Joey Swee is not happy. She’s clad in a set of PJs, her hair tied up in a messy bun, looking very much like she just woke up... and we don’t mean it in that #iwokeuplikethis way. But before you think that the former actress has let herself go since retiring from the limelight in 2009, well, you’re only partly right. The actress will have you know that this is the look she usually has on now that she’s a full-time housewife and mother. Which is why she was thrilled at the thought of getting all glammed up for her showbiz comeback. Alas, plot twist! In upcoming 150-ep drama Reach for the Skies, aka her Ch 8 comeback, the actress plays a lazy and sloppy employee of a family-run mini-mart. Which explains her just-rolled-out-of-bed look.
“Actually, I’m quite sad with the way my character looks in this drama,” she sighs, “’Cos I haven’t shot a Ch 8 drama for very long. I thought I could appear on screen looking pretty. But I didn’t think that I’d have to go make-up free,” she says, jokingly adding: “I hope that when I appear on TV bare-faced, audiences won’t feel repulsed!” We don’t think Joey has much to worry about. In person, the 40-year-old bare-faced beauty looks like she hasn’t aged a day, something which she attributes to drinking lots of water, going for facials, and well, good genes.
For those who grew up watching TV in the ’90s, Joey Swee (or Xu Qi for those who know her by her Chinese name) was the vivacious girl-next-door whose larger-than-life personality made her more memorable than any of the roles she played in Ch 8 dramas like The Reunion, Women of Times and The Unbeatables III .
The 1997 Star Search semi-finalist left showbiz in 2009 to become a full-time mum after getting pregnant with her second kid. This year, the still-Swee mother-of-three will make her showbiz return with not one, but two shows: Besides Reach, she also stars in upcoming Toggle web series A Lonely Fish, where she plays um, 22-year-old He Ying Ying’s mother.
8 DAYS: Long time no see. How does it feel being back in the limelight?
JOEY SWEE: I feel great. I feel wanted. I feel I’m alive again. I’ve been a housewife for eight years now. And during that time, I always felt like I’m not a very important person. My life every day is too routine — fetch the kids, buy groceries, and even when I’m teaching the kids, I keep repeating the same thing to them. For these eight years, I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again every day. And I also didn’t bother to doll myself up ’cos there’s no one to look at me anyway. Then last December, I got the chance to film A Lonely Fish. During that month of filming, I was very happy. I felt like a bird that had been released from my cage. I felt like I had found myself. These past eight years, I’ve been giving my all to my kids that I had completely lost myself.
What has it been like being a full-time housewife and mother?
When I was single, I used to say, “I must marry a very good husband, then I don’t need to fret about daily necessities, and I can be a housewife.” Everyone’s envious that I get to be a housewife. But being a housewife is not easy, you know? I don’t have days off, and most importantly, my days were so routine that I didn’t like it. And yet, nobody said “thank you” to me ’cos they just think that it’s my job. No one showed me any appreciation. I think all housewives feel the same way. It’s kind of a lousy feeling. I even forgot that I used to be pretty. (Laughs)
Why did you decide to make a comeback?
I want to feel loved and appreciated again. (Laughs) I miss the feeling of being famous and being recognised [for my acting]. I entered showbiz at 19 years old, and I was in this industry for over a decade. And I was appreciated by the public. Whether they loved or hated me, people were still talking about me. Suddenly, [when I became a housewife, I lost all of that]. My kids are grown up now, so my mind is at rest. And I don’t want to give birth anymore. So that’s why I want to act again.
Your Indonesian husband, who’s the CEO of a coal and mining company, is based in Jakarta for work. It must have been tough taking care of the kids alone for the past 12 years.
From the start, when we were dating, we already talked about what we wanted. I didn’t want to live in Indonesia, and he didn’t want to live in Singapore ’cos he thinks that there are better career opportunities in Indonesia. So we made plans such that we don’t have to leave our comfort zones. And I told him that our kids definitely have to attend school in Singapore. A friend of mine once said, “Your husband lets you give birth to so many kids on purpose ’cos he wants to keep you very busy so you won’t mess around.” (Laughs)
What kind of mum are you?
A Tiger mum. I put in a lot of effort [grooming my kids] lah. In the past, I’d want them to go to a ‘branded’ school, and be good in both sports and academics, as well as in piano, taekwondo, basically, everything. And when they didn’t do well, I’d get very angry and scold them. I don’t have a cane ’cos I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to control myself [from caning them]. (Laughs) I used to put a lot of pressure on my eldest son, even when he was just three years old, ’cos I wanted him to be the best. Then I’d feel very upset when he couldn’t achieve [the results] I wanted. But now, I realise that one cannot ask for too much. When you demand too much from your kids and you don’t get what you want, you’d feel very disappointed. They taught me how to let go… ’cos my expectations and what happens in reality are different. (Laughs)
You’re one of many former actresses from the ’80s and ’90s who are returning to the small screen. How are things different now as compared to back then?
Everything is very different now. In the past, the feeling [between the cast] was more like family. Our bond was very strong. Now, it’s more like [everyone’s functioning] solo. There’s not a lot of communication [among the cast]. The people here have started to become aloof. I think it’s ’cos of smartphones now. (Laughs) Everybody is too busy communicating on social media. They would rather look at Facebook than to talk to you. But when I see my old actor friends, our relationships are still very good lah.
In A Lonely Fish, you play He Ying Ying’s mum. How do you feel about the transition from playing young, girly characters to motherly roles now?
I don’t feel much of a difference. When the casting people called me up, the first question they asked me was, “Do you mind acting as the mother of a teenager?” I said, “Do you think I would mind? I’m already a mum!” I’ve been playing the role of a mother [in real life] for eight years. So it’s not like a sudden change for me. If I had been playing girly roles all this while, and suddenly, I’m told to play a mother, maybe I’d feel hurt. But no, I’ve already toned down and become so down-to-earth. I go to the market bare-faced and in my slippers. So of course I’m alright coming back to play someone’s mum.
A Lonely Fish premieres Mar 1 on Toggle.sg. Reach for the Skies airs in April.