Photos: Channel 5, Belinda Lee/Instagram
Belinda Lee made two surprising statements to us over the phone a couple of weeks ago: Channel 5’s BRA is her first English drama (why does it feel like the bilingual actress-host been doing them forever?), and she felt “even more authentic” delivering her dialogues in English compared to Mandarin, despite having done numerous Chinese-language shows over the years.
“Initially I wasn’t sure how well I was going to do in English since I’ve been so used to speaking Mandarin, but it turned out to be a breeze!” the 40-year-old reported. “I realised I didn’t have to spend so much time and effort to memorise my lines and that as long as I could get the essence of [the scene], they could flow very naturally.”
Belinda’s role as Brenda, a former beauty queen and breast cancer survivor, hits close to home as she lost her own mother to the disease early last year. “Whatever I portrayed is very close to what I experienced when I had to walk that difficult journey with my mum,” she said. “She was already the best ‘research’ for my character.”
That said, she clarified that she was only able to depict “a fraction” of what her mother endured. “I saw so much pain and struggle, but also strength and perseverance at the same time, so I would love to be a mouthpiece for my mum and for the other people who are going through this tough time.”
Belinda Lee with her mother, who passed away in February last year, and Thai-American host Utt
But the heaviness of her onscreen alter ego’s trials and tribulations took a toll on the usually effervescent star. “It gets overwhelming and emotional – even right now during this interview – because I’m constantly trying to detach myself from the role and just be Belinda without slipping back into that depressing mode,” she shared, explaining that Brenda goes through “one crisis after another”. At the time of our chat, they were still a couple of weeks away from wrapping up production.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom on set, of course: with jokers like Jimmy T and Jason Godfrey around, there was never a dull moment, even when they were rehearsing their scripts together. “They would put on different accents and it would crack us up every time,” Belinda recalled with a chuckle.
There was also the challenging yet fulfilling part of shooting in all kinds of locations (after all, BRA is largely a road trip series), from jungles to villages to the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Not that the jet-setting Belinda is new to constant travelling, of course: in the past year alone, she’s been to Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and more to film travelogue shows Between Two Worlds and National Flavours.
Clockwise from top left: Belinda in Vietnam, Japan, Brazil and the United States
These globe-trotting adventures have awakened an entrepreneurial spirit within her. Although her initial idea of opening a provision shop stocked with unique products from all over the world (for example, egg coffee from Hanoi) could not come to fruition due to her filming schedule and negotiation issues, she now has her sights set on a collaboration with an aromatherapy and essential oil company.
“I’ll be coming up with my own Belinda-inspired essential oils travel kit,” she announced, elaborating that as a frequent traveller, she uses the product to sleep better and to overcome motion sickness. If all goes well, she’s looking to introduce the travel kit early next year.
Continued on next page: What is Belinda looking for in a life partner?
Belinda Lee as Brenda in 'BRA'
That’s not all on the former Mediacorp artiste’s plate: in addition to launching her own YouTube channel sometime this month (expect topics that “matter to her” instead of the usual fluffy beauty or fashion stuff), Belinda plans to continue doing more inspirational talks and reach out to more people with her book Larger than Life: Celebrating The Human Spirit.
While these all sound like totally unrelated ventures, she shared her ambition of aligning and intertwining them – her essential oils kit, book and video channel – together into a “Belinda Lee” branding for herself. We suppose this would make her Singapore’s answer to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle enterprise Goop, but instead of touting pretentious procedures and overpriced paraphernalia, Belinda simply wishes to inspire folks in much more down-to-earth ways.
But wait – where does this leave acting? “I don’t think it will stop,” she reassured us. In fact, she believes that more offers will come her way, especially when that whole branding thing takes off. For now, her only television appearance in the pipeline is a hosting gig on the latest season of RenovAID.
One area that has been a little less productive is her love life. “Someone recently texted me and asked about my boyfriend, and I was like, “What boyfriend!?’” she laughed. “Any man I’m with is deemed to be my boyfriend, I find it hilarious! But of course I hope that one day, I’ll be able to announce that I’ve found my life partner.”
Progress hasn’t exactly been smooth-sailing for the eligible bachelorette, who was previously engaged to her ex-boyfriend of six years until they called it quits in 2011. She once told us that she won’t rule out a flash marriage and is still on the lookout for Mr. Right. “I hope to find someone who’s able to say, ‘Let’s go out there to leave a legacy, help people and do something fun and meaningful with our lives’,” she shared. “I get excited when I talk about things like that, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been easy trying to find someone who’s able to build that dream with me.”
The cast of 'BRA': Koh Chieng Mun, Dhanya Nambiar, Jimmy T, Belinda Lee, Jason Godfrey, Beatrice Chia
The last episode of BRA airs on Monday (Nov 13) at 10pm on Channel 5. Watch past episodes on Toggle.