow. There was no timeline or schedule. I just went with the flow.”
When he returned in 2002 from the UK, where he got his degree in alternative performance and contemporary dance, Gavin’s game plan was simply to get to know people in the industry and to work as an actor.
“Unemployment for actors is ridiculously high, so for me there was no grandiose plan, I just wanted to work,” he recalls. “I reached out to Jit Murad, whom I admired, and he was kind enough to meet up with me. We became friends, and he introduced me to other people. Joe Hasham put me into a play. That was my big break. One job led to another. I just kept busy.”
For those aspiring artistes who wish to carve a successful career as an actor, writer and director, Gavin has some words of advice: “Keep busy, get noticed and don’t give up. There is no handbook or template for success in this line but believe me when I say that tenacity and perseverance pays off.”
Gavin directing Patrick Teoh
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant