She is known for her leopard print dresses, accented “Engrish” and bombastic hair, but underneath Lulu’s flamboyant exterior lies a stubborn tenacity to carve out a name of her own.
Like her alter ego, actress Michelle Chong possesses a quiet but strong resolve to achieve what she has set her mind to.
Thanks to her grit, Lulu, one of Singapore’s most well-loved television characters, is now making it big with her first full-fledged movie debut.
For director-actress Chong, the launch of Lulu the Movie has been a long time coming – the sweet result of three full years of blood, sweat and tears.
“It took too long, much too long,” the 39-year-old tells AsiaOne in an interview on Monday (Nov 21). “I can’t wait for this thing to be over…to change my look,” she added before bursting into laughter.
Although she doesn’t go into much detail, it is obvious that the production of Lulu the Movie had been challenging at times. Apart from doing the initial legwork required with purchasing the rights to the character, Chong was involved in every step of the production process from conceptualising and casting, to writing, directing and acting.
At a press conference held earlier in the day, host Pornsak, who is also Chong’s long-time friend, told the media that like the character she plays, Chong has a never-say-die spirit when achieving her goals.
Upon hearing this, tears began to fall down the actress’ cheeks – a testament to the difficulties she has had to endure in her 18-year-long career. But when later asked about the struggles she faced, she simply says that those obstacles were nothing out of the ordinary, and that they were part of the ups and downs of life.
In the movie, Lulu moves to Singapore from China to meet her online boyfriend Brad Pit (played by Chen Tianwen), and ends up catching the eye of his handsome twin brother Leon (Leon Jay Williams) as well. A series of events later, she becomes a top fashion host who has to deal with the pressure to conform, mockery and discrimination.
It seems the drive to succeed is something those who surround Chong can testify to. One FM 91.3 DJ Glenn Ong, who plays Alfred, the snarky best friend of Leon in the movie, is just one of many who has seen Chong grow from small-time TV actress to a household name in the nation.
“I don’t think there’s anyone more qualified on TV than Michelle, be it acting or directing,” Ong, 45, tells AsiaOne. He goes so far as to add that he believes Lulu the Movie could be one of Singapore’s best movies of all time. Explaining why, Ong says the director is “real” in her casting choices. “One of the secrets is that she doesn’t cast the same people in her movies,” he says. The soon-to-be-married DJ is quick to admit that Chong had probably cast him as a nastier character in the film because of the public persona he has taken on for the past two decades of his career.
“It’s not so far off from the character I play on radio,” Ong says, quickly adding that he is not actually like that in real life. And while this is Ong’s second movie gig, he describes filming Lulu the Movie as “the best four days of my entertainment life”. Fellow One FM DJ Mark van Cuylenburg (The Flying Dutchman) says this was one of the rare times his radio partner took directions from someone else.
“It’s the only time he has followed anybody,” he says.
The Flying Dutchman also makes an appearance in the movie, playing fashion maestro Karl Lagerfeld who takes a liking to the loudly dressed Lulu. And while he was required to be on set for just one day, the 60-year-old took his role very seriously, watching countless videos of Karl Lagerfeld giving interviews and mastering the thick German accent he is known for. The result is a pretty convincing bootleg version of fashion’s most revered designer.
Lulu the Movie opens in cinemas island-wide on Thursday, Nov 24.
The original version of this story was published in AsiaOne on November 22, 2016.
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