Jeanette Aw didn't want to reprise role initially in The Little Nyonya sequel Emerald Hill as she wanted to 'protect Yueniang', was told to 'come back for reservist'

The actress recounted the exchange she had with executive producer and scriptwriter Ang Eng Tee, and also declined to answer if her role was just a cameo.

Local actress Jeanette Aw explains why she initially didn't want to reprise the role and what eventually changed her mind. PHOTO: Instagram/jeanetteaw, Mediacorp
Local actress Jeanette Aw explains why she initially didn't want to reprise the role and what eventually changed her mind. PHOTO: Instagram/jeanetteaw, Mediacorp

It has been 16 years since Jeanette Aw stepped into the shoes (and clothes) of Yueniang, her breakout role on the hit TV series The Little Nonya. Yet, watching the local actress emerge from hair and makeup in the sarong kebaya with her signature bun hairstyle was still a sight to behold.

The crowd, consisting of media and crew from local broadcaster Mediacorp, went wild and the iconic theme song played while she made her slow entry. Aw effortlessly inhabited the role of Yueniang, right down to her mannerisms and gentle tone of speaking.

“Yueniang is just, like, inside somewhere. I think it’s not that difficult to actually draw her out,” Aw said with a laugh to Yahoo Southeast Asia.

The 44-year-old actress explained that filming the 2008 series was such an intense experience for her - she was filming every day for four-and-a-half months, with only two-and-a-half hour of rest in between each day - that “I don’t think she (Yueniang) has ever left”.

It will be a momentous occasion for many in Singapore to see Aw onscreen again as Yueniang, but it almost didn’t happen.

It might seem like a no-brainer to return, but Aw confessed that she didn’t want to reprise the role when she was first approached to return for the sequel series Emerald Hill.

“The reason is I feel she’s iconic and there are many things that hold me back from thinking that I want to come back for a cameo because I don’t want to destroy that,” she shared.

The Little Nyonya was such a huge success so there are a lot of things I have in mind to want to protect that character. And if she’s not coming back for a good reason, or a good development, I’m a bit hesitant to take it up.”

Eventually Aw met up with the executive producer and the scriptwriter (Ang Eng Tee) who talked her through the character and why they wanted her back. It was the latter who changed her mind, as Aw had worked with him many times and he had always “written really good roles for” her.

She said with a laugh, “This time, when he was talking to me, he assured that things would be okay. I was like, let me think about it, and he was like, you know what, you have to come back for ‘reservist’.”

Aw was also allowed to provide personal inputs in shaping the character and she shared that Ang was “very receptive” to her suggestions and made some minor changes.

As for what kind of person Yueniang is now, Aw described her as a successful businesswoman who is doing really well.

“I feel like it’s just a lapse of 10, 15 years? So it’s not like she is a totally different person. Just more successful, more mature. She’s got a son (whom she adopted). I would say, she knows how to deal with people. She knows how to feel the situation around her a lot more.”

Aw also found parallels between the growth of Yueniang and her own personal growth as a businesswoman.

After all, the actress launched her pastry business, Once Upon a Time, in 2021, which has seen much success. Most recently, she had pop-ups in Japan to massive crowds where she also met with customers who are fans of The Little Nyonya.

She shared, “Like how Yueniang has developed and launched so many other businesses, and I feel like I have also gone into different things in my life in the past few years. In that sense, the growth is quite similar. And I think, yeah, in a way it’s quite suitable to be able to bring some experiences in, you know, like building that business and knowing it’s not easy and all that.”

Considering the expectations fans will have and how anticipated this reprisal will be, we asked Aw if she could clarify the extent of her role. Will she just be a cameo, like she mentioned? Will it be a bigger role?

Aw didn't give an answer immediately, so we tried a different approach - will fans be happy with the screentime she has?

“I can’t answer that,” Aw said with a chuckle. “Maybe you should ask the EP (executive producer) when she’s here.”

Guess we’ll have to wait till 2025 to find out.

Emerald Hill is a sequel series that takes place in The Little Nyonya universe. The show will focus on a new set of characters, featuring veteran actors like Zoe Tay, Chen Liping, Jesseca Liu, Romeo Tan.

There will also be young actors such as Ferlyn G, Tasha Low, Chantalle Ng, Nick Teo, Tyler Ten, and Zhang Zetong (who plays Yueniang’s son).

Emerald Hill is slated to premiere in 2025.

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