It is a wet, storm night in London and Felicity Young trudges through the rain, arrives at the hotel lobby of Calthorpe Hotel with Eleanor Young and two kids.
That is the scene that we all vividly remember if you’ve watched Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians. And that is also the character that Singaporean actress, Janice Koh, played – one who is assertive, tenacious and “not easily bullied by hotel managers”.
Janice, in real life, shares Felicity’s sensibilities, the local theatre actress reveals.
But while her character Felicity is practical and frugal despite being married to one of richest men in the world, Janice, is not as thrifty, she jokes in an interview with Her World.
What was her experience like working on a Hollywood production?
From designer costumes to trailers to rest in and drivers to fetch actors around, Janice and her fellow actors tell all about the #crazyrichasians experience.
Now that you’ve worked with a Hollywood / American production, could you tell us how that experience was like?
In some ways, it’s not unlike any professionally-run Singapore production house, but the main difference, of course, is budget. On a well-resourced set like Crazy Rich Asians (CRA), we had round-the-clock catering stations, the luxury of working with a dialect coach, costumes provided by designer labels and fashion houses, hotel rooms or trailers to rest in until we were needed on set, drivers to fetch us there, and so on. Where possible, the actor is taken care of, so that we are ready for the camera at any time.
Are there any differences working with Singaporean productions versus American ones?
On a Hollywood set, there is a lot of respect for everyone’s contribution to the movie – from the cinematographer and crew, to the wardrobe assistants, make-up artists and PAs. Everyone plays a critical part in the eco-system, and they take their work seriously.
I’ve worked on great sets in Singapore, but also on less productive ones. The work ethic and sense of ownership on local sets is sometimes inconsistent. This has, in part, to do with low budgets that lead to a lack of equitable pay, recognition and proper working conditions for freelancers. It can also lead to an over-reliance on interns, who may not have sufficient experience. We need to rectify this.
How was it like working with big, international stars like Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh?
It was a real privilege to watch the work of these talented actors up close. Most of my scenes were with Michelle, who is extremely gracious and kind, especially to her crew. A true professional.
Do you see any parallels between your character in Crazy Rich Asians and yourself?
Felicity Young, together with her sisters Alix and Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh), are the formidable “aunties”. They run the Young household, and have an opinion in all matters involving the family.
I share Felicity’s sensible, assertive, no-nonsense approach. We are not easily bullied by insolent, racist hotel managers! But Felicity is also very practical and frugal, despite being married to one of richest men in the world. She would rather walk four blocks in the rain than pay for taxi. Unfortunately, I don’t share her thriftiness!
In the movie, you are portrayed as an affluent woman. So we would like to know, in your personal life, what’s the most expensive luxury item(s) you’ve splurged on?
My home. That’s a Singaporean answer for you!
Conversely, do you have any high-street / non-luxe items you wish more people would know about?
A lot of my wardrobe are from high street or mass labels like Zara, Uniqlo or Love, Bonito. I rarely buy designer items, unless they are by Singapore labels. I think it is important to support our own.
Does your involvement in CRA, being a Hollywood blockbuster with an All-Asian cast, have parallels to your work as an activist for the arts scene in Singapore? If yes, how so?
It has been quite inspiring to follow the #GoldOpen movement for Crazy Rich Asians, where members of the Asian American community have been supporting the movie in droves by buying out theatres across the country. It has helped make the movie No. 1 in the US in its opening weeks, and has demonstrated to Hollywood that diversity and inclusivity is important and can reap economic returns. This kind of ground-up support is vital when it comes to showing support for any cause, not just in the arts. Walk the talk and vote with your feet. Don’t just complain when you can do something about it. Show up.
How do you juggle being an arts activist, a mother and an actress?
As best as I can! A lot of multi-tasking is involved, and sometimes the ball may drop. But I have very understanding kids, who have accepted that they have a mom who parents through benign neglect! It has made them highly independent.
Do you have time for yourself? If yes, what do you do with it?
I always make sure I carve out time to exercise at least three or four times a week. It could be a trek through Bukit Timah Hill, a yoga practice, or a quick HIIT workout at home. I always feel ready to face the day after a good sweat.
Other than Crazy Rich Asians, what else has been keeping you busy?
I have started rehearsals on my next project – a theatre production entitled ‘The Reunification of the Two Koreas’ written by French playwright Joel Pommerat. It is produced by Theatreworks, and will premiere in Singapore from 1-10 Nov 2018, before going on tour to France.
Here are all of your favourite Singapore stars at the movie premiere of “Crazy Rich Asians.”