IT’S hard to believe that just two years ago, Marianne Tan was taking up her first ever film role – for free.

That was back when YouTube films still weren’t a thing, so when then-amateur filmmaker Ho Ming Han (of The Ming Thing fame) approached her to act in his short film Alone, Forever?, there was no money in it at all.

But oh how things have changed. Today, Tan is one of the most recognisable faces in the Malaysian YouTube scene.

The distinctly Malaysian girl-next-door charm she brings to all her roles so far have brought her a combined 2.4 million views on YouTube, and with it an increasing number of commercial acting offers.

These days, she gets recognised and approached by fans when she’s filming overseas, and even a few professional actors and film directors have complimented her on her performances.

But here’s the real kicker – Tan has never had a single acting lesson. She has never even appeared in a school play.

All she does is put in a huge amount of work researching and studying her characters, which took some of her directors by surprise – especially because they were mostly just filming three-minute YouTube videos.

“By the time I start filming, my scripts will be all crumpled and messy, because there’ll be a lot of notes in there on how I feel my character should be and how to add my own flavour into it,” said Tan.

alone forever

Two years ago, Tan got her big break in Alone, Forever?, a short film by TheMingThing about “friend-zoning”.

When she’s on set, nothing excites her more than nailing her lines and delivering a performance that everyone can relate with. Tan, who looks up to actresses like Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, described it as the best feeling ever.

Still, she always had some doubts as to whether her acting was up to scratch, until she started getting feedback from professional actors and directors.

“So far, they’ve all been very encouraging. I’ve had a director referencing the Unfold videos, which I starred in. So, I get a lot of requests to play that funny, easy-going but has-a-bit-of-a-bite sort of girl because they like that,” said Tan.

Last year, Tan’s transformation into a bona fide film star was almost complete when she was offered one of the lead roles in a local film that became a huge box office hit. Sadly, she had to turn it down because she was helping her dad manage his new hotel.

But Tan was philosophical about that missed opportunity, because her experience working at the hotel toughened her up and taught her to be more careful with her decisions.

And with so much talent, it seems only a matter of time before other offers come flooding in. She has shot a few commercials, the most recent of which was shot in New Zealand.

“Before this, I wasn’t too sure if acting was what I wanted to do. But because of YouTube, I started to realise that you can do anything and be whatever you want to be,” she said. “Well, except singing. I can’t sing, that’s for sure!” she added with a laugh.

“And I think YouTube has a larger impact than television. It has been a bit more effective in terms of providing me with more opportunities because it is a bigger platform involving not only Malaysia, but the world.”

But YouTube hasn’t just helped Tan forge a career in acting. It has also made it much easier for her to pursue her other passion – art.

With the help of her boyfriend, Grim Film founder Jared Lee, Tan recently started documenting and sharing videos of her illustrations on her Facebook page.

Thanks to her existing fan base from her acting career, she was able to grow an audience for her illustration videos pretty quickly.

“When you create a piece of art, your personality gets across, so it’s really nice to see people also being interested in that,” said Tan, who graduated with a diploma in Digital Animation from The One Academy.

But that doesn’t mean her acting career will be taking a back seat anytime soon.

Fans will see more of Tan on YouTube as she revealed she worked on a few things during her recent trip to Tokyo, Japan, all of which should see the light of day soon enough.


Our entertainment and celebrity news expert who happens to be disturbingly good at laser tag. Graduated with a degree in communications at 21 and went straight into the magazine business. She not only writes for R.AGE now, but also coordinates our long-running BRATs young journalist programme.

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