Photo: Singapore International Film Festival

Hong Kong’s A-list actress Sammi Cheng emanated old-school opulence in her role as Yuen Xiu Ling, a high maintenance actress in First Night Nerves — a Stanley Kwan-directed movie that was featured at the 29th edition of Singapore International Film Festival. Set during a week prior to the opening night for an upcoming play called “Two Sisters”, this film revolves around behind-the-scenes feud between Xiuling and He Yuwen (played by Gigi Leung), as well as the romantic escapades with her on-screen lover, Fu Sha (played by Bai Baihe).

First Night Nerves wasn’t the first film Cheng had worked on with director Kwan. In 2005, she faced her fair share of challenges when she portrayed Wang Qiyao in Everlasting Regret.

Cheng shares with us about her role in First Night Nerves, her relationship with her husband Andy Hui and how suffering from depression had changed her for the better.


Q: In First Night Nerves, you portrayed high-maintenance Hong Kong actress, Yuen Xiuling. What is the most challenging aspect of this role?

A: She is a character who’s more emotionally expressive, yet reserved at the same time. So when I’m playing her, I have to reach a point where I have to balance these two aspects. There are two scenes where I have to portray a complex series of mixed emotions, particularly one where Xiuling’s assistant lashed out at her. It was a close-up shot, and within that ten-second time frame, I have to express this instantly, which was quite challenging for me.


Q: Can you relate to this character’s personality?

A: Not exactly, since I’m not a reserved individual. I am an extrovert and I blatantly express my feelings all the time.

Photo: Instagram/ sammi_chengsauman


Q: Yuen Xiuling is an arrogant individual. As a popular artiste, do you find it difficult to play her?

A: No. At my age, I had experienced all aspects of life; the highs and the lows. Hence, I am able to relate to her as in the past, I had gone through similar experiences that this character is going through.


Q: How is it like working alongside Gigi Leung and Bai Baihe?

A: The last time [Gigi and I] had worked together was 22 years ago. We’ve matured after all these years and have gotten closer while working together in this film. I saw a different side to her and was impressed with her acting skills. Since the movie is about actresses, many have this perception that we’re all difficult and hard to deal with. However, I felt that there was great team spirit amongst us, a factor that helped us to perform at our very best.

Photo: Instagram/ sammi_chengsauman


Q: Since you’re known as a comedic actress, why have you decided to act in First Night Nerves?

A: I’m so glad that I got this chance to show a different side of [my acting skills] in another genre. I’d understand that audiences might be surprised. However, I’m not worried. As long as I’m given a good script and a challenging role, I think that audiences will be receptive and appreciative.


Q: You mentioned at the Busan International Festival that you had thrown yourself too deeply into Stanley Kwan’s previous movie, Everlasting Regret, and it affected you mentally and physically. How’s it like working with him now?

A: There’s definitely a significant difference [between working with Stanley Kwan then and now]. When I worked with him in the past, I was going through a difficult moment in my life. Now, my current state has improved, and because of this, I realised that he’s actually a very understanding director. He’s patient, thoughtful and meticulous in his work. He’ll notice minor mistakes made by us and correct us accordingly.


Photo: Instagram/ sammi_chengsauman


Q: First Night Nerves touches on the topic of LGBTQ. What are your opinions about this?

A: I respect everyone’s decision in chasing after their own form of love and marriage as it is a basic right. In this movie, Yuen Xiuling is emotionally distraught after being abandoned by her husband. Eventually, her love was restored by a woman. I wouldn’t deem this as a romantic relationship since [Yuen Xiuling] and Bai Baihe’s character (Fu Sha) had known each other since young. I believe it was more of a special relationship where destiny had brought them back together. No matter what, I respect their views [on all forms of love], be it on- or off-screen.


Q: Speaking of special relationship, you and Andy Hui have an epic romance, dating for decades before getting married in 2013. Can you share with us the secret to lasting relationships?

A: (Laughs) I’m still figuring it out. It was a breeze for me as he is an easy-going person, which is why I did not see any difficulties living with him after we got married. In my life, he’s my pillar of strength who gives me emotional support. As for tips, I believe that respecting, treasuring and spending time with your partner are critical aspects.


Photo: Instagram/ sammi_chengsauman


Q: You’ve spoken about your struggles with depression in the past. How are you coping with it now, and what have you learnt from those difficult times?

A: It was a very dark time for me. Maybe I had given myself too much pressure in the past as I was quite insecure and was constantly chasing after fame and success. After going through depression, I had decided to focus on my religious beliefs and God, which changed my values and in turn gave me confidence.When I look back, I’m actually grateful for this dark episode.


Q: You started out as a singer and eventually went on to being an actress. Since it’s a relatively big change, did you find it difficult?

A: Not right now. We shouldn’t build boundaries and restrain ourselves. Rather, we should see things with an open mind. As an experienced actress, I don’t see age as a limitation, but as a motivation.


Q: Lastly, have you considered becoming a director?

A: (Laughs) Never! I don’t have the capability to do so.


Photo: Instagram/ sammi_chengsauman