About a year ago, a local entertainment magazine had He Ying Ying on its cover, touting her as the next big thing and "the new Joanne Peh". By coincidence, Joanne was on our cover two months ago, and now, this bubbly 24-year-old graces this month's. No longer a neophyte, she already has a Best Newcomer win in the 2018 Star Awards, and a nom for Best Supporting Actress (A Million Dollar Dream) in this year's edition.
Not too bad for someone who originally had no intention of entering showbiz.
Ever since she joined the industry in 2015, this National University of Singapore alum has been every bit the rising star. She jokes, though, that she might be in this writer’s position if she had continued on the career path her degree in communications and new media would have led to. “I find journalism exciting because, like acting, it gives me a voice,” she says. “I get to express the views and depict the lives of others and myself.”
So, yeah, she could have been a journalist (maybe she’ll play one someday), but she took the acting route instead, taking part in projects such as Toggle’s original series, Run Rachael Run, while in her final year at university before becoming a full-time actress in late 2016.
“I never intended to become an actress,” she admits. “I ended up in this industry by some stroke of luck, and it’s been smooth sailing for me ever since.”
By “luck”, she means being runner-up in Mediacorp’s Hey Gorgeous, a talent scouting competition that seeks new faces from tertiary institutes. This effectively launched her screen career.
“I gave acting a shot because I felt that I shouldn’t waste the opportunity to try something different,” she admits. “Being an actress is such a unique experience, I decided to give it a go.”
Ying Ying is affable and candid, almost unassuming at times. She sits in her chair, still and patient, as the makeup artist lines her doll-like eyes, but occasionally sends a smile my way as she answers my questions. Her sensitivity comes through in little gestures. “Are you comfortable there?” she asks as I settle into my seat, which is admittedly a little far from her so that I won’t be in the makeup artist’s way.
When I ask if she had difficulty adjusting to becoming an actress, she says no, explaining that she enjoys a job that puts her in new situations, exposes her to different experiences and allows her to be around people. And she sees the acting accolades she has earned as encouragement, helping to affirm her passion for her craft.
She says that she loves acting because it makes her put herself in others’ shoes and think about things from their points of view. “I get to experience different lives in one lifetime – I’ve been a PR intern, a rebellious daughter, even a policewoman.”
She relishes roles that allow her to express her outgoing nature. She’s especially looking forward to her next action-packed one as a policewoman in upcoming drama C.L.I.F. 5, which also stars Rebecca Lim, Shane Pow and Pierre Png.
But she would like to play a villain next. “I don’t want to be picky and limit myself to certain roles,” she says. “There is a challenge in humanising a villain and making the audience empathetic to one, especially one who starts out with good intentions but ends up making bad choices.”
Despite her enthusiasm for her job, she has received her share of criticism (“Stuff like ‘she can’t act and is not fit to be on TV’,” she shares), but she shrugs it off .
“There will always be criticism, whatever you do,” she muses. “It’s just that for a public figure, the critics will be more apparent. If I see sense in the criticism, I will take it as constructive feedback and try to improve. If not, I won’t take it to heart.”
Back in the presocial media days, there were critics who jumped on Caldecott stalwarts Fann Wong and Zoe Tay for pretty much anything they did or said – because haters gonna hate. And they were the queens. Who knows how they’d have dealt with it in this social media era, if they were just starting out? Though Ying Ying is a newcomer, her openness and optimistic nature make her someone you want to root for. She is slowly winning over critics with each acting role she takes on, and with her unwavering sincerity.
Her Instagram profile is lit up by photos of her trademark beatific smile, and of her being goofy with her co-stars and best pals, particularly fellow actresses Bonnie Loo and Hong Ling, giving us a candid glimpse of her life off-screen.
“It takes courage to put myself out there where my flaws and inadequacies are laid out for everyone to see,” she confides. “Which is why I admire women who possess inner strength, and who have faith and confidence in their own skin, like Zoe Tay.”
All things considered, she has been pretty blessed so far, she agrees. “I’m lucky enough to have been offered the opportunities I have, and to have received unwavering support from my friends and family,” she says.
Lucky? Yes. Talented? Certainly. Deserving of that million-dollar dream? You betcha.
Photography Joel Low, assisted by Alfie Pan
Styling CK Koo
Hair Terence Lai/Hairloom, using Goldwell
Makeup Dollei Seah, using Dior, assisted by Evelyn Liu
This article was first published in the magazine's May issue.