How Beatrice Chia nearly got her co-stars killed

The director takes on her first TV role in 15 years as a cancer-stricken woman in Channel 5’s ‘BRA’; plus, what made Koh Chieng Mun turn down the show at first?

The cast of 'BRA': Beatrice Chia, Koh Chieng Mun, Dhanya Nambiar and Belinda Lee
The cast of 'BRA': Beatrice Chia, Koh Chieng Mun, Dhanya Nambiar and Belinda Lee
20 Oct 2017

The cast of 'BRA': Beatrice Chia, Koh Chieng Mun, Dhanya Nambiar and Belinda Lee

Photos: Channel 5, Beatrice Chia/Instagram, Belinda Lee/Instagram

Beatrice Chia is a very, very busy woman. When we called her last week to speak about her first television role in over a decade, she had just managed to find time to settle down amidst her event preparations for the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Finals.

The award-winning multi-hyphenate and mother-of-one, 43, can currently be seen as Alexis, an oncologist who is diagnosed with breast cancer and has only eight months left to live, on Channel 5’s BRA. This marks her return to acting since the early 2000s, and she admitted that she was “scared out of her life” when it came time to stand in front of the cameras.

“When you haven’t done something for 15 years, you wonder if you’ve still got it,” she explained. Since what she believes is her last TV gig on 2001 sitcom Now Boarding, Beatrice has racked up an illustrious resume of directing credits, including two National Day Parades, the 2015 SEA Games opening and closing ceremonies, and numerous plays.

She was offered the part in BRA right after she was done with the 2016 National Day Parade, and she thought: why not? “I wanted to be on the other side of the road and only be responsible for learning my lines instead of being responsible for 2,000 people in a stadium! (laughs) But acting has always been my first love, and I hadn’t acted for a long time.”

To prepare for her role as a cancer-stricken woman, Beatrice drew from her experience being by the sides of several friends who went through the ordeal. “I have nothing but absolute admiration and respect for them, and I can only hope that if it ever happens to me that I would be able to muster up their kind of strength and courage.”

That said, she thinks that the heart of BRA is about “time and life”, rather than just about dealing with cancer (not that she wants to diminish the importance of that theme). “The series is more about the choices you make when you realise that time is running out – what would you do if you knew you had only eight months left to live?”

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Jason Godfrey, Beatrice Chia, Jimmy T
Jason Godfrey, Beatrice Chia, Jimmy T
20 Oct 2017

Jason Godfrey, Beatrice Chia, Jimmy T

For Beatrice’s character Alexis, she decides to embark on a road trip from Singapore to Penang – with her mother and two friends in tow – in an attempt to reconnect with her estranged father. As such, most of the filming for BRA really took place on the open road, which, unsurprisingly, presented a myriad of challenges.

“It’s not a controlled environment, so we were constantly battling noises, light differences and the heat,” said Beatrice. “And it’s not the most comfortable place, having to move from location to location, and constantly looking for a bathroom.” Other than that, she “absolutely loved every minute of it”.

One particular incident that had Beatrice cracking up nonstop as she recounted it happened when the cast was in Kuala Lumpur. “Jason (Godfrey) and Jimmy (T) wanted to eat bak kut teh but they didn’t bother trying to find one themselves, so they left it up to me to Google a place,” she recalled.

The good news: the peckish trio got to satisfy their soupy craving. The bad news: they later found themselves standing by a roadside in the middle of nowhere at midnight, unable to find a cab back to the hotel. “The boys were giving me such a hard time for taking them to some godforsaken place in KL!” Beatrice exclaimed.

An hour later, they finally got a ride, during which their driver-slash-saviour asked them, “Why did you come here? You could have been killed!” Apparently, they had been lingering around in a zone notorious for attacks – a fact that Jason and Jimmy just refused to let poor Beatrice live down.

“They kept going on and on about how I almost got them killed, and demanded to know how I’d explain things to their families!” Thankfully, everyone managed to return home safe and sound (but we reckon they’ll think twice before heading out to hunt for food in unfamiliar territory again).

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Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'
Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'
20 Oct 2017

Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'

Aside from the risky pork rib broth, another dish that left an impression on the BRA cast were salads. According to veteran actress Koh Chieng Mun, who plays Alexis’s mother Sophia, they ate only greens while shooting because anything else, especially carbohydrates, would send them into a food coma.

“Because you’re moving around in the sun so much, you’re bound to want to fall asleep,” explained the 58-year-old in a separate phone interview, adding that it would also be difficult to deliver the right emotions if she were feeling too lethargic. “So we just ate salads, which I must say was quite difficult! But the production girls went to great lengths to get us our Caesar. (laughs)”

Like Beatrice, Chieng Mun didn’t have to do any special research for her character, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, as her own elderly mother has dementia. In fact, she told us that she turned down the role in BRA at first as her mother was hospitalised when it was offered to her. She changed her mind after her mother was discharged and when the production crew promised to minimise her time away from home.

As a breast cancer survivor herself, Chieng Mun is happy that BRA is shining light on two issues that are close to her heart. “The amount of dementia patients is on the rise and I think it’s important to understand the disease and learn how to deal with it,” she said.

The Symphony 924 DJ also expressed her happiness that the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) – which she dubbed “a sanctuary” – has been going from strength to strength. “We launched BRA at the Pink Ribbon Walk (which is organised by BCF) and it was humbling to see so many people supporting it,” she gushed.

Besides BRA, audiences can also look forward to seeing Chieng Mun in a scene in Crazy Rich Asians, the big screen adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel. She and Korean-American actor Ken Jeong play the parents of Peik Lin, the best friend of main character Rachel Chu (played by Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu). “It was great fun to play fabulously rich and famous, and wear top-to-toe designer brands like a tai tai! (laughs)”

BRA airs Mondays to Thursdays, 10pm on Channel 5. Watch past episodes on Toggle.

Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'
Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'
20 Oct 2017

Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'

Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'
Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'
20 Oct 2017

Beatrice Chia as Alexis in 'BRA'

Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'
Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'
20 Oct 2017

Koh Chieng Mun as Sophia in 'BRA'

The cast of 'BRA' at the Pink Ribbon Walk
The cast of 'BRA' at the Pink Ribbon Walk
20 Oct 2017

The cast of 'BRA' at the Pink Ribbon Walk

Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee, Dhanya Nambiar and Beatrice Chia in front of a gorgeous sunset
Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee, Dhanya Nambiar and Beatrice Chia in front of a gorgeous sunset
20 Oct 2017

Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee, Dhanya Nambiar and Beatrice Chia in front of a gorgeous sunset

Dhanya Nambiar, Beatrice Chia and Belinda Lee are ready for their road trip
Dhanya Nambiar, Beatrice Chia and Belinda Lee are ready for their road trip
20 Oct 2017

Dhanya Nambiar, Beatrice Chia and Belinda Lee are ready for their road trip

Dhanya Nambiar, Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee and Beatrice Chia take a car wefie
Dhanya Nambiar, Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee and Beatrice Chia take a car wefie
20 Oct 2017

Dhanya Nambiar, Koh Chieng Mun, Belinda Lee and Beatrice Chia take a car wefie

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