If there is one word to describe Taiwanese actress Michelle Chen, it is this: Sweet.
During a recent interview with Life!, the pretty 29-year-old was charming, completely unassuming and did not have anything bad to say about anyone or anything.
Smiling often, she would occasionally ask if you are comfortable in your seat, if you want to ask a few more questions or need a few more pictures.
Back home in Taiwan, in fact, she is billed as “the people’s goddess” for being adorably likeable.
Taiwanese actress Michelle Chen in Singapore.
PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
There is so little to gossip about this girl- next-door that tabloids there have resorted to writing stories about her stepping out of the house with no make-up on.
Not that she is bothered by such stories.
Asked if she feels burdened by the expectations that come with a nickname like “the people’s goddess”, and she says: “I’m very grateful to people who call me that, but you know, I’m not going to go out of my way to change my lifestyle habits or anything just to make sure that I’m safe from bad press.
“I have heard of those reports, but I’ll only listen to them and not let them affect me too much. I still want to enjoy my own way of life.”
After a pause, she adds with a chuckle: “Still, I think looking presentable when I’m in public is the least I should do. I was a little unkempt that one time and the reporters just had to catch me.”
She shot to international fame after starring in the 2011 Taiwanese coming-of-age movie You are the Apple Of My Eye as fresh-faced schoolgirl Shen Chia-yi.
The sleeper hit co-starring actor Kai Ko, 21, earned her a Best Actress nomination at the Golden Horse Awards, though she lost to veteran Hong Kong actress Deanie Ip, 65, in the drama, A Simple Life (2011).
Other roles Chen has played include a deaf swimmer in the movie Hear Me (2009), and a kind environmentalist in TV drama Channel-X (2010) opposite Taiwanese actor Joseph Cheng, 30.
She was in town for a promotional event for luxury jeweller Cartier, for which she is an ambassador.
As part of a marketing campaign for the company, she filmed a seven-minute short film directed by Oscar-nominated film-maker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, 2009) and scripted by American screenwriter Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, 2011).
Co-starring English model-actor Oliver Jackson- Cohen, 26, the film is about a former couple who meet again at a mutual friend’s wedding. A romantic marriage proposal is also involved.
Asked what her own dream proposal would entail, Chen, who is single, giggles and says: “If it’s someone I love who is proposing to me, then the place and the time won’t matter. Wherever it may be, I will still find it very romantic.”
She then quickly adds with a laugh: “But he has to have a ring. If he doesn’t have one, then don’t even bother.”
Audiences loved watching you and actor KaiKo as a couple on You are the Apple of my Eye (2011). Would you want to work with him again?
Yes, of course, I would love to work with him again.
Our pairing in that movie left a deep impression on audiences and also left a big impression on me because of how sweet and moving the story is.
But I do hope that if I work with him again, our roles will be very different. I hope that we will bring a different sense of energy to the film rather than a repeat of what we had on Apple.
Are fans finally moving on from You are the Apple of my Eye?
People may have stopped calling me Shen Chia-yi for a while, but I don’t think fans have moved on from that movie yet.
But that’s fine because I understand why people love that movie so much. I love it a lot and the character has become a big part of my life and career, so I’m happy that others adore it so much.
You have named Andy Lau as one of your all-time favourite idols. If you get to work with him one day, what roles would you like to play opposite him?
I wouldn’t mind any role as long as I get to work with him. I’ve admired him for so long for his diligence and amazing acting skills. I’m sure that if I get to work with him, I’ll learn a lot. I have met him briefly at an awards show and I was so excited, but also very, very nervous. Anyway, he knows that I love him a lot, but if you see him, please tell him again for me.
You have been working on a debut music album since 2008. When will it finally be out?
It should be out next month. I didn’t want to rush anything because I wanted every song to be perfect. I wrote every single song based on some experiences that I’ve gone through, so the album is like a diary. Listeners will get to know a different side of me.
What is the musical style of this debut album like?
It’s got a big variety, so there are acoustic tracks and some tunes that sound a little more retro. Then there’s one that I really love, that sounds like a big Broadway musical. For a long time, my dream has been to release a music album and I’m so happy that it’s finally going to come true very soon.
You attended high school and university in the United States. Did that experience alter your personal values in any way?
What I really liked and took away from my time in the United States is how independent the country is. It is also very encouraging of people who give their opinions, which I think is lacking in the Asian way of life. So I think that’s been helpful in my work, like in my music and in acting, I feel like I am more determined to give my own thoughts rather than just blindly follow directions. For example, when I act, I do tell directors my suggestions.
Your name is free of scandals. How do you manage to stay away from the gossip and media spotlight?
I’m more of a private person when it comes to my personal life. I’m the type of artist who likes to keep a low profile as much as possible. I don’t like to talk about my personal life because it’s best to separate that from work. As soon as you start talking about your personal life, people will find something bad to write about you.
How would you like to be remembered?
Don’t you think it’s still a bit too early to be asking this question? But I guess I do hope that people will remember the character of Shen Chia-yi and that I am a courageous girl who is always ready to take on new challenges, whether in life or in work.
This article was first run on The Straits Times newspaper on April 1, 2013; read more similar stories at http://sph.straitstimes.com/premium. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.