Better known for being on magazine covers and attending fashion soirées as a top model, Sheila Sim made her foray onto the small screen in the 2013 offering I’m In Charge and continues to enjoy the craft. The 31-year-old calls her nomination for Best Supporting actress as the laidback Hong Shan Shan in 118 “a complete surprise”, adding that “it was so easy being Shan Shan; it wasn’t a stretch. I was just having fun every day!”
You’ve made big strides to score a nomination so soon…
I didn’t expect it! This role means a lot to me. It’s my first long-form drama; for a whole year, I could be me — a bit silly, a bit boh chup, someone who handles whatever comes in a very laidback way. It’s like I got nominated for being myself!
What do you think the judges saw in your performance?
I think I was so comfortable with the role that I was a natural at it. I think, also, it helped that I had a whole year to really develop and figure out the character. My chemistry with [Chen] Hanwei also played a big part; I can’t say if this would also have been the case with someone else, but with him, it really helped. I thanked him as soon as I received news of my nomination!
How has your transition from modelling to TV been?
I’d say it has been very good. As someone who never considered acting years ago, which I really love now, that’s a very big change.
What has been the most difficult thing to overcome?
Being expressive. With modelling, it’s all about looking aloof, showing no emotion even if you’ve just had a shitty day. With acting, it’s the opposite; you have to feel and emote all the time. Suddenly, I had to break all these walls I’ve put up and be expressive and cry and such in front of many people at a time. It has helped me grow emotionally and now I find I express myself much better. I no longer have to pretend everything is okay.
Just 23, Julie Tan's received hate mail and threats for playing her first bad girl role, master saboteur Dong Zi Huai in The Dream Makers 2. Perhaps the one good thing from that is receiving a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Of the honour, she says, “I wish there were some seniors in the same category, I’d have loved to be in their good company. But I remain honoured.”
You work in an industry where youth is highly prized…
When you’re young, people tend to be more forgiving, and more open to looking after you. That’s my biggest advantage. I also think I get to try different roles and have more opportunities. Roles are hit or miss; when the latter happens, I know that I can try harder at the next opportunity, to do better and fan shen (prove yourself).
But this also leads to being typecast…
I agree. I’ve mostly played young-girl roles. And I’ve been told I look like a teenager when I don’t wear makeup. Generally, I think people feel that due to my age, I know little. When I first started out, I voiced out about the way a scene could be done, for instance, but was given the impression I should just listen to instructions and not have my own voice.
But as a young, independent woman, I feel, why not? We’re all being paid to do a job, and we should work as a team. My words don’t seem to weigh anything, but I’ve done my homework and I’m trying to contribute. I’m still as vocal now but my attitude is less harsh. There are ways to bring the message across.
How do you reconcile being young with gaining life experiences to bring to your roles?
If, for example, I had to play a woman who’s lost her husband, and I’ve never experienced it, I can bridge the gap by doing a lot of homework. As actors, we have a stronger ability to feel.
Many associate being young with being tactless and opinionated brats…
I used to be like that, but my approach has changed. On set, with directors, I’ve been asked to do a scene in a particular way. And I’d ask to do it another way, based on my interpretation of the character. Things didn’t always turn out well. These days, I do it the director’s way. And if there is time, I’d ask if I can try it another way. Ultimately, even if they don’t choose my way, it’s fine. I did my part.