S'porean actor Leon Jay Williams finds fame abroad after 'accidentally' getting lead role in Taiwanese idol drama

He had no idea what he was getting into.

Karen Lui | March 29, 2022, 12:07 PM

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You might be hearing more of Singaporean actor Leon Jay Williams soon.

Although not new to the entertainment industry, the 45-year-old only recently signed with Mediacorp as an artiste.

A short while ago, Williams also made the news for criticising a Chinese media outlet for their malicious attack against his daughter's appearance.

As you can probably already tell, yes, the multi-talent artiste, who also models and sings, is very much a family man.

Celebrity daddy

Seven-year-old Harper is frequently featured on Williams' social media pages.

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A post shared by Leon Jay Williams (@leonjaywilliams)

Born in January 2015, she is the only child to Williams and his Taiwanese wife, Joyce Li, 44.

The couple tied the knot in 2014.

Harper, who is in Primary 1 this year, appears to be unaware of her father's fame.

Addressing how his daughter reacts to his celebrity status, Williams replied, "To her, I'm just her daddy".

Having an international actor as a father comes with perks that include tagging along to filming locations in places such as Beijing and Greece.

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According to Williams, she perceived it as "some holiday that she comes along," and has yet to grasp the entire celebrity concept.

Harper takes her own shots of her father during a shoot. Photo via @leonjaywilliams on Instagram.

"When she comes along for shoots, she understands what's going on but I don't think she understands the term 'celebrity' as of now."

Harper continues recording Williams from the sidelines. Photo via @leonjaywilliams on Instagram.

The doting father has asked her if she's keen to follow in his footsteps.

"She said, 'No, because it doesn't look fun,'" he chuckled.

Dealing with detractors

Williams recently highlighted one of the unpleasant sides to his job when an article published by a Chinese media outlet attacked Harper's appearance.

The protective father stood up for her on Weibo and Instagram, calling out the writer for being so irresponsible and malicious with their words.

Williams shared a social media update on Mar. 22 to reassure everyone that his family, including Harper, "is doing alright," and expressed their thanks for the concern, love, and support they received.

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A post shared by Leon Jay Williams (@leonjaywilliams)

When asked about how he copes with his fair share of negative comments, Williams revealed that he usually learns about them from his friends or people he works with.

"I don't really read because a lot of them are in Chinese. I can't really read Chinese that well. Yet. Still," he said with a laugh.

He could not remember any specific nasty comment and shared that most of them criticised his choice of roles, especially if they deviate from the Prince Charming image he has become known for.

Fortunately, the actor tends to try to forget the bad stuff and acknowledged that everyone has their own personal opinions and "you can't please the world."

Return to Singapore

After spending so many years abroad, the Singaporean actor had been planning to come home with his family "for a while," especially with a young daughter in tow.

Williams was forced to stay at home for a few months due to Covid-19, but instead of feeling cooped up, found himself enjoying the time.

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A post shared by Leon Jay Williams (@leonjaywilliams)

Like many people, Williams has not been on a plane for two years since the pandemic hit.

Previously, the busy actor had always been away and never stayed in Singapore beyond two weeks to a month at a time, he disclosed.

Since he became of age, he was flying at least once or twice a month, he added.

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Remaining in Singapore for "a solid two years" is definitely a drastic change from his frequent travelling as an international actor.

However, the father of one managed to make the best out of the pandemic, which he attributed to pushing him into making the move back to Singapore.

How he got started

When he was 17, Williams attended grooming classes to combat his shyness and was subsequently scouted by a modelling agency.

He continued modelling part-time while doing his National Service.

After he was crowned Mister Singapore and International Man, his modelling career took him abroad to countries like Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

The former model's entry into the acting world was "quite a bit of an accident," as he initially went to Taiwan for a modelling contract.

"The TV station asked me to audition for a role and I just accidentally got it," he said modestly.

Williams conceded it was "sort of a blessing" as many people would covet such an opportunity back then.

Back in the early 2000s, Taiwanese idol dramas were all the rage, spearheaded by the explosive popularity of 2001 drama "Meteor Garden".

However, the singer-actor had not watched a lot of Chinese dramas or idol dramas at that time.

Therefore, even while auditioning, Williams had no idea how impactful it was and didn't really know what he was getting into.

He was under the impression it was going to be just a walk-on role instead of a lead part in an idol drama.

What he had expected to be a two-month stint became an offer for a two-year commitment—a decision that he had to make within a few days.

"My first reaction was to say 'No', he revealed. "I said, 'No, I don't think I'm going to change my lifestyle right now. I'm happy modelling, travelling around, [and] I didn't want to be stuck in one place for too long.'"

To help make his decision, he phoned his family for a discussion, and eventually decided to take the plunge to improve his Mandarin by immersing himself in the culture.

Choosing to remain in Taiwan to kickstart his acting career became "the point that changed my life," he said.

The first Taiwanese idol drama he starred in was "La Robe De Mariee Des Cieux" in 2004, alongside Taiwanese singers Cyndi Wang and Ming Dao.

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He bagged yet another lead role for his second idol drama, "Green Forest, My Home" in 2005, feautring Taiwanese artistes Esther Liu and Ethan Ruan.

"Green Forest, My Home" featuring Williams with Ethan Juan and Esther Liu. Image via Weibo.


By the time he landed the lead role, he had already been modelling for many years with about 50 television commercials under his belt in countries including Hong Kong and Taiwan.

While he was not a stranger to the camera, speaking in Mandarin on camera was something Williams who grew up in an English-speaking environment was not very familiar with.

"It's very unnerving, especially when the people around you don't speak English at all so I felt very alone when I started out there."

In addition to his height and good looks, the actor's ability to speak fluent English made him a shoo-in for the ABC (American-born Chinese) character who occasionally speaks English in his scenes.

Nonetheless, Williams said that he still had to communicate in Mandarin as much as possible as the crew, including the director, could not understand him otherwise.

Fortunately, he received positive responses from viewers who watched his shows that were shot and aired at the same time.

Such an outcome helped him out in the sense that if there was anything he really could not do in Mandarin, they would allow him to speak English, he said.

However, Williams emphasised that he still spoke in Mandarin around 60 to 70 per cent of the time for the whole television show.

Learning while laughing

The best way for him to learn his mother tongue is to be laughed at, the actor shared candidly.

Furthermore, his colleagues were not only communicating in Mandarin, but also in the Taiwanese dialects, which he could not really understand.

Despite feeling left out as the jokes they were cracking flew over his head, Williams responded by laughing with them.

He also tried to speak more Chinese even though he admitted that it might sound "a bit wrong" due to his clumsy phrasing.

"A lot of fun for everyone else, I think, at my expense," Williams remarked with a laugh. "You just got to take it light-heartedly, it's a learning experience."

That's one way to improve your language skills and build rapport with your colleagues at the same time.

Loneliness and lack of time

Besides the struggle to keep up with his colleagues in Mandarin, another challenge the actor faced was the lack of friends.

The hectic work schedule made it difficult for Williams to find time to make friends.

As a result, the crew whom he saw every day for work became his family.

It's easy to assume that Williams was living the high life as one of the hottest idol actors in Taiwan back then, but the truth was, he didn't have time for anything outside work.

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A post shared by Leon Jay Williams (@leonjaywilliams)

He would typically return home after work and could only phone his family once in a while, he said.

"I sent out a mass email to my friends, telling them that I'll be probably uncontactable for about six months, because it was so taxing."

According to Williams, most of his free time was devoted to learning his scripts at the television station, writing hanyu pinyin (the romanisation system for Chinese).

He likened the experience to taking an examination for six months.

Co-stars who left lasting impressions

Among the numerous celebrities that the 45-year-old actor has worked with, two actresses left lasting impressions on him.

The first person he named was Mainland Chinese actress Yan Ni, whom he worked with on 2010 romantic comedy television series, "Zhang Xiao Wu's Spring" for about three or four months.

Image via Weibo.

The 51-year-old veteran actress has won many accolades and worked with the likes of Zhang Yi Mou.

Besides praising her professionalism and talent, Williams was impressed by how she changed the script on the spot for the better, and her presence on set.

Image via Weibo.

"When [Yan Ni] acts, everyone becomes quiet and the director just went on rolling and she improvised, like pretty much for the next 10 minutes."

The other former co-star who left an impression on him is none other than Singapore's very own Michelle Chong.

Chong's 2016 comedy film "Lulu the Movie" was Williams' first Singaporean film.

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A post shared by Leon Jay Williams (@leonjaywilliams)

Chong directed, wrote, produced, and starred in the movie, which is no surprise that Williams found it amazing to see her "doing everything."

If that gives you a clue, Williams is actually keen to do more comedy next—a genre he isn't known for.

"I'm not afraid to laugh at myself so I think [comedy] will be a genre I'd like to explore."

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Top images via YouTube and @leonjaywilliams on Instagram.