Zoe Tay’s one of three actresses with a Star Awards Best Actress nomination for the work in The Dream Makers 2, alongside Jeanette Aw and Rui En. And while she “really enjoyed” playing the role of TV station department vice president Zhou Wei Yun, the 48-year-old relishes the role of Mum to Brayden, 11, Ashton, 9 and Nathan, 6, even more.
As a mother of three kids, what kind of “me” time do you enjoy?
I don’t really have me-time. My girlfriends ask me to play mahjong or go shopping, but I can’t. When I’m filming, I have no time. When I’m not filming, I have my responsibility to my boys, to make sure their mother is around.
There are so many things to learn about this role as Mum, which is my full-time job. I can read my boys like a book. Sometimes they look at me and go “How did you know?”. I smirk and think “You were inside me for nine months, your backside shake also I know!”.
As acting royalty, do you feel pressured to be on top of things at work?
I don’t know how I feel when people call me the Queen of Caldecott Hill. But I wouldn’t say I feel any pressure to stay on top. I just go with the flow, I have no big plans.
What are your thoughts on today’s new generation of actresses?
TV is in their good hands. I love how Mediacorp has recruited women with different personalities, strong characters with a mind of their own. In my time, everyone looked the same and blended in with everyone else.
It’s a different world now; comparing the two generations, it wasn’t a case of we were stupid or they are smarter. The environment is changing. We didn’t have social media or the Internet. These days, the youngsters have access to so much information! They come prepared; they know which direction they want to go with their careers.
Do you feel you inspire them?
I’m not sure, but as Ah Jie, I’m happy and comfortable with my work attitude and how I treat people — I still look to my seniors to keep learning. They’ve set a good example.
Rebecca Lim, 29, has had her share of ups and downs since taking home the Best Actress award last year. She’s back to defend her title via her turn as smooth-talking property agent Du Jun Ning in romance drama Sealed With A Kiss.
What’s it like to be a famous face?
I haven’t completely gotten used to it, but quite strangely, I don’t want to ever get used to it. I never want to take this blessed position for granted.
Is the celeb life all it’s made out to be?
There are ups and downs for every job, and being an artiste is no different. Notice I say “artiste” because calling myself a “celebrity” seems awkward. Our jobs place us in extraordinary positions; we get to do different things daily, meet many people, go to many different places. It’s a charmed life. We don’t have much control over our time but everything comes with a little bit of sacrifice.
You’re no stranger to the highs and lows of fame — from achievements to controversy. How have you learnt to deal with either?
Whenever I face trials, I pray and remind myself that these too shall pass. There’s a lesson for me to learn at the end of it; I may not know what it is now, but I know that on hindsight, everything will be apparent.
I’m happy about the achievements, I’m over the moon. It took much longer for me to get to where I am now compared to many people, so I appreciate the opportunities and the highs. I’m really not the most talented [actress] nor the most beautiful. These things given to me are unmerited favours. That keeps things in perspective.
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about fame?
That it’s a priority. If you work hard and excel at what you do, fame is a by-product. Your priority should be improving — not just in your job, but every area of your life, too.
Ya Hui was virtually unknown a few years ago, perhaps due in part to her accumulation of xiao mei mei (little girl) roles since she entered showbiz at 21. Is the tide turning, following her nomination for Best Actress playing wonton mee hawker Hong Jinzhi in 118? Says the 29-year-old, “It’s a dream to be nominated alongside Zoe, Rui En and Jeanette, whom I used to watch on TV. Hopefully dreams will come true and I’ll win.”
Where do you think you stand on the acting landscape?
I’ve been in the industry for almost nine years. They say following a nomination, doors will open. But after all these years of hard work, being nominated is a big source of motivation in itself. My acting skills have improved but [the nomination] will push me even further to brush up on them.
I don’t see myself as up there on the A-list. There’s a difference between an idol and an actor; I’m the latter, I really focus on work and hopefully get to play a different role from the previous one. That’s my approach. I don’t believe I can stop proving myself.
You’ve 127,000 Instagram followers and 96,000 Facebook followers: Do you think you’re popular?
Everyone is so bothered by the number of followers and the number of Likes. It’s so tiring, to be honest! We can never post just anything that catches our eye. We have to think so hard to make a post creative, because there’s so much competition. Compared with K-pop band Big Bang or American singer Taylor Swift, I won’t say I am popular, no.
Does that faze you?
Anyone who says she doesn’t care about popularity is lying, haha! Frankly, who doesn’t want to be popular? You can’t keep acting yet not have endorsements. To a certain extent, we all need that. After 10 or 20 years, your soul and ego will be affected no matter how down-to-earth you are. I won’t say I don’t bother about chasing popularity, but my focus is on honing my acting skills to let people see what I am capable of.
Judging from the reactions I get on the street, I think more people recognise and approach me [now]. It’s a joy to know people see my efforts. Numbers are numbers. I’m not obsessed.
Has popularity given you an appreciation for the finer things in life?
I’m still me. A big part of my salary goes to food! I’m a foodie, I love to eat. I don’t necessarily need foie gras and oysters — a tasty plate of chicken rice for $2 does it for me too. I still take the bus and the train, it’s so much more convenient than cabs sometimes.
I’m not into labels. I once owned a Chanel bag, which I used less than 10 times before selling it. I’m still used to my large bag with my huge water bottle and umbrella. Give me a rugged haversack any day!