Not many people can say they grew up on a television set, and not many people can say one of local showbiz’s veteran actresses helped them with their homework.
But for local actress Foo Fang Rong (or more popularly known as Fang Rong), she has bragging rights on both counts.
The child actress started off in showbiz around the age of four when her cousin was looking for a bubbly girl to cast in a commercial. And, she continued working on projects while growing up.
Speaking to Yahoo Southeast Asia on Monday (18 Sept), Fang Rong, 27, said that time management was something she had to focus on while juggling her studies and acting.
“I think actually, when I was filming while studying, I actually could focus on my work a lot better because it forced me to have fixed timings to study,” she shared, adding that she would really hunker down with her books and study in between scenes on set.
She also recalls asking the older actors and actresses for help with her homework back then.
One actress who helped was Joanne Peh, and Fang Rong remembers this “very distinctly”. That said, she cannot remember what subject it was because it happened such a long time ago. The latter was only nine at that time.
“I wasn’t sure if it was math. But it might have been, because my math wasn’t very good,” she said sheepishly.
And, 18 years later, the actress has a full-circle moment as she is playing a younger version of Peh’s character Fung Lan in the Last Madame prequel, Sisters of the Night.
Fang Rong is aware of the “high expectations” set by the original series, but said that after much discussion during the script reads, the intention was to do their best instead of “meeting expectations”.
Set in the 1920s, the series centres around the themes of sisterhood, survival, espionage and Singapore's history and culture during the era.
It follows the parallel stories of a young Fung Lan and a young Ah Yoke (played by Gini Chang), and how they transform into the characters seen in Last Madame.
The Last Madame made headlines when it was first released, as the erotic period drama pushed the boundaries on local showbiz and saw Peh get naked for her sex scene.
When asked about how the role pushed boundaries for her both emotionally and professionally, Fang Rong said that she couldn’t stop crying after filming some of the emotionally heavy scenes.
However, she clarified that “it wasn't a prolonged thing” and she just “needed a bit of time to compose myself”.
Mental wellness in showbiz
Compared to other millennials, who may not have an appreciation of the work culture adopted by previous generations, Fang Rong grew up in the showbiz culture of the past, and a certain understanding along with it.
However, Fang Rong also clarified that, as a child actor, she probably wouldn’t have had the same experience as the veteran actors because “the amount of scenes that I had to do probably wasn't as significant an amount as compared to theirs”.
She added, “I think also, the nature of this industry is such that time is money. And oftentimes, we work on very tight deadlines - say the telecast date for a show is this date, so like die die, you know you have to submit things by a certain date. So I think that's when the pressure comes with having to have a tighter schedule in order for things to work.”
That said, Fang Rong places an importance on work-life balance and mental health.
She shared, “I'm very, I guess, lucky to be in this era now where mental health and rest is often discussed when productivity is discussed as well. I think we're heading towards the direction in which we can have a better balance while still remaining productive…We are now more aware of the importance of not just centring your entire life around work.
But I recognise that the previous generations, they maybe didn't have the luxury to think about all these things, or the luxury to even choose what kind of jobs they want to do, because they had different priorities.Fang Rong
“So again, I think it's a privilege to be in this era, where we're talking about such topics, and hopefully that will help not just our generation, but the generations before and after us to balance.”
Fang Rong also revealed that Mediacorp has a “mental wellbeing day” and they can take a day off if they “just don’t feel mentally up for it”. According to the actress, there is a specific number of days available in a year for this initiative.
Navigating odd working hours in showbiz
Aside from that, they also get “blocks of time to rest” (about one to two months) in between productions and she’s “learned to live with this rhythm”.
She said, “That's one way I've learned to navigate this industry and the odd working hours so to speak. But I do feel like work life balance is is very important to me, and I think I've come to realise that it's also about prioritising how you want to spend your time outside of work.
“Like choosing the friends that you want to engage with, or making time for your loved ones and your family, and scheduling in non-negotiables - like a meal every week, you know, or like bringing a dog out every week, that kind of stuff.”
Now, though, Fang Rong is in the middle of filming the long-form drama My One and Only, and will only wrap in November.
However, she is already looking forward to a well-deserved break and has made some plans. For starters, she has “blocked out a couple of weeks to travel in December”.
Next, she has some personal goals to work on, and this is something she does whenever she has a break.
She revealed that this is a habit she cultivated during the circuit breaker, after she found herself doing nothing but playing Animal Crossing all day and realised that she needed some “North Stars” to work through the slum.
Fang Rong shared, “So mine says regular sleep cycle of seven to eight hours of rest; basically whatever I enjoy doing like read, yoga, strength (exercises), run, cycle. Prioritise a healthy lifestyle and nutritious food, and exercise and eat intuitively.
“Also to work more on my social media stuff because as an artiste in this era, it’s not just about acting on screen. And I like to do a bit more volunteer work - because now I have a bit more time - and to spend time with my parents and family more.”
Sisters of the Night is now available on meWATCH. My One and Only is airing weekdays at 7.30pm.
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