Photos: Joanna Goh
The year-end semester examinations are finally over. Like most parents with schooling children, the sweet smell of freedom is calling out to former actress Joey Swee, now on a self-declared “short break,” after being “cooped up at home” supervising and caring for her three sons.
“I want to come out [to work] and get doted on and be taken care of by people,” Joey chortled, during an interview with Toggle at the imaging session for Toggle Original series, A Lonely Fish (working title), and jokingly lamented, “I don’t wish to always be the one taking care of others.”
The former actress, who tied the knot with her Indonesian-Chinese businessman husband 12 years ago, will play actress He Ying Ying’s onscreen mother in the upcoming six-episode series (each episode is 30 mins long) which is written and developed by three student-interns from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, based on a seed concept brainstormed at a script-writing workshop in the school.
Apart from working on 85 percent of the script, the three students will also get to experience life as an acting extra and production assistant – and will round off their journey with a video journal that is part of the show’s behind-the-scenes footage.
A Lonely Fish will be Joey’s first Mediacorp drama in eight years, following her departure from showbiz in 2009 (she was last seen acting in Perfect Cut in 2008).
The 40-year-old who is now a full-time homemaker and mother did not disappear from the limelight entirely during her years of inactivity and has guest-starred on Channel U talk show Mars Vs. Venus and acted in a cable TV series in the last two years.
Joey plays husband and wife with Star Search 2001 alum Dennis Toh.
Like a teenage schoolgirl free from the shackles of examinations, Joey was raring to start filming again. Her excitement was palpable as she gushed about “being in the limelight again” as well as getting “pampered” by fans and the people (read: production crew) around her.
While she enjoys the ‘attention,’ the mother of three boys - Algernon, 3, Jefferson, 8, and Kynaston, 11 - ruled out a full-time comeback for the time being. She intends to take things slow for now, soak up the atmosphere of the new TV station and bask in the company of her old colleagues again.
“It feels good so far,” she chirped, when we asked if she’d consider taking on a longer project. “But it really depends if there are sparks between us, if I’m happy doing it and how things are like in this new environment.”
Speaking about former actresses Cassandra See and Florence Tan’s recent acting comebacks in Mediacorp dramas, Joey said: “A lot of them have older children, but for me I might still stop [acting] for a few more years. It depends on timing since my youngest child is 3 years old – it’s harder to be away from him.”
Indeed, it’s much harder when she’s on solo-parenting duty on weekdays, as her husband is based in Jakarta, Indonesia for work. Just how tough is it? We talk to Joey about her weekend husband-and-wife lifestyle, her tiger mum ways, and her plans for a fourth kid – or not.
Read on for more!
(Continued on next page: Why Joey won't allow her sons to enter showbiz)
Joey with her three sons and husband. (Photos: Instagram/Joey Swee)
Toggle: Your husband works in Jakarta. Is it difficult being away from each other five days a week?
Joey: It’s been like this from the start for us and I do enjoy this process. I don’t like it when my boyfriend or husband is too clingy – and I do enjoy being the one with all the control at home (…) I think this will continue till his retirement… When I was dating him, I told him they need to be schooled in Singapore and we must live in Singapore, so this has always been our base.
Is it tough to bring up three boys on your own, seeing how your husband’s away for a good part of time?
I have no complaints since I chose this lifestyle. But it’s tiring and I have high expectations of myself. If he [her son] underperforms, I’d be the one upset instead of him, like if they misbehave and if I put in a lot of effort for them to get good grades but they still don’t perform up to expectations. But I’ve learned that in life, how much effort you put in doesn’t really tally with the results.
We’ve seen pictures of your sons getting bursary awards on stage for their studies on your Instagram account. Your kids must be doing quite well in school.
That’s because they are still in primary school so they are [performing] quite well! But I feel like it’s getting harder as they progress with each level, so I better not habour too much hopes [on their academic performances].
You have very high expectations on your sons. Would you call yourself a tiger mum?
I consider myself one – I really want them to succeed in life and have the abilities to accomplish big things… I tend to use reverse psychology on my kids too – they’re still very naïve and believe everything I say (laughs). I’d tell them that I’ve worked hard but never managed to get that big house I’ve always wanted and in turn would ask them what they’d need to do to achieve their dreams. (Chuckles)
Do you attend enrichment classes with your kids too? Some parents in Singapore believe in doing that.
My sons are learning the guitar and piano and as they progress through the levels, it’s best not to invest the money on me. It’s too expensive to raise kids in Singapore. I have to send my three kids to guitar and piano lessons as I hope they would have a talent in music – and even in sports. I like it when they play golf, tennis, badminton, and Wushu. They do everything.
Sounds like your three boys lead very active lifestyles.
Their dad is not in Singapore and I don’t want them to be cooped up at home with me. I think they should be active and head outdoors more often – get tanned and be healthy.
Pictures taken at Aileen Tan's recent birthday celebration. (Photos: Instagram/Aileen Tan, Joey Swee)
You once expressed your hopes to have a fourth child. How’s that coming along?
I think there will be no more children for me. I had two [boys] at first then I tried for a girl – but it turned out to be a boy. I think life’s meant to be like this… I don’t think I can handle four boys, so I think three is enough. And if I have a girl now, I might focus all my energy on her and it’s not good for that child as well – I might over-pamper her!
And I’m 40 this year, I want to do my own things. I don’t want to keep looking after the needs of others. I want to act occasionally, do things I enjoy, meet up with my friends… Go for yoga and not be a 24-hour mummy.
So, do your sons know of your former occupation or watch your old shows?
The oldest one knows a bit more because he has seen some drama reruns. The youngest is a bit more blur. Sometimes they’d ask me: ‘What show?’, ‘Where is it showing?’ and when I told them that I was going for an imaging session today, they asked me: ‘What is imaging?’ (Laughs)
Any plans to bring them along to work to expose them to your former workplace?
I don’t intend to expose them to filming or the production set. I have no plans to bring them on set with me too… it’s for me to take a break, I want to be away from them! If I bring them along, it means I won’t get to be away from them, right? (Chuckles)
You don’t wish for them to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in acting?
I’m not really keen on letting them enter showbiz. It’s hard [to make it big] in Singapore and they are boys – this road will be much harder.
A Lonely Fish premieres Feb 2018 on Toggle. Stay tuned for more!