Our first digital cover of the year opens with a pair of go-getters on the rise: multi-hyphenated content creators Daniel Cheang and Alvy Joanna, as they muse on identity, the creative mindset and their first foray into the acting world.
Against the quirky, bold colours of Cassey Gan’s pieces — patterns taking shape next to still-life paintings — Daniel Cheang and Alvy Joanna seem to blend right in. Clad in a floral print jacket and a vibrant JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure tee respectively, you can tell right off the bat the kind of laid-back energy the pair brings into the room. On this blissful Monday morning, the weather is on our side — Cassey Gan’s studio is lit by its skylight, throwing sunbeams across the blues and bright hues of the space.
Colours are at the core of our cover shoot. Daniel and Alvy each don a pair of ASICS EX89 sneakers, the sportswear brand’s tribute to iconic NBA teams and their symbolic colours: purple and yellow for the Los Angeles Lakers; blue and red for the New York Knicks, as well as green and black for Boston Celtics. The outsoles are meant to mirror a city’s view from the sky — how fitting that in a matter of moments, our cover stars would be perched atop an odd-shaped mirror reflecting the studio’s skylight.
In the age-old world of showbiz, TV host turned actor Daniel Cheang and TikToker turned actor Alvy Joanna represent a new breed of entertainers: the next-gen newcomers; the young ‘disruptors’ within the creative industry, striking that balance between authenticity and integrity. Like wanderers, they traverse from one creative form to another, picking up skills as they go.
“For as long as I’ve been working, I’ve only been working,” Daniel settles with, when I ask what it is that sets his work apart from other content creators. “I think to date I’m good at putting out stuff, and at adapting to different types of content — but I haven’t really gotten to explore my niche just yet. I’m still doing some proper soul-searching.”
Soul-searching is a term that’s often thrown around among millennials and Gen Z folk alike, and with good reason. The creative and entertainment industry is ever-changing, and at a rate faster than anyone can keep up with. Because of this, Alvy affirms that it’s important to stay grounded and not lose your sense of self in the process.
“This might sound cliché, but all this time I’m creating content, I’ve always been transforming into different personas,” she says of the TikTok sphere, where she has garnered over 800,000 followers. “The most important thing for me is when my audience tells me that I’m not afraid of being myself — like, my ‘real’ self. For them, when I put something up online, it feels like a neighbour talking to them, or a friend. I like to have that bond, it makes it so much more intimate and real.”
Of identity and blending in
Despite running in different circles, Daniel and Alvy connect ever so naturally on set. We’ve just wrapped shooting a hilarious game of chubby bunny — Daniel determined to go over ten marshmallows, Alvy persevering with even her cheeks all puffed up — and in between takes, they’re still able to finish each other’s sentences.
They are ‘event buddies’ — a proclamation they made only recently, during our LSA100 Year End Party, where Daniel donned a black fishnet knit top and Alvy was spotted in a complementing corset tulle dress. At every brand event they attend, Daniel and Alvy seem to be drawn to each other, finding comfort in the other’s company. And wherever or whenever they drift together, they tend to harmonise in style. From Kit Woo’s signature draping fabrics to Moschino’s sleek black ensemble for our shoot, Daniel and Alvy are still very much in sync, further brightened by the bold colours of the ASICS EX89.
They play off each other well because behind the chemistry, there is also an unspoken understanding that runs deeper between them. “Wait, you’re a Scorpio?” Daniel cuts in, just as Alvy talks of her Scorpian tendency to be bold and ambitious. “I’m a Cancer — cheh, no wonder we can get along so well!”
But beyond the bond of their water signs, Daniel and Alvy also share a misplaced sense of identity. Daniel, who you may have seen hosting the online entertainment portal Astro Gempak, was born into a Cantonese-speaking household and barely spoke a lick of Malay growing up. He taught himself the language via the TV and radio — however, hailing from Penang where his mother’s Malay family resides, his lack of the northern Malay dialect would not go unnoticed.
“We watched TVB at home every night; it was one Hong Kong drama after another,” he shares. “So, my experience with the Malay entertainment scene was almost zero. When I met my Malay aunts and cousins, it would get very awkward because I would always get judged when I tried speaking Malay. But I still try to improve. Now when my family watches me on TV, they say, “Anak hang punya BM sekarang not bad ah!” (“Your son’s Malay is not that bad now!”)
Daniel found his calling after joining Anchor Idol Newscaster Quest, a contest put together by Han Chiang College in Penang, which kick-started his hosting career. Unquestionably proud of how far he’s come, Daniel recounts his journey like it yesterday: “During college I did my first real hosting job, at a street festival — they blocked out the streets and everything, there was the Sunday flea market.” From then on, he was thrown into the entertainment world, going on to host Ais Kacang, a podcast show with Media Prima before embarking on Astro under renowned TV host Aznil Nawawi. “I basically had to learn conversational Malay on the job,” Daniel adds, “and that’s when I picked up slang words like mantap (tip-top), mantul (really good); you know, all that Malay lingo.”
Coming from a Bidayuh and Bisaya-Chinese background, Alvy’s Malay-speech on the other hand is tinged with a Sarawakian twang. Alvy is known for her various style, travelling and lifestyle videos on TikTok, playing up visuals over spoken narration — which is why people are often surprised when they find out that she is, in fact, from East Malaysia.
“A lot of my followers are Malay, so it pushed me to enter into that market,” Alvy says. “But when I started acting, I actually had to attend classes to ‘fix’ my accent ‘cause it was too Sarawakian. That was a bit tough for me, but over time my accent just evolved into a different one.”
The ‘new’ creatives
Long before the age of TikTok and Instagram Reels — back when YouTube ruled the online world — the ‘content creator to actor’ pipeline emerged. Take creators such as Liza Koshy or Addison Rae for example, both of whom made their debut in acting. As the entertainment world evolves, there seems to be a certain charm in maintaining that relatability factor even on the big screen.
“The persona I show online is just like a more amplified version of my real-life personality,” Alvy explains, as soon as the shoot is done and we’re settling into a back corner table at the restaurant underneath the studio. “I’m always kind of weird, but with TikTok I just put in a little ‘extra’. People like peculiar stuff,” she adds with a laugh. “TikTok is how producers and directors found me — I’m very grateful for my first drama, I was able to skip the audition and casting process.”
Alvy’s most recent acting role was in Histeria The Series, where she played a bully — something that was totally out of her element. “It was so fun! I had to be mean, and become this bad girl… and it was just so fun because I couldn’t really do that when I was actually in school, you know?”
As a TikTok star, Alvy is no stranger to learning the intricate choreography needed for the fight scenes — but the bruises she gained were, much to her thrill, certainly new. On top of that, Alvy had to pick up a cigarette for the first time. Yet, between handling props and channelling a brand new persona, Alvy found the affair of it all not completely unfamiliar.
“I think the transition from content creator to acting wasn’t too hard for me, because my content creation is sort of like acting in a way,” she concludes. “I still have to ‘play’ different ‘characters’. So, it felt almost seamless, except that I have to speak Malay, which I definitely need to practise more!”
In similar fashion, Daniel entered the acting world with IMperfect, which premiered last September. As with his content creation and hosting career, Daniel sees acting as a means to connect with the audience. Playing different characters doesn’t mean that you can’t still be genuine with the feelings or emotions that you convey.
“I think deep down inside, I actually like to act, too,” Daniel says slowly, almost as if the revelation has just now come to him. “I enjoy acting because I feel like it gives you the avenue to be someone that you’re not. And that’s challenging. I personally like a challenge, especially when you can put on the mask. I like that a lot.”
In IMperfect, Daniel plays the flamboyant, more ‘feminine’ Fab to Nia Atasha’s Elena. Like Alvy’s ‘mean girl’ persona, it was something completely foreign to Daniel. “I referenced one of my friends for the role,” he says. “And I started learning the language they use — things like slang within the community, stuff that I picked up for the series. And the transition into acting became very seamless for me from there. I personally enjoy a challenging role like this, something far from myself for an audience.”
The good, the bad and the in-betweens
When I find the courage to ask about the secret to staying positive on social media, Alvy deadpans: “Turn off the phone,” sending us into a fit of laughter. “No lah, just kidding!”
These days, social media platforms are filled with outpourings of ‘only good vibes’ and ‘perfectly happy aesthetics’. On platforms that can feel so perfectly curated, it’s refreshing to learn from Daniel and Alvy that self-awareness exists beyond the sea of positive schmaltz.
“I don’t believe in toxic positivity,” Alvy tells me. “What’s most important is to be yourself. Be vulnerable. Some days you just don’t feel 100% and that’s fine, you don’t need to pretend.”
“Yeah, I think the question needs to be tweaked,” Daniel quips. “It’s not about staying ‘positive’ but more about how you choose to take things on social media. It’s okay to show the ‘bad’ days or the downsides. ‘Cause at the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re real people. I think people would want to see your vulnerable side as well. I’m very expressive on my social media. When I’m sad, I really put it out there that I’m sad — but I craft the message into something positive like, ‘Yes, I’m having a bad day, but I know that not all my days will be bad.’”
Alvy has taken to meeting her heroes as her social media presence grows. I bring up the topic of her biggest inspirations, and she launches into a breathless and excited spiel. “I’ve watched Jane Chuck and Daphne Charice, and read Jane’s blog since I was in high school,” she gushes, clutching her face in her hands — leftover bright yellow nail polish still intact, matching the yellow of her ASICS EX89. “Now we’re friends, and I’m just like, ‘Ahh!’ Daphne followed me on Instagram first, and then Jane did after that and I was like, ‘Ahh!’ Then we all went to dinner together; the whole time I was just like, ‘Ahh! I’m a big fan, you know.’”
With the cool confidence that Daniel and Alvy carry themselves on social media — and how far it has taken them within the entertainment world — it comes to no surprise that they continue to soar. Having wrapped IMperfect, Daniel is looking forward to going further in his hosting stint. He’s gotten the chance to interview a number of Hollywood stars including Benedict Cumberbatch and Awkwafina for Marvel, and he’s set to travel to Sydney in February for the official premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
“You’re bringing me along, right?” Alvy adds jokingly and, as the Cancerian to her Scorpian, Daniel retorts, “Come lah, let’s go! I’ll wear the Ant-Man costume and you can be the Wasp.”
Alvy, the more mysterious between the two water signs, reveals little about her upcoming projects except that Plummp, her skincare brand she has been quietly building up over the past year, is set to expand. (Hint: keep an eye out for a product for sunnier days!)
She will also be filming a horror movie, and is crossing all fingers in hopes of diving into lighter roles into the future. “I’d love to do something fun next time, like comedy or romance — maybe like Emily in Paris!” she laughs.