By Karen Vera
Ten minutes upon meeting Singapore TV star Michelle Chong, she starts to talk about love.
"Directing a movie is just like being in love," says the actress, comedienne and first-time director of a major feature film, Already Famous, opening later this year.
While Chong has shown great ability to work in multiple shows at a time and inhabit different beloved comic personas (Barbarella, Leticia and so on), there's still nothing quite like directing a movie, where every detail, decision and discussion rests with you. It's multitasking at its best (and worst).
"There's 101 things on my mind at every minute, and that's really exciting," she says about her latest role. "We just wrapped filming, but there are still post-production, editing, subtitles, music -- so many things -- publicity, promotion and all that.
"But when you're in love," says Chong, "you don't want to sleep, you want to go on thinking about certain things, because you're really also enjoying it. Sure, you're very tired, but there's a lot of adrenaline. But you know like how you are in love, and in the beginning stages you're just always on the phone, you don't want to say 'bye'? It's like that. It's been really fun, but I also think that this period has been the most serious I've ever been. I was quite serious because I was really focused."
Chong is definitely committed to making this romance work, because she's also the producer, writer (she worked on the script for several years) and lead actress for the movie, in which she plays a small-town Malaysian trying to make it as a TV star in Singapore. She's also reportedly disposed of some assets, including a condominium property, to finance the film, which has a production budget of about $900,000.
Despite the "101 things" on her mind for Already Famous, she claims the experience "has been a breeze. I'm shocked myself!" The 34-year-old credits the support of those she's worked with previously in the industry for making things easy for her.
"I'm very grateful for all the experience I've had in this industry, to every single one of my producers, even those from variety. I've learned so much from them, even the cameramen that I've worked with. Now was a good time for me to do this. If I had done it earlier, I would have been much more stressed out and I wouldn't have known half the things that I know now and I wouldn't have had as much industry support."
It's an industry she's been acquainted since 1998, and into which she broke big time with her trademark comic personas on The Noose, the popular comedy series on Channel 5. But Michelle reveals she has bigger dreams for her career and for Singapore entertainment.
"I really don't want to be in front of the camera anymore," she says. "If I were to do another film, I will try not to be in front of the camera unless it's just a cameo. Most of the time, I find myself wanting to be behind the scenes, I don't want to be in front."
Does this mean goodbye to Barbarella? Not quite yet. But Michelle does say, "I would like to be involved more in the creative process of things, and not just at the end. That is what I hope to do. I'm not so noble as to say, 'I want to make a difference.' But I would like to see the scene being more progressive, and I would like to see shows on TV that are different from, say, your formulaic sitcoms from 10 years ago."
With Barbarella here to stay, and her facility for nailing down a Filipino accent or the mangled English of a Sarong Party Girl, can Michelle also pin down on a few quintessential Singaporean quirks? Yahoo! Singapore put her to the test. Has she ever…
'Choped' seats with a tissue packet: "Of course! It's absolutely necessary. But probably not in recent years, because people will do it for me"
Tapped a previously occupied seat to cool it off: "Of course! Who hasn't? It will be weird if I didn't do it. People will actually look at me if I didn't do it, so absolutely. And I will still do it!"
Managed to collect all "5 C's": "You mean caring, considerate, communicative…? I don't have a country club. But I might have 2 or 3 of the same Cs."
Queued overnight: "Of course I have, for the Michael Jackson concert [in 1993]! I was 17, I went with my sister and my classmate Bob and we were the first three people in line! Outside of Hard Rock Café, because they started selling tickets at 11 am so we went there the night before, thinking like there will be long queues but we were the first in line! That was the first time ever that I was on the cover of The New Paper, The Straits Times, Wanbao. I, my sister, Bob — we had a Hard Rock Café T-shirt each free because we were the first in line."
Queued for freebies: "No."
Stayed on queue at a hawker despite a long-ish wait: "Of course! I still would. Even now, when we're filming variety programs and we break for lunch at a hawker centre, I always want to eat the best thing I can there. I will queue for "Tian Tian Chicken Rice" at Maxwell, I will queue for the best fish soup, the best laksa, whatever. "
Attended the National Day Parade as a spectator: "No, because I'm always hosting. "
Taken public transport recently: "Just a few days ago for the movie, but that's not counted I guess. Are taxis included? Pretty recently then, because sometimes I take a taxi to go to the airport. But by bus? I would say it's been 11-12 years. We were filming a bus scene for the movie and they said: 'Oh you have to tap the card.' Then I'm like, 'Tap what card? Don't you just use the bus pass?' Then they said I needed an EZ-link. I didn't know that you had to tap them. I don't know how to take a bus!"
Michelle Chong, Irene Ang, Taufik Batisah, Hossan Leong and Adrian Pang are the nominees in the entertainment category in the Singapore 9, a Yahoo! project to recognise nine Singaporeans who have really made a difference in the past year. Make your vote count here.