Chen Liping on why she’s thankful to be in Titoudao and why friendship is a sensitive topic
The actress, who met the media for the first time since making the news for falling victim to an investment scam, shares that she hopes Titoudao: Dawn Of A New Stage – her first English drama in her almost four decade-long career – will "open more doors" for her.
If there's anything Chen Liping has taught us, it's that you're really never too old to try something new.
In new Mediacorp series Titoudao: Dawn Of A New Stage, the 57-year-old actress plays the kind-hearted wayang troupe leader Suan Jiah, a new character in the series, which is now in its second season.
Titoudao: Dawn Of A New Stage is Chen's first English drama in her 38-year career. And while she is one of Singapore's most lauded actresses – she has won Best Actress at the Star Awards three times – acting in an English production was no easy feat for her.
When 8days.sg spoke to Chen at the premiere of the drama at Projector X: Picturehouse earlier this month, she revealed that she actually "had a lot to say" during the Q&A segment. However, she held back as she wasn't able to articulate her thoughts in English on the spot.
"Usually when I'm filming I have a script but just now I didn't have one. I didn't know how to express myself and was worried that I'd say the wrong things," she chuckled.
What we found especially endearing was how she was eager to converse in English, or as much as she could, during our interview.
“You watched the show just now, how was it? Are you used to it?," she asked meekly in English. Here's one of Singapore's most famous and accomplished stars asking me, a junior reporter, for my feedback.
What's not to love about Chen Liping?
The premiere was also her first public appearance since she made headlines for falling victim to an investment scam involving foreign currency. As expected, Chen was hesitant to talk more about the incident, though she would offer her thoughts when we spoke to her in private.
What she really wants to talk about is her time shooting Titoudao, an experience she said she's "so thankful" for.
HOW CHALLENGING WAS IT FOR YOU TO ACT IN ENGLISH?
CHEN LIPING: Of course it was. I’ve been acting in Chinese dramas for over 30 years. For this show, they actually found me a dialogue coach, Peggy Ferroa, who would go through every scene with me. On top of that, there was also a lot of preparation and homework to do.
And on set there can be changes, many things can be impromptu and the director may even change the script on the spot. But after acting for so many years, those are still manageable (laughs). That said, I’m very happy to be part of this. I really worked hard. I hope this opens more doors for me [to act in English shows].
THERE WERE MANY WAYANG PERFORMANCES IN THE SHOW. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCES FILMING THOSE SCENES?
The wayang in the show is performed in Hokkien but I’m Teochew and I speak a lot of Teochew with my family and my mum. Getting rid of the Teochew accent was a challenge for me.
This is a true story about wayang actress Oon Ah Chiam, who’s the mum of our writer Goh Boon Teck. You really have to salute [wayang actresses]. I wanted to say that [at the press meet] but I didn’t know how (laughs). You look at our make-up, it’s so beautiful right? The real wayang actresses had to come and do our make-up and hair for us. It’s so much work and it takes a few hours.
HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY FEEDBACK ON YOUR PERFORMANCE SINCE THE SHOW AIRED?
I’ve been quite busy filming [new Mediacorp Chinese drama The Sky's Still Blue] so I didn’t really pay attention. But I just saw a comment that was quite cheem [complex]. I don’t know what the person meant. I need to check the dictionary you see (laughs). [They said my acting was] “Phenomenal”.
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT YOUR PERFORMANCE?
I didn’t worry. We can only do our best and when you're filming you would already know [how things would turn out]. It was my first time working with our director Glenn Chan and he’s a great director. He gave us a lot of freedom, and he showed a lot appreciation [for the actors].
Sometimes after a scene, you can feel that you impressed the director. He would say things like “Thank you”. He doesn’t make me feel like: “Eh you’ve been acting for so long, this is expected of you”. He doesn’t take us for granted and would appreciate us. All these are very important.
DID YOUR SON ZAVIER HELP YOU REHEARSE YOUR LINES?
He did once. He could not tahan my English (laughs). Maybe it's because he’s not used to it since I always speak Mandarin. Before I got a coach, I told him: “Eh help me rehearse my lines”, and he tried to help me correct my accent. He was very patient. But it's different lah. The English he speaks and the English we used in the show are very different.
YOUR SON IS NOW 21. DID HE TEACH YOU ANY TERMS THAT YOUNG PEOPLE USE THESE DAYS?
He didn't. He only said: "Aiyah, you better don't speak English" (laughs) [He was] just joking.
DOES YOUR SON KEEP UP TO DATE WITH WHAT YOU AND [CHEN'S HUSBAND] RAYSON TAN ARE UP TO? LIKE, THE TEOCHEW RAPS HIS DAD HAS BEEN SHARING ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
He's very low profile. By right I shouldn't be answering your questions, he already instructed me to not mention him in interviews (laughs).
I don't know if he watches them but at home we keep hearing [Tan practise his raps] like a broken recorder (laughs).
THERE ARE MANY SECOND-GEN STARS, LIKE CHANTALLE NG, TAY YING AND YOUR TITOUDAO CO-STAR CHEN YIXIN, WHO ARE VERY ACTIVE IN SHOWBIZ NOW. HAS YOUR SON EVER CONSIDERED DOING THE SAME?
Of course not. If he wants to be in this industry then he can't be this low profile (laughs). But actually I'm kind of like that too. I'm considered quite low-profile and in this industry it shouldn't be this way right?
MANY OF YOUR COLLEAGUES LIKE PAN LINGLING AND CHEN XIUHUAN POST A LOT ABOUT THEIR KIDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. DOES IT MAKE YOU ENVIOUS AND WANT TO SHARE MORE ABOUT YOUR CHILD TOO?
Why should I be envious? If I want I can too! (Laughs) But he doesn't like it so I don't do it. And honestly I don't want to either (laughs). Sometimes I think [it's good to have] some privacy. Unless he really likes it and wants to join this industry, then he will need the exposure and publicity. That's not the case.
TITOUDAO: DAWN OF A NEW STAGE TALKS A LOT ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS WITHIN THE TROUPES. IN THE WAKE OF WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU RECENTLY, HAS YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS FRIENDSHIPS CHANGED?
Aiyoh, this is such a sensitive question… Friendship is a very sensitive topic for me... Not particularly because of any incident but it’s been like that since long ago. It’s not easy for me. It’s quite sad lah but it shouldn’t be this way. For the word “friends”, I always say it with inverted commas. But let's not go into details about that.
DO YOU THINK YOU'RE MORE WARY OF MAKING NEW FRIENDS NOW?
No lah. There’s nothing ah. You guys also don’t know [what happened]. It’s all just from the news. It’s not convenient for me to comment. I was told not to talk about this anymore. But it’s okay, it’s all in the past.
WE'VE BEEN SEEING LESS OF YOU ON TV NOW. ARE YOU CUTTING BACK ON WORK?
It's just last year. I was busy [with Titoudao: Dawn Of A New Stage]. But now I'm filming The Sky's Still Blue, and before that I was filming long-form drama Recipe Of Life. Even during COVID, I was working as well. After filming the long-form, I did the fourth season of my variety show HDB Tai Tai. All these years I've been filming. It was only during the period before Titoudao: Dawn Of A New Stage that I took a break and went [to Australia] for a holiday [with former Mediacorp actress Ya Hui].
We're contracted staff. We're passive and the shows are all arranged by the company. It's why I'm so thankful to be part of this show, also because it's really interesting and rich in content. Plus it's a period drama. We used to do a lot of period dramas back in the day, like Samsui Woman and Tofu Street. But it's very rare to be in this kind of show nowadays.
AS ONE OF THE BIG SISTERS OF SHOWBUSINESS HERE, DO YOU GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHAT SHOWS YOU WANT TO TAKE ON?
No, how to choose? It's very hard for us to choose here in Singapore. But I'm very blessed 'cos all these years it's been so far so good and I just do my best.
And these days there are fewer productions. I feel that a good production like Titoudao is very hard to come by. But I do hope that we'll keep improving. I've seen the difference from the past and I think there are many new things to learn. Now I can go to English dramas and learn more stuff (laughs). It's tough, but it's my passion.
This story was originally published in 8Days.