It’s official. Local veteran thespian Lim Kay Tong will be playing Singapore’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the upcoming SG50 film 1965.

After an extensive two-year search and speaking to almost 20 people, including local actor-turned-Hollywood mainstay Chin Han, the much speculated role has finally been filled.

The 60-year-old Lim, who has starred in local stage and television shows as well as BBC productions and Hollywood films such as Shanghai Surprise, had been always been tipped as a front-runner for the role.

According to 1965 executive producer Daniel Yun, Lim was emotional after reading the script. “I think it was this emotion that made him accept this challenge of playing Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.

On the idea of filling such big shoes on the big screen, Lim plans to treat it like every other role he plays. “You have to study and think about it, hopefully not to imitate but to find some truth in him. In a sense, it’s less pressure because it’s not a biopic about him,” he said, before adding: “(But) hypothetically, if Mr Lee calls me, hopefully he is not going to slam me.”

“We take casting this role very seriously. We met many actors and considered many different aspects of the character in relation to the narrative of the movie,” said Yun.

And as they say in show business, it’s all about the right timing.

“When we met with Kay Tong, I knew he would be the one,” shared Yun. “But he needed to be ready. He was probably not ready five years ago but he is ready now. Many artists can be intimidated by this role. He is not. He is serious about playing the man. Since we confirmed him, he has been preparing. I am very impressed by his commitment to this role. And thankfully, we finally found the actor, who is at the right age, to play the man both in his 40s and 80s.”

1965, which Yun had been developing for nearly five years, is set to come out next year, in celebration of 50 years of Singapore’s independence. The SG50 film, which is supported by the Media Development Authority and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, is tells the story of Singapore during the time of the racial riots.

Newly-married MediaCorp artiste Joanne Peh was also announced one of the film’s female leads, Zhou Jun. She joins her husband, MediaCorp artiste Qi Yuwu, in their first movie together.

Qi and Malaysian actress Deanna Yusoff were revealed as the first two leads in the film last month, playing Police Inspector Cheng and single mother Khatijah, respectively. Rounding off the ensemble key cast are MediaCorp actor James Seah, Singapore Idol 2009 winner Sezairi Sezali, who makes his debut acting role, and Class95 DJ Mike Kasem.

“Both Daniel and I are bent on inspired casting,” said 1965 director Randy Ang.

The search for the 1965 cast has been nothing short of intensive. Many of the contracts have only been just recently signed and sealed, including Seah, who was a Star Search 2010 finalist and was recently seen in the Channel 8 drama The Caregivers.

Yun revealed that the team initially spoke to others, including controversial Hong Kong actor Edison Chen, and also considered Taiwanese actor Kai Ko and Aarif Rahman. “But in the end, we wanted someone younger and someone local and James was a great fit,” he said.

As for Sezairi, “he had a great energy, such an exuberant personality . He came in with such a bright light, we were blown away,” said Ang.

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