Rebecca Lim didn’t speak till she was 4 years old – and no one knows why
Even as an adult, said the actress in our podcast series House Party For 2, keeping things to herself can cause trouble. Like when her beloved dog died right before the Star Awards.
Rebecca Lim might be one of the biggest stars on Singapore television but, by her own admission, she’s certainly not the chattiest. It’s not that she isn’t nice (she certainly is charming). It’s just that she doesn’t really see the point in jibber jabber for jibber jabber’s sake.
“I mean, I’m getting better now that I’m in my 30s. But in my 20s, I was very shy. Very, very shy. I wouldn’t initiate a conversation,” said Rebecca during our House Party For 2 conversation – a podcast recorded in the thoroughly professional setting of my living room couch.
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“When there were big shows like the President’s Star Charity or countdown shows where we all had to perform together and there would be rehearsals and all that, everybody would hang out together… but I’m really fine, during my breaks, to sit in a corner and drink my water and just observe and laugh from afar,” she said, laughing at how that must appear to others. “They’d be like, ‘Strange girl…’”
At times her reluctance to open up has resulted in colleagues – and the media – misreading her intentions and emotional headspace. Like at the Star Awards ceremony in 2018 when her beloved Golden Retriever died the night before she had to glam up and smile for the cameras.
“I was really in such a horrible mood throughout the award ceremony,” said Rebecca. “And I won Best Actress that night, which was, wow, you know? It was a very pleasant surprise. But a lot of people were saying, ‘Why is she so “black face” the whole night?’, ‘She won an award but she’s still so “black face”’. And I couldn’t tell anyone that my dog passed away because I would start crying.”
She had been in Malaysia on a shoot and only arrived back home the morning of the Star Awards. “I didn’t get to see him for the last time. I was like, ‘Argh, couldn’t you have waited just one more day?’ There were a lot of complicated emotions and I couldn’t tell anyone,” said Rebecca. “Even two years later, talking about it is still quite painful.”
So there she was, trying not to cry because her dog was dead, on one of the biggest nights of her acting career – and everyone thought: Well she doesn’t look impressed. “Whatever,” said Rebecca, brushing it off, “it’s over.”
I offered her a croissant in solidarity as a fellow hooman to pets who have gone to that great sanctuary in the sky.
They were worried that there was something wrong with me because I did not talk and I would tilt my head.
Of course, at times her reluctance to speak up has been a source of consternation to others. Especially seeing as how Rebecca did not speak till she was four years old.
“I did not talk. My grandma was very worried. I kept getting a high fever when I was a kid. So they were worried that the fever ‘burnt’ my brain,” she said. “They were worried that there was something wrong with me because I did not talk and I would tilt my head. In all my pictures, my head would be tilted to the side.”
“They brought me to doctors and to church as well. But I have no idea why that happened.”
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“I wasn’t a very popular grandchild or niece to play with because I was not very interactive,” she said. Understandable, seeing as she was a silent black-and-white film starring Charlie Chaplin and a damsel tied to the railway tracks while the other kids were Technicolor talkies.
There was also an unfortunate incident that involved her uncle, a childcare centre and the general idea of “stranger danger”.
“One day when my mum was working and couldn’t pick me up, she sent my uncle. And when he came, apparently I recognised him but because I didn’t speak, I didn’t say, ‘Yes, I know him’ or ‘Yes, he’s my uncle’. The teacher didn’t allow him to bring me home. And he had to stay in school with me all the way until my mum came,” said Rebecca. “My uncle was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! Just say that you know me!’”
Little Rebecca eventually grew out of her apparent selective mutism and started talking a little more between the ages of five and seven, finally giving her grandmother less reason to worry – and less time to nap.
“Now I’m the only grandchild that really talks a lot to her,” said Rebecca, laughing. “I can hang out the entire day in her house and just talk. She’ll be like, ‘I want to sleep.’ And I’m like, ‘No, Ah Ma! Wake up! Let’s watch this Korean drama together!”
Listen to the full House Party For 2 podcast to find out how hard it is to think of the acting profession as “glamorous” when there aren’t any toilets on set, which Channel 8 actor teenage Rebecca had a major crush on, and why she has trust issues when it comes to finding a love that lasts forever.
New episodes of House Party For 2 are published every Sunday at cna.asia/podcasts. This podcast was recorded in early February. Both House Party For 2 host and guest are now hibernating safely in their respective homes.