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24 Feb 2006

steven lim

Fridae scores an exclusive interview with London-based Singaporean actor Steven Lim about his "egoistic Muscle Mary" role in Cut Sleeve Boys, sex appeal and advice for those who find themselves no longer on the A-list of gay clubs and parties.

Read more about Cut Sleeve Boys.

æ: In Cut Sleeve Boys, you play an egoistic Muscle Mary, Melvyn Shu (Mel), who's been around the circuit. Tell us more about your character and how you prepared yourself for the role?

A circa 2001 photo of Steven Lim in the play The Swimming Instructor (top) and Steven as seen in Cut Sleeve Boys.
Steven: I sat myself in a cafe on Old Compton Street in Soho and just observed the passing trade! I think the difficult part was actually buffing up at the gym. My natural build is quite slim and my exercise routine for the past couple of years involved lots of cardiovascular workouts and training to be a stage combat instructor. As a result, having to bulk up again was quite a challenge.

In terms of characterisation, it would have been easy to just play a stereotypical Muscle Mary. The challenge was in trying to find a reality and a truth to Mel so that he wasn't just a two dimensional character. I've noticed that often, the "Muscle Mary" persona is an adopted public front used as a form of protection against the sometimes highly competitive and bitchy gay world. Peel away enough of the exterior and you often find a beautiful character within.

æ: According to Meryl Cohn, Muscle Marys "are boys who got sand kicked in their faces when they were teenagers and were forced to wear other boys' jockstraps on their heads in the high school locker room." Truth or myth?

Steven: Never had sand kicked in my face before and certainly was never forced to wear other boys' jockstraps on my head. Shame really, might have enjoyed the latter a tad too much! I can see where Meryl Cohn is coming from with the statement. It is the skinny kid who discovers steroids and the gym and over-compensates in order to make up for lost time.

æ: In addition to being a Muscle Mary, the character of Mel also happens to be a jaded queen whose star is on the wane. What would your advice be for gay men who find themselves no longer on the A-list of gay clubs and parties?

Steven: I'll let you know when I get on the A-list of clubs and parties. I keep calling Elton but have yet to receive a response... I should imagine that there are two things you can do: retire gracefully from the scene before they have to throw you out with your zimmerframe, or start your own club and parties. You can then put yourself on any list you want, baby!

æ: In the movie, you and Chowee Leow play Mel and Ash respectively - "two British Chinese gay men who studied and drink lychee martinis together." Describe your relationship with Chowee both on and off-screen.

Steven: Chowee is a wonderful and very, very talented person with a heart of gold, not unlike Ash. I have nothing but praise for him and thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He's akin to the best friend/confidant/shoulder-to-cry-on that one can always rely on. Don't let his soft on-screen character fool you though - Chowee is a trooper. There's a scene where he had to run around on what I call "oh-my-god-how-high-are-those" heels. He slipped as he turned a corner and fell. Chowee simply picked himself up, dusted himself off, carried on and finished the scene. Truly a poster child for Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

æ: As Mel, you play someone who is both aware of his sex appeal and not above using that appeal to get what he wants - including party invites and sexual favours. How would you define your sex appeal?

Steven: You're not seriously asking me to define/rate my own sex appeal are you? Sex appeal is like body odour: we can never tell if we have it ourselves or what our own body odour smells like. What we have may attract some and repulse others. My answer would be "you tell me!"

(Editor's Note: Alvin Tan's brazen response has been deleted because Fridae will not condone cheek-colouring profanity - especially from muscle-chasing writers who really should know better.)
æ: Gay men in Singapore will always remember how well you fill up your school shorts in the TV series Growing Up and your swimming trunks in the play The Swimming Instructor. Describe your wardrobe in Cut Sleeve Boys.

Steven Lim in Cut Sleeve Boys
Steven: My wardrobe was fantastic. Loads of clothes that I'd always wanted to try on but never had the guts to. Super fitted clothes with a gadzillion buttons and rude logos from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Vivienne Westwood to G-Star. One of the pieces was a fantastic Jean-Paul Gaultier kilt which I absolutely loved but alas, despite begging, temper tantrums and primadonna lip pouting, it had to be returned. So if anyone has a JPG kilt size 31 to spare

æ: A to-die-for wardrobe notwithstanding, what was the experience of shooting Cut Sleeve Boys like? How has it contributed to your growth as an actor and were there any particularly awkward or memorable scenes?

Steven: It was one of the best experiences ever for me. It was also my first major role since I exiled myself to drama school training for the last several years. Quite nerve-wrecking too as I'll get to see if the training has paid off. Ray and Chowee had assembled a really good team of people and there were no primadonnas in the cast (other than myself, of course). Plus, I had beautiful Gareth as my toyboy. What more can one ask for?

Moreover, the crew was fantastic and really cared for the work we were doing. The atmosphere was akin to that of a family. I loved going to work everyday and had really severe post-production blues when we finished filming.

æ: While you undoubtedly enjoyed filming Cut Sleeve Boys, how do you feel about accepting a gay role? Were you, at any point, worried about alienating the segment of your female fanbase back in Singapore who are enamored with your goody-two-shoes boy-next-door roles?

Steven: The issue was and is never about the sexual orientation of the role. I usually base my decision to accept or reject a role on the quality of the script and the people putting it all together.

æ: Well said! Now complete this sentence: "The Asian gay community should flock to theatres to catch Cut Sleeve Boys because"

Steven: It's a film by the Asian gay community about the Asian gay community for the Asian gay community and I'm in it! (I just know that someone's going to take that last bit and quote it totally out of context - be warned, I've got a pretty damn good lawyer).

æ: Thank you for your time and best of luck for your acting career.

Cut Sleeve Boys was selected as the Suprise Gay Film at the 35th International Film Festival in Rotterdam, and was screened at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival and the ongoing Bangkok International Film Festival. The film is also running in the Asian Digital Competition in the 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival to be held from April 4- 19, 2006.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-11-19 12:16  
Steven Lim is totally unknown to me. I am a white American so it seems our worlds are far apart. But I love the shared perceptions he states in the depth of a three dimensional personality. I would think that many Asians here bring their world back with them, when they live here, the culture comes with them. I am sure Mr Lim is well known here too through his admirers. I wish there was more sharing of thoughts and the arts on a personal basis. Insights from different perspectives are very welcome, at least by me. I am happy that there is an internet to give me a window to Mr Lim and his comments. Bill in Seattle

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