Photo: Frederick Lee/Instagram

Malaysian actor Frederick Lee, youngest brother of local star Christopher Lee, was once an illegal worker in Singapore for two weeks.

He recalls with a laugh that this happened while he was waiting for his Form 3 examination results when he was 16.

Speaking in Mandarin over the telephone from Kuala Lumpur, the 41-year-old says: "I went with my friends to Singapore to look for jobs as we'd heard it was easy to make money there."

He ended up installing ducting for air-conditioning.

This was one of the odd jobs he did in his younger days so that he would not have to ask his family for extra cash.

Frederick Lee, who has his first movie lead role in You Mean The World To Me, recounts with relish that he did everything, including working in a glass louvre window factory and ending up with cuts all over his hands; and precariously clambering up as high as five storeys to hang signboards. "My life was so cheap then," he says.

It did not immediately improve when he went into acting. There was a period when he subsisted on biscuits and instant noodles. "I didn't even dare to go out" for fear of spending money, he says.
Photo: Frederick Lee/Instagram

He certainly has plenty of life experiences for him to draw on for You Mean The World To Me, where he plays Sunny, a down-and-out director scrambling to raise funds to make an autobiographical film in Penang.

The movie also stars award-winning actress Yeo Yann Yann as Sunny's elder sister and local veteran actress Neo Swee Lin as their mother. It opens here tomorrow.

The drama by Malaysian writer-director Saw Teong Hin delves into a fraught family history and its lingering impact. Sunny's father tells him at one point that even one's siblings cannot be trusted.

Lee says: "I can understand his pain at being cheated by someone so close to him. Fortunately, this would never happen in our household because we have never been rich."

He is the youngest of four siblings. Last year, he and Christopher, 46, were both nominated for Best Actor at the Asian Television Awards.

Frederick Lee, who has been acting mostly in Malaysia, says: "I was very happy about the nominations because the chances of us appearing at the same event are practically zero."

He adds with a laugh: "I was hoping I wouldn't win because I don't think I'm as good as him."

Neither of them won.

To date, the brothers have yet to work together on a project because there has been no opportunity for it.

"We're both really looking forward to it. The most important thing is to have a good script, good team and good environment. Rushing into it might ruin things," says Lee.

Now that he has signed to Catwalk, the same Taiwanese agency Christopher is signed to, and also started to act in Taiwan, the chances of that happening have probably increased.

When you suggest that they could play twins, Lee jokes: "Sure, when we're in our 60s or 70s because we'll both have the same number of wrinkles."

You Mean The World To Me opens tomorrow

This article was first published in The Straits Times