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Bobby Tonelli: Learning Mandarin one arm curl at a time

SINGAPORE: Most artistes learn their lines at home, but US-born Singapore actor Bobby Tonelli learned the Mandarin lines for his role in the Channel 8 drama "Double Bonus", his biggest Mandarin-speaking role yet, by going to the gym.

Strange you say?

Tonelli doesn't think so – the hunky actor believed that learning his lines at the gym made it easier for him to remember and understand them.

"The memorisation is very tough. I know what I am saying but I have to memorise all these sounds and try to make it flow, so what I did is I would record lines and I would play it through my headphones while at the gym while working out.

"It does help because when you kind of doing two things at the same time, it sort of gets ingrained into your brain a bit more," said Tonelli, who also hosts Class 95FM's "Cartunes" show with Jean Danker.

"I'm learning Mandarin one arm curl at a time man!"

"The only problem is you start mouthing [the words] out so people are looking at you and are like 'What the hell are you doing in the gym? He's gone mad at the gym!'," said Tonelli, bursting into laughter.
"I was scared sh*tless!"

He may laugh about it now, but Tonelli revealed that he literally shook with fear during the first few days of shooting for the drama, which also stars local actresses Zoe Tay and Tracy Lee along with Hong Kong actor Tom Price.

"I was nervous as hell because acting generally is hard , acting in a foreign language is even harder.

"I remember I was literally shaking the first few days. I was so nervous I couldn't sleep at night," said Tonelli.

"I was scared sh*tless! But that was part of the challenge of it and that's what made it fun for me."

Besides the challenge of acting in a foreign tongue, Tonelli's sense of obligation to Channel 8 also pushed him to take the job and get the job done right.

"Channel 8 has been really good to me. To the mass audience, they didn't notice me till I did 'The Little Nyonya'. It was thanks to Channel 8.

"So there's a part of me that always feels indebted to them for what they have given me," said Tonelli, explaining that he was especially grateful to Channel 8 for bringing him and his actress girlfriend Joanne Peh - whom he met on the "The Little Nyonya" set - together.

"Yeah, you can't beat that! That's always a plus!" said the actor of gaining both his big break as well as a girlfriend from his stint on "The Little Nyonya".

The only problem he had with shooting the show was that it left him with precious little time to spend with Peh, who was also busy with "A Song To Remember" at the time.

"When she was free and wanted to go out, I can't because I'd have Mandarin tuition," said Tonelli.
More Mandarin in his future

Although filming for "Double Bonus" has wrapped and the show is now airing, Tonelli expressed that he intends to continue learning Mandarin, even though he is still struggling with it.

"I love the Chinese language … I enjoy the culture. I'm still taking [Mandarin] lessons.

"It's just that in Singapore, it's hard to learn because you are not around it all the time," said Tonelli, adding that he is also bracing himself for criticism about his Mandarin.

"Singapore audiences can be quite critical of other people's Mandarin ... I know I will probably get slammed for my Mandarin at some point.

"All I can say is I'm trying my best and I'll continue to get better."
"Double Bonus" airs every weeknight at 9pm on Channel 8.

-CNA

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