Feature
Scene Stealers
Totally Leg-al
By Christopher Ong

Picture perfect: Whether it’s acting or directing, Vanessa Vanderstraaten (left) and Ang Geck Geck go under the spotlight.

PHOTO: MARK TEO / STYLING AND CLOTHES: CLINIQUE AND TOPSHOP

Dads can surprise.

 

Vanessa Vanderstraaten tells the story of the day she sat down with her father and stepmum to watch the controversial movie Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, in which she plays a rebellious and headstrong teenager.

 

There is a scene of Vanessa gyrating on the pole.

 

“My head was filled with thoughts like: ‘Is he going to disown me? Is he going to stop me from acting forever?’” she says. “It’s one thing to pole dance, and another to let your father watch you do it.”

 

“In the end, he was actually more disturbed by my tattoos. He knew I had them – I think he just didn’t want to see them on the big screen!”

 

As for her role as Rachel, it was a forgettable one… for her father. Jokes Vanessa: “He told me my performance was good, and that he blocked the film out from his memory as soon as it was over!”

 

But Sex.Violence.FamilyValues will live long in the NTU alumna’s memory, and not just because it was her movie debut.

 

She tells of her painful experience making the movie: “I trained in pole dancing for two months. It requires a lot of upper body strength and I have none. I ended up with a lot of bruises in really weird places.”

It bruised her even more – on an emotional level – when her big screen debut almost did not work out after the movie was banned last year, just three days before its release.

 

When the ban was lifted and it finally aired in March, the movie had its run extended twice and earned solid reviews from the likes of The Straits Times.

 

Not a bad start for someone who was only bitten by the acting bug as an undergrad at the School of Humanities & Social Sciences. Not bad indeed considering that Vanessa has since starred in a XinMSN web drama, Get Social, and also currently hosts the reality talent competition The Final 1, which airs every Wednesday night on Channel 5.

 

The vivacious 25-year-old Eurasian says: “Many young actors pay their dues for a long time before a big break comes along. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get these high-profile gigs with a lot of exposure.”

 

The English Literature major was lucky too to have been taught by Michael Corbidge – an active member of the local theatre scene – while pursuing a Minor in Drama and Performance at NTU.

 

She recalls fondly: “He suggested that I train with the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Young Co. I did, and I think I enjoyed it too much!”

 

In 2011, after exiting stage left at her convocation ceremony, the leggy 1.69m lass entered stage right at the DBS Arts Centre for her professional theatre debut with The Young Co.’s Grimm Tales. She tells HEY!: “It was my graduation show and when it was over, I felt empty.”

 

“I realised then that I really enjoyed the rehearsals and being able to tell stories on stage. There was no other feeling like it and I wanted to keep acting.”

 

But the pursuit of that dream has not been without sacrifices. She says: “Acting as a career is not very lucrative or profitable – I’ve certainly had to cut down on my shopping. But the real sacrifices are when you have to go for rehearsals every night. That’s when you think: ‘My gosh, I want my weeknights back.’”

 

One thing she definitely does not want back is her Mohawk, which she wore as a finalist in The New Paper New Face in 2009.

 

She explains the look: “I was going through a breakup and girls tend to do silly things after one. You want to cleanse and reinvent yourself.”

 

She has certainly reinvented herself, sharing the spotlight with big-name judges Kit Chan, Ken Lim and Taufik Batisah in The Final 1. She says: “It can be nerve-racking knowing that if you mess up, it’s going to be ‘live’ on national TV. You have to have ice water in your veins.”

 

So what has she set her sights on next?

 

“I’m really enjoying the different genres and mediums and, who knows, maybe I’ll even get to perform in different countries someday.”

 

Vanessa is not setting herself a timeframe for success. “It’s a very Singaporean thing to have a Plan B,” she says. “If I’m going to throw myself 100% into this career, I don’t want to do it with a backup plan. It’s all or nothing. I’m here to stay… you watch my face!”