8 DAYS: What do you think is the most ‘nu shen’ quality about you?
PAIGE CHUA: If you’re talking about the Wonder Woman kind of ‘nu shen’, then I’m very independent and I know how to take care of myself. I’m strong-willed, but not imposing — or at least I hope I’m not imposing.
Does your boyfriend call you that too?
No. He calls me by my name (chuckles).
What other nicknames do you have among your friends and family?
When I was young, I was very skinny and tanned from playing netball, plus I have a very serious face, so people called me ‘hei guanyin’ (a tanned Goddess of Mercy). I was a prefect in secondary school so I used to go around catching naughty boys who didn’t tuck in their shirts or came in late, and take down their names and give to the teacher. I only knew about this nickname many years after we left secondary school.
What about your parents?
My parents used to think that I was very lazy. I would rather stay at home than go out and do stuff. Plus, I didn’t like to clean my room. My room was very untidy. I’d just chuck and shove my clothes into the wardrobe. I’d just wear the same clothes over and over because I’d just take whatever’s at the top of the pile. It’s easier, right? My mum would always tell me to fold my clothes properly. I’m not good at household chores either. I do them but not 100 per cent — I just make sure it’s clean enough. Even now, when I’m working on a project, all my scripts will be on the floor, and not in neat stacks either. But I have my own place now so my mum doesn’t ask me to clean up (giggles). I just enjoy that organised chaos. It helps me think.
How much of ‘organised chaos’ will we find at your place?
I have someone who comes to clean every week. Other than that, if I’m not too tired, I use those wet cleaning wipes to clean ’cos it’s easier than dragging out the vacuum cleaner. I wash my clothes too, of course, but I choose to buy clothes that don’t require a lot of ironing, so that I can wear immediately after washing. My wardrobe is very low maintenance. The only clothes that require ironing are usually the pretty clothes for events or weddings.
We notice that you’re also always in caps. Is it a fashion choice or just a way to make yourself more obscure in public?
Both actually. I’ve been wearing caps for a long time and I’m used to it. And since I joined showbiz, I also found that it’s a good way to avoid eye contact. Sometimes, I just want my private space. Sometimes, I get criticised if I look at someone but I don’t smile. So it’s better not to look at anyone at all in the first place. It’s also good ’cos sometimes I need the down time as well. And my hair is pretty damaged with all the styling products used on my hair all the time, so it’s in a mess when I don’t have any hairstylist working on my hair. So I try to keep it out of sight as well (laughs).
Are you still not used to the public attention after 10 years?
I’ve gotten used to it but it doesn’t mean I like it. When I’m not working, I try very hard to protect my privacy.
Yet you’re one of the few artistes who still takes public transport.
I take the bus for short distances and when I’m not in a hurry. If I’m going for archery, it’s only four or five stops from my place so I’ll take the bus. My dad will ferry me around to and from work. But eventually, he won’t be able to drive me anymore, so I’m slowly starting to take over the wheel. Honestly, I dread the day when I have to take over [the driving]. I don’t like to drive very much ’cos it stresses me out. As a passenger, you can just sleep or daydream, but when you’re driving, you have to be very focused.
This June will be your 10th year in showbiz.
Time flies, right? I’ve felt a rejuvenation in the past three to four years, like my work has been recognised in a very different light. I think [producers and audiences] think I’ve improved and now see that I can take on different roles. That gives me fuel to push on to try to achieve new heights as well. It all started with Against the Tide [in 2014], which was a very different story with a darker theme, so I played a darker character compared to my previous roles. When I did okay, producers started to see that I was starting to open up and was ready for other roles. I’m an introvert, so it takes me some time to warm up to people. After all these years, I’ve started to know the people in the industry better, and I think that helps. Subsequently, the roles that I received pushed me out of my comfort zone, with the help of many patient and kind directors.
What got the introverted Paige to become a model straight out of uni?
We all have mixed personalities. I’m introverted in that I’m not an active person when it comes to reaching out to someone in an environment I don’t know. I’m not the person to say hi first, but if you say hi to me, I definitely will say hi. Back then at 22 or 23 years old, I felt that I needed to do something exciting in my life — there’s a rebel in me as well. I thought, I’ll just try, and if people think I can model, I’ll continue. From there, I started doing TVCs and short films, and then I was spotted by one of the talent casting directors in Mediacorp who asked me in for an audition. I only got a role on my third try. But in between, I was also doing other jobs — I’ve been a salesgirl, factory operator, petrol station cashier, just to name a few — to make ends meet.
What advice would you give to a 25-year-old Paige who’s new to the industry?
I wouldn’t change anything at all. If you need six years to slowly open up, like I did, then take six years. There’s no point trying to hasten things before you’re ready. For me, it’s always been about following my destiny and taking my time to be comfortable in every step I take, as long as I’m not hurt or hurting others. People have given me advice — albeit with kind intentions — like I should seek more media attention, to do something so that people will [take notice of me]. Or if we’re in a big group on stage, stand at a more prominent spot so that I’m on camera. It’s just a bit strange for me. I understand where they’re coming from, but it’s just not me to do that. If people want to see me, they will come and find me (smiles).
How much have you changed over the years?
As you grow older, different things happen in your life — joy, death, reconciliation, separation or befriending new people. You grow ’cos of all these things. I feel much more now, compared to maybe five years ago. When you’re young, you know what sadness is, but you won’t know what true sorrow is until you lose something you hold very dear, or someone you love very much. As an actress, it’s very important to feel. I’m fortunate that my life was quite sheltered, so there were things that I knew, but never personally experienced. But these few years have been quite a rollercoaster ride.
Many things. A dear friend left the country, and we didn’t part on very good terms ’cos of some divergence in opinions. We chose different paths in life, so we just got to let it go. (Voice quavers) That was my soulmate in many senses, and we’d known each other for a very long time. It’s just not going to be the same in future. That was quite a hit for me. Then there are some members in my family who are having health problems — and it’s an ongoing issue — so that shook me quite a bit too.
How are you dealing with it?
I just got to grit my teeth and move along, ’cos the show will go on, and I still have to work. There are a lot of emotional struggles inside, but I can’t show it when I’m at work, especially in the last few years when I’ve been getting dramas one after another. So I’ve suppressed quite a lot of things for the sake of work. It’s a bit contradictory — I have so many emotions that I suppress, but even more emotions will result from that suppression. (Voice gets shakier) It’s just a lot of tension, and where there’s tension, stress will build. It’s like a volcano. Acting requires you to release that pressure, and once you unleash it…(Pauses) I guess it’s worked for me in some ways.
You said there were some joyous events that happened as well.
(Perks up) Oh yes, there are joyful things that happened as well. Thanks for that. My niece was born one day before my birthday in 2016. She’s a bundle of joy and has added colour to our lives. It’s amazing to experience a new life coming into this earth, to look at her just being a newborn, and seeing how she grows and learns things, how she reacts to you and the world. It’s just a purity in her eyes. (Tears well up in her eyes) Okay, I get very emotional when I talk about her.
Is this your first time becoming an auntie?
Yes, it’s my sister's first child. (Starts crying)
Why do you get so emotional talking about her?
(Composes herself in between sobs) It’s just a miracle, seeing a new life, a blank slate, a blank piece of paper. It’s a contrast to the adult life that we all lead, which is so complicated. It’s heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time. We’ve all been there before — like a baby who’s so pure and clean — but we progress to become someone who’s, not stained, but we all have colours. It’s not a bad thing. I guess I get a bit too romantic and idealistic and I want everything to be as it was, but it’s not possible.
Are your maternal instincts kicking in?
I don’t think I’m going to be a mother in this lifetime, to be honest. But I’m happy I have a niece to play mother to.
Is it because you don’t want kids, or are there other factors involved?
Too many factors determine my fate. I’m just not ready, plus, [I don’t have many years left to have a baby]. I’m okay with it. I wouldn’t adopt, but I’ve been seriously thinking about becoming a foster parent. I’d like to offer a temporary home to someone who’s in need, like delinquent kids who need a home before they move on. I’ve been reading about it and the idea has resonated with me. So maybe it’s something I’d do when I retire. I’m working now so I can’t foster a kid now. I love working with children, but being a mum requires 24/7 attention on the kid. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do that. I like kids, but when the time comes, I need some time for myself. I’ve seen how tired my sister is because she uses so much energy on the newborn, breastfeeding and cradling the child to sleep and things like that. She’s amazing. You really need to want a child to do that. If you’re half-hearted about it, then… think harder (laughs).
Let’s talk about social media. Last year, you finally took over your Instagram account (@paigechua_tpc), previously managed by your fan club. Why were you initially so resistant to getting your own Instagram account?
I really wanted to be away from the limelight — I wanted me all to myself. I want people to like [me because of] my work. I’m truly appreciative of fans for liking my work, but I was a bit reluctant to share too much of me. Maybe because there’s a vulnerable part of me, and on social media, there are keyboard warriors who write crap about you. I used to try to not look at it back then, ’cos it hurt me. Now I’m stronger and able to tahan. I gradually started opening up more, and that’s what spurred me to take over my Instagram account from my fan club.
But you don’t follow anyone. Why?
I’m not sure about this following thing. If I follow someone and they post something, they will notify me, is it?
When you open Instagram, you immediately see what people you follow have posted.
It’s quite a hassle to be notified of somebody else’s actions and issues. It’s okay, I have enough issues to handle myself!
How often do you check out the hashtag of your name, #paigechua?
What’s a hashtag?
Looks like you’ve got quite a lot to catch up with Instagram!
I’ve had to learn so many things from my friends, my PA and people around me. It’s social media etiquette to tag somebody if they’re in your picture, right? Some people also tell me that the filters I use are very ugly and not trendy. But I just go according to what I feel. If it’s not millennial enough, then so be it lah (guffaws).
What does a millennial-esque IG post look like?
I dunno! My former PA is of that age group, and she told me that if I’ve posted a picture before, I can’t post the same picture again. But my rationale is that I posted the pic nine months ago when I first started Instagram. Now that I have a bigger following, I should post it again so that more people can see it what. It’s silly things like that!
Quite a number of local websites have created gifs from your scenes in dramas, especially Mightiest Mother-in-Law. Are you aware of that?
Yes, and I’ve used the gifs in my text messages also (laughs). [Ed: Paige shows us her phone and she’s used a pensive gif from My Friends From Afar, and one of her berating someone in Mightiest Mother-In-Law.] It’s quite funny and useful. At first I was concerned if it was supposed to be sarcastic or not. Then I read the article and I asked my friends about it. They told me it’s a positive article, and that they weren’t making fun of me. I guess I feel...(pauses) flattered.
You still seem a bit unsure.
I’m not used to such things, you see. I feel very pressured when I’m in the limelight. But I’m just glad people found something to talk about.
Would you feel the same kind of pressure if you won an award?
If you ask me whether a Top 10 or an acting award gives me more gratification, I’d say the acting award. If I get an award, it’s good for sure. But I’d feel pressured ’cos it feels like I have to meet certain expectations, like I’d be letting someone down if I don’t do well in my next project.
Do you think you’d ever be able to feel comfortable in the limelight?
Oh. (Long pause) I don’t know how to answer you. I try very hard not to get sucked in into the [whole celebrity thing]. I desperately want to be able to keep my life as normal as possible, whether I’m in the industry or not. I want to be able to live fully. I don’t want to be in a place where I think I’m different from other people just because I’m in showbiz. I guess, in a way, I’ve already been affected by the industry, like how I wear a cap to create some privacy for myself — I can’t really live normally already. What if one day I’m no longer in the industry? How am I supposed to live my life? The thought actually scares me. If one day I’m not in this industry anymore, I don’t want my choices to be affected by thoughts like, “Oh, I was once a star, so I can’t do [certain things].” I want to be able to take public transport anytime I want — you know, that kind of thing. I’m still keeping my life as it was before I entered the industry, as much as possible.