Ya Hui questions her worth as an actress

In this week’s Toggle Talk, Mediacorp’s very own ‘little sister’ opens up about her intentions to throw in the towel and quit showbiz (once upon a time) and lets in on the fame game conundrum

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Photos: Lee Lay Na

Love it, hate it, want it, need it: Fame is like a waiting game. A lucky handful rocket to super stardom overnight with the help of one role, one show, or one song, but for some, they toil hard and wait decades—or even a lifetime—before climbing up the ranks, landing meatier roles and maybe, finally, bagging their first acting recognition – or none at all. Some don’t even make it to the big leagues after dedicating their lives to the business. And that’s the way the fame game goes.

Today’s Toggle Talk guest is best remembered for humming to the Star Awards opening tune to represent her seven-year-long wait, when she won her first Top 10 popularity award at the Star Awards ceremony in 2014. But that’s the only “official” award to Ya Hui’s name so far, save for being crowned Miss Telegenic in Star Search 2007, after spending close to 10 years in the industry.

While she is determined to prove her mettle and feels the heat from the intense competition posed by younger peers who are rising - fast - she is adamant and hasn’t spent a single cent voting for herself at the popularity polls, said Ya Hui.

Likening awards to that of “bonuses” and “stars” on a report card, this year’s Best Actress nominee admitted, “Winning awards is something every artiste hopes for, but you can’t force such things” – as if talking about how she failed to make the top 10 ranks for the second year running.

Que Sera Sera, what will be, will be.

These losses only serve to motivate her to work even harder, as she did, during her career slump, when she played nothing but “xiao mei mei” (or someone’s younger sister) roles on TV. Often called Caldecott Hill’s ‘little sister’, this very title may be a celebrated one for actresses like Moon Geun Young in Korea, but in Singapore, it’s nothing but a thorn in her heart.

Why?

Hear it from the actress herself in our story and videos below. Read and watch to find out just how badly she struggled with playing archetype ‘bubbly and optimistic’ roles for nine years (and counting), how she was inches away from leaving the glitzy world of show business behind for a more realistic job in life, and why she seriously needs help finding Mr. Right.

WATCH: Ya Hui talks about her past intentions to quit showbiz


Getting trapped in the ‘little sister’ rut

Ya Hui didn’t exactly play ‘little sister’ roles all the time. The 28-year-old had the chance to try a variety of challenging characters, especially during her two overseas filming stints in Malaysia for Tribulations of Life and Model a la Mode in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The 28-year-old played a druggie in Tribulations and finally scored a meatier lead role in Model, but went back to square one - that is, her ‘little sister’ roles - after that.

In an attempt to present a more mature side of herself, she even heeded the advice of helpful colleagues who told her to come to work in formal attire and to accessorise with a watch – to look like she has proper time management.

“I gave up after trying it for a period of time,” she shared, pondering out loud, “Why can’t I be myself? I mean, acting is a job, but it doesn’t mean that what I wear when I’m not on camera will affect the kind of roles I get.”

Love it or hate it, she finally came to terms with always playing “someone’s sisters” after a wise man (Thomas Ong) and woman (Ng Hui) told her to enjoy it while it lasts because you don’t stay young, or rather, look 21, forever.

Staying or quitting?

She may have acquiesced to her fate of playing little sister, but Ya Hui tells us there was one time – not too long ago, she was dangerously close to walking away from her life as an actress. Having a career that “went nowhere” with little to no growth, chances and “insurance” was the main reason why she toyed with the idea of quitting when she was filming Channel 8 drama Served H.O.T., which was, ironically, her first female lead role.

Coupled with a paycheck that was just “not enough” to match the rising standards of living in Singapore, the “unhappy” and “compulsive person” in her just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You don’t know how long the company would want you for, you don’t know if there will be more opportunities lined up if you continued to renew your contract. Everything is a question mark,” she honestly remarked, “It’s like the great unknown. I wanted to let it all go and start from scratch again.”

When she looked back on her impulsive decision made two years ago, which she, thankfully, did not “double confirm” with the company, during her contract renewal discussions, she expressed nothing but regret about being a quitter (albeit, temporarily) today.

“My emotions were in a complete state of flux then, when I thought about how that would be my last drama. I couldn’t bear to let go,” she admitted ruefully, “I’ve yet to do a variety of roles, but it was just [a decision I made] in the spur of the moment – I don’t know where I found the strength or courage from [to decide that I wanted to quit].”

Ultimately, it was her passion and genuine love for acting that made her stay on.

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To be, or not to be – a PR Queen, that is

The entertainment industry in Singapore is relatively safe and sanitised, as compared to those in Asian countries like Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, which are populated by horror stories about prostitution or actors and actresses sleeping their way to the top. Things are not as dire here, but having a healthy network of contacts always helps with opening up new windows of opportunities.

That being said, Ya Hui firmly believes that a “professional working attitude” is all she needs, and maintaining PR (public relations)-like relationships with producers, directors and her co-stars are not things she’d concern herself with. “I’m actually someone who needs to go home every day and look over my scripts for the next day of filming,” she frankly replied, when asked if she hangs out with her co-stars after work.

“I seldom take sick leave during filming and I’ve never been late for work too. I think this is enough. It’s more important to be a good person – even if it means I’m somebody that nobody likes—as long as I don’t do anything that betrays my conscience [at work]. I can’t do anything about it if people just don’t like me [for being myself].”

Her laissez faire attitude towards keeping up a good “PR” front may have earned her the “spoil sport” nickname, but she reasoned, “Who cares? As an actress, we just need to do our job. But, of course, it’s important to have a harmonious relationship [with your co-stars] on set – that’s the most important, too.”

On the next page: Ya Hui lets in on her fame-hungry days and why she has problems finding a guy.

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