Photos: Lee Lay Na
Who would have imagined the tree in a class skit to become a “Best Actress” winner?
A self-proclaimed plus size “cool nerd” during her school days, Rebecca Lim never had the intention of becoming a model or actress. Even until today, her family and close friends are still in disbelief that she is one of the best known celebrities - who can actually act too, we think- on Caldecott Hill.
Her participation in Miss Singapore Universe 2005 was but a fun-seeking experience with her friends. Rebecca almost chickened out of the competition as she didn’t fit the criteria of having a bikini and portfolio. Yet somehow, she managed to get through the stages despite “making a fool of herself” during the Question and Answer segment.
“After graduating from Junior College, you think you own the world but in fact you don’t, because you don’t have any life experience at all. Maybe they kept me [in the competition] for entertainment value,” she laughed.
Perhaps, it was this ineffable charm that brought her to where she is today. Always armed with a smile, grounded - in spite of her newfound fame and a really determined hard worker, it’s impossible to not fall in love with ‘Becks’ (we mean it figuratively, not literally, of course).
For someone who finds it uneasy to show her raw emotions, Rebecca took a long time to discover her love for acting and to be recognised for her stunning transformation. Along her journey in showbiz, the actress has met her fair share of detractors as well as people who have stood by her over the years.
It may have been a tedious road, but what is most important to the budding thespian (her hectic schedule recently took its toll on her health) is that she has finally arrived at her destination and is ready to scale greater heights.
Read on for more, and watch the videos for a blow-by-blow account of her interview:
WATCH: Rebecca shares about her rebellious past and 11 years in an all-girls school
She’s not the “perfect” girl she’s perceived to be
Well-loved by TV viewers, media and seniors in the industry, Rebecca appears to be the perfect girl. But is she, really?
“I’m sure there are people who don’t like me, just that you haven’t interviewed them yet (laughs). Or they don’t like me but they don’t say it,” she said. “I do have my temper. I’m not the nicest to people, especially when they are not nice to me. I cannot fake being nice to them if they are not nice to me, I’d rather just avoid [them].”
Nevertheless, the easy-going actress has no issues with most people. And if it’s someone from the crew or cast that she “cannot click with”, Rebecca says she’d usually just remain silent.
She never used to be like this though. In the past, all it takes is one glass of champagne to send Rebecca dancing on the table.But after she became a public figure, her friends are the ones who look out for her when they hang out. “My friends will go: ‘Please don’t. Just stand there lah. Don’t even dance. Your dance moves are horrible,” she chuckled.
Rebecca, who has long outgrown the partying phase, would rather spend her precious free time with friends and family these days.
Her family keeps her grounded
Thanks to good upbringing, Rebecca has been well-mannered since young (she still greets everyone before eating). At the same time, her family keeps her ego in check. “They will be like: ‘Don’t think you are so great lah,” she laughed.
During the Chinese New Year period, Rebecca invited some colleagues to her house. Instead of bursting with pride from the compliments, Rebecca’s elder brother simply replied: “Who cares?! (laughs)” And in her younger sister’s eyes, Rebecca will always be her sibling above all else.
“It’s a very bad thing that I throw tantrums in front of my family. Sometimes I’m not appreciative of what they do, like the small things. But at the end of the day, your family are the people who accept you for who you are,” Rebecca confided.
Besides her loved ones, the humble actress accredited her success to the people who have lent her a hand along the way. “If Channel 8 didn’t give me a second chance, I wouldn’t have all these now. My stylists and make-up artistes were the ones who volunteered to help me when I was a nobody. My managers never gave up on me; they renewed my contract every year even when I wasn’t confident that they would.”
WATCH: Rebecca gets truthful about the importance of awards
She took up a second degree for “insurance”
Rebecca’s first “calefare role” in Family Matters was a demoralising and yet enlightening experience. Due to her poor Mandarin, she had to repeat a simple line for over 20 times which incurred the wrath of the director.
“The studio was freezing but I was perspiring. I can never forget that scene because it was my first show. I didn’t have any training and there were three cameras [staring at me]. I thought: ‘Give chance lah.’ But I guess that’s the way things are in a working world. Nobody’s gonna ‘give chance’. They gave you an opportunity, either you shine or you sink,” Rebecca asserted.
In 2008, Rebecca had her first major role in The Truth where her performance was so harshly criticised that she was not approached for any new Chinese project for nearly three years. “The only thing people remember is my horrible hairdo and my horrible Mandarin,” she said with a laugh.
Motivated to do better, Rebecca not only went for Chinese tuition, but she also started listening to Chinese music on YES 933 and reading magazines such as i-Weekly. “I had to stop finding excuses. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself again. And Mandarin is not a bad skill to learn anyway,” added the actress.
Not about to throw in the towel just yet, the actress, who was an undergraduate at the time, used school work as distraction and consolation. Rebecca extended her studying period from three to four years by taking up a second degree at Singapore Management University, so that she would have the papers to fall back on should her acting career fail to take flight.
She has a special affinity with Xiang Yun
Many would agree that Channel 5 dramas The Pupil and Fighting Spiders were Rebecca’s career turning point. It was also then that her passion for acting was truly ignited. “It was the first time I really felt emotions – extreme emotions – crying, screaming and fear. I was like, wow! It was scary but fun,” she grinned.
Rebecca’s marked improvement garnered positive reviews and gave her a much needed confidence boost, which paved the way for her return to Ch8. After several forgettable roles, the hard-working actress finally enjoyed a breakthrough withUnriddle 2 that earned her a coveted “Best Actress” nomination at Star Awards 2013.
Since then, everything started falling into place – bigger roles, more exposure and endorsement deals came knocking on her door. Even now, Rebecca still vividly remembers the overwhelming surge of emotions that washed over her when she first saw her magazine cover plastered on a bus.
On hindsight, the affable actress is glad that her route to success was longer than her peers. “During the first two years, I wasn’t sure if I will be who I am today. It took me so many years and I am very grateful for all the opportunities,” Rebecca affirmed.
Also, Rebecca admitted that awards mean a great deal to her. And here is the reason why she was especially emotional after bagging the “Best Supporting Actress” trophy last year: “I was nominated alongside all these veterans who looked after me since I just signed on. A lot of people don’t know this, but when I first entered MediaCorp, I looked really lost in the Artiste Management Unit. Xiang Yun jie took the initiative to talk to me.”
Unbeknownst to many, Xiang Yun, who was filming a long form drama, even drove Rebecca to the set and showed her around. After each take, the veteran artiste would patiently explain the procedure to her. “When she came to congratulate me, I just broke down [in tears]. I was really touched,” said Rebecca.
She was always the love messenger for others, never the recipient
Unlike most teenagers, Rebecca was a rebellious child in Primary School (she brought her sister along when she played truant) and “changed for the better” when she went to Secondary School.
Before she started slimming down in Secondary 3, Rebecca’s puppy love has always been one-sided. Spending 11 years in CHIJ Saint Nicholas Girls’ School, Rebecca’s crushes were mostly the boys from nearby schools Catholic High and Saint Joseph’s Institution or her brother’s buddies.
“His friends would come over and hang out after school. My brother would ask me to bring my pretty friends. In the end, I never ever get paired up and I was really sad!” Rebecca cried. “I would always be the messenger, the one passing messages and presents to my friends. I was like the middleman for the longest time.”
Despite her lack of suitors back then, Rebecca was popular in school. “I was from symphonic band and I’d like to think that I was quite good. I was also friendly, so I would get little gifts and letters from the juniors. I would be the senior that receives the longest postcards,” she chortled.
She deliberately kept a distance from Desmond Tan
During his Toggle Talk interview, Desmond Tan admitted that he once contemplated pursuing Rebecca. When asked to comment on his confession, the actress emphasised that the BFFs are “not meant to be together”.
“The timing didn’t work out for us. And our character… I think if we were really together, we will quarrel every day. There are so many things he does that make me go ‘Why is he like that?’!” Rebecca exclaimed.
The fact that Desmond takes a longer time in the washroom than the ladies and his odd habit of wearing sunglasses indoors are just some of the no-nos for Rebecca. “And I think he’s very happy in his current relationship. This girl is very good for him so I’m happy for him,” she added.
Putting herself in the shoes of Desmond’s other half, Rebecca revealed that she has deliberately kept a distance from the actor out of respect. “I would say that over the past few years, our friendship hasn’t been as strong as it was. I feel that I shouldn’t get so close. Like you said, if I’m the girlfriend, I wouldn’t be comfortable also, so it’s not so nice…”
As for the rumours with Ian Fang, Rebecca maintained that they are just very good friends, something which surprised even herself. “When I first knew him, I was like ‘this guy cannot’. But when I got to know him, I realised he is very misunderstood. We can talk about a lot of things,” she explained.
While Rebecca may not be extremely keen on a May-December romance, she agreed that older men are not necessarily more mature, judging from her own dating experiences.
She wouldn’t betray her body for fame or money
Having been in the industry for nine years, Rebecca is no stranger to the unspoken rules of showbiz. The go-getter, however, has never been comfortable about going the extra mile to please people.
On the other hand, Rebecca revealed that she has indeed received a few “indecent proposals” before. “In the first place, I will question myself. Do I look like a kept woman or like I’m searching for a sugar daddy? Am I giving off that kind of vibe?” the actress asked.
“They will ask me out for dinner but I didn’t even get to the dinner because my price is too high! (laughs)” she said in jest.
For the record, Rebecca has never considered such deals as a shortcut to fame because she wouldn’t be able to live with herself. “If there are other people who are willing to do it, I won’t judge them. It’s their choice, it’s their life. But my body is very precious to me. I cannot [accept the proposals],” she concluded.
She was dumped three out of four times
With a loving family and a successful career, Rebecca needs a little more luck in love.
The acclaimed actress, who met her first boyfriend in Victoria JC, has had four relationships. To our surprise, she was dumped three out of four times. “I don’t understand what men really want. That’s why mutual respect and communication are very important to me now,” she let on.
Ideal types are no longer applicable to Rebecca, who considers a deep level of understanding as the key to a healthy relationship. “You can be so successful but if you treat me like s***, what’s the point? I don’t need a boyfriend who showers me with gifts. I can buy them myself,” reiterated the actress.
Her last romance ended almost a year ago. It was a long-distance relationship which failed to work out mainly due to their hectic schedules and personality incompatibility. “I didn’t have time for him and he couldn’t understand it. I guess it’s very normal for your partner to want to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, but I kind of missed everything.”
The couple decided to call it quits as Rebecca was not ready to give up her career to settle down. “I really enjoy what I’m doing and I believe there will be someone who would accept all this. I don’t feel like I need to give this up for [a relationship], for something that is uncertain. Even though you are so in love today, you can be out of love the next day,” she thought aloud.
Rebecca’s parents may not be rushing her to get married, but they are understandably “very concerned”. Although the 28-year-old loves children, she can hardly imagine herself leading the selfless life of a mother just yet. When she does fall in love again, Rebecca claimed that she would not keep it under wraps.
And we hold her to her word.
Special thanks to The St. Regis Singapore.
More Toggle Talk stories:
The truth behind Desmond Tan’s failures and “friend zone” story
Pan Lingling: The tiger mum you don’t want to mess with
The price of Romeo Tan's fame? His loss of innocence
Heartbreaker to TV Sweetheart: Carrie Wong
Dennis Chew: Single, unavailable and very much in love
Inside the privileged life and insecurities of Julie Tan
Confessions of a celebrity mum and former neurotic: Quan Yi Fong