If you had watched Crazy Rich Asians and looked at Kitty Pong’s character played by Fiona Xie, you might not have been able to tell that she had fears about taking up the role.
Known for her roles in local dramas like My Genie and The Champion (where she famously ran down Orchard Road in a bikini), Fiona has been acting since she was 19.
Burnt out and needing a break to recharge, Fiona took a hiatus in 2009, during which she had travelled and lived across the world in cities such as Hong Kong, New York City, Shanghai and Tokyo.
“Just getting into the culture and growing as an individual and exploring was the best gift ever,” said Fiona about her liberating seven-year long hiatus.
The actress cites Tokyo as her most memorable place she has been in an email interview with Her World, where she went with her good friend Melody. “We both were going through the same transitions in life and we had to uplift each other and be that pillar of support. I am always thankful for good friends in life to create indelible memories with.”
The hiatus proved to not be an impediment to her acting career as seen with the success of Crazy Rich Asians. The movie however, was a project she had initially rejected.
With encouragement from her friends and director Jon Chu, Fiona later accepted the role of Kitty Pong, a character that will have greater plot significance in the sequels of Crazy Rich Asians (which has been hinted by author Kevin Kwan on Instagram).
Returning to Singapore in 2016, did you find it much changed? If so, how? Did it feel like you were coming 'home'? If not, where do you consider your home?
Home is where the heart is. Being older and wiser and having gone through the weathers in life, you appreciate the little things that you take for granted in Singapore – the efficiency, the amazing local food, family and the familiar sights and sounds that you grew up with. It was definitely a nostalgic experience coming back.
What was your first thought when you landed the role in Crazy Rich Asians? How did you feel?
I ran. Fast. I said no to a Hollywood movie.
I was scared perhaps to want to put myself out there again. It can be so tiring to be in the spotlight and belong to the public, and Kitty Pong is a challenging character for the Asian culture to accept. But director Jon Chu, my good friends Melody and Liv Lo, really convinced me and brought me to my senses.
It has been the best healing and learning process for me. To let go and not let myopic, small-minded people who think I’m an extension of the characters I play,affect me. I have been overwhelmed with positive responses during my time in America, where people have embraced me with such love and affirmation. There are so many Kitty Pong fans from Kevin Kwan’s trilogy and she has the best character development. She really injects the life into every scene and is a funny and vulnerable real person. The “pretty woman” of our generation, with Amy Winehouse hair!
Has filming this movie given you aspirations for more Hollywood films? How so?
This film has definitely opened up so many doors, especially since everyone knows Kitty Pong’s role gets more central in the other two books. I’ve got producers calling me to discuss more projects to ride on this insane wave. I feel beyond blessed and I know whatever that comes is a gift from God.
Your character in the film dates an older man, but your real-life partner is younger. What are your personal thoughts on age-gaps in relationships?
We live in a society where we should be able to love a person for who they are. You own your happiness and I would never judge anyone else’s choice if it brings them happiness.
Any funny moments during filming with the cast you'd like to share?
It’s a total zoo. With Ken Jeong, Awkafina, Nico Santos, Jimmy O Yang and Ronnie Chieng who are all comedians, every moment is a joke in itself. Getting confused constantly on set because my real name is Fiona and Victoria Loke’s character was Fiona Cheng was always a funny mix up, and yes, having Awkwafina being attacked by monkeys was probably classic.
Photo: Dean Koh
Did you expect Crazy Rich Asians to be as successful as it is?
No one really knew what to expect. It didn’t even really sink in until we were all at Jon Chu’s house after the premiere with all the news articles and magazines sprawled everywhere. We are still in awe!
This is absolutely weird and crazy! Wow! And 35 million dollars for a box office opening is out of this world! For this movie to be such a huge movement and have so much meaning for so many people just makes us all very emotional. The outpouring of messages we have received and the amount of amazing, positive press all over the world – it’s so humbling and astounding. I was so filled with pride to see our beautiful Singapore shown on the big screens to an international audience! In scenes showing Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, many people even thought that it was all CGI and doesn’t actually exist!
What's the most crazy-expensive thing you've purchased?
My bribe to Jon Chu for being in the movie. Nah just joking! He gifted all of us with Apple EarPods after filming. His was a priceless custom black one though!
From all your copious roles in your acting career, who has been your favourite character to play and why?
As an actress, I love the challenge of each new role and every single one gives me a different kind of satisfaction. Although I would love to play Ken Jeong. The cast often mimic each other and it’s so hilarious!
Here are all of your favourite Singapore stars at the movie premiere of "Crazy Rich Asians."