She’s spent the last two decades directing plays like Army Daze, and being the creative force behind two National Day Parades and the 28th SEA Games opening and closing ceremonies. Oh, and once upon a time, for organising K-pop concerts under the now-defunct Running into the Sun. No wonder award-winning theatre director Beatrice Chia-Richmond said that she “felt like a fish out of water” making her acting comeback after 15 years on Ch 5 cancer drama BRA. The 43-year-old actress regales us with tales of shenanigans she got up to with the BRA cast, wardrobe malfunctions, and dealing with working-mum guilt.
8 DAYS: You’re on the Ch 5 drama BRA, your first acting gig in 15 years. During this time, you’ve been busy directing theatre. How does it feel to be in front of the camera again? Did you fight the urge to shout “Cut!” all the time?
BEATRICE CHIA-RICHMOND: (Laughs) I’ve been behind the scenes for so long that in the two weeks leading up to the shoot, I started to panic ’cos it felt really scary to be on the other side of the lens again. I spoke to a few of my actor friends who calmed me down (laughs). They reminded me that I’m doing the show ’cos I love acting. So it was nerve-wracking ’cos I felt like a fish out of water. But once I got into it, there was no looking back. And no, I never felt the urge to yell “Cut!” (Laughs)
What made you decide to get in front of the camera again?
I got the offer after I just finished directing the 2016 National Day Parade. For about six years, I had been working quite continuously as a creative director on national projects — I directed two NDPs [in 2011 and 2016] and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 28th SEA Games [in 2015]. I felt that I needed to take a break from that. And I was afraid that I would forget how to act. So I wanted to go back to where I started, which is acting.
You play Alexis, an oncologist who is diagnosed with breast cancer and has only eight months to live. What about her resonates the most with you?
My character Alexis is in a race against time. Likewise, I always live my life like I’m running out of time. I’m always doing too much and burning the candle on both ends. I don’t relax easily and I don’t take time off very often ’cos there’s so much in life that I want to do. I’ve accumulated so many demerit points from speeding ’cos I’m always in a race against time. When I was working on the SEA Games, it was like a mental marathon where I had to hold my focus for two years. And we worked crazy hours. During rehearsals, we never had a day off. And it went on for three months. I I I was really going crazy. I’d go for short runs just to keep myself alive. And it helped me to focus. Alexis is also very career-driven and very much on top of her game. We’re similarly driven by our quest for excellence and perfection.
You and the cast went on a road trip to Penang while filming BRA. Care to share with us some interesting on-the-road moments?
We found ourselves in a lot of bizarre locations — a jungle, a kampong, a cemetery, toilets in petrol stations and a hospital. We were always out in the wilderness somewhere. And, one night, Jimmy [Taenaka] and Jason [Godfrey] said they wanted to eat bak kut teh. So I Googled for the best bak kut teh in KL and took them to this place. After that, we couldn’t make our way back ’cos it was out in the middle of nowhere. When we finally got a taxi an hour later, the taxi driver asked us why we were there. He said that was the most dangerous place in KL and we could have gotten ourselves killed. The boys never forgave me for that ’cos they said that I almost got them killed. They asked how I was going to explain to their loved ones if I had to bring their bodies back. (Laughs)
Since the show is called BRA, here’s a racy question: Have you ever encountered any funny or embarrassing underwear mishaps?
Back in 2004, I had a very public wardrobe malfunction at a theatre awards dinner [organised by a local daily]. I was wearing a jungle cock top designed by Frederick Lee. It was a beautiful outfit made out of feathers in front and held together by thread at the back. When they announced that our production Bent had won Play of the Year, the biggest award that night, I screamed and ran up on stage and my top fell off. And I wasn’t wearing a bra. (Laughs) [My hubby] Mark [Richmond], who was my boyfriend then, and the rest of the cast, ran up on stage to cover me up. I made my thank-you speech with them covering my breasts (laughs). It was hilarious! It made the front page of the papers the next day. So I’ve had a wardrobe malfunction in public, at an awards night, with cameras flashing. There’s no greater boo-boo than that.
Recently, following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many actresses have come forward to share their experiences of being sexually assaulted. Ever had any harrowing experiences of workplace harassment?
In the early 2000s, I was asked to audition for a role in a play that was very sexual by nature. The director of the play asked me into a room alone and wanted me to audition for it by performing incredibly risqué sex scenes with him. I auditioned to the best of my ability, without taking off my clothes, and then I left.
Did the director ask you to take off your clothes?
No. But he definitely wanted me to advance upon him. In the first place, I don’t think it’s right for a director to ask an actor to perform a risqué role with him. It’s not professional. If anything, he should have asked another actor into the room to do it.
Last year, your concert promotion company Running into the Sun (RITS) was sued by Resorts World Sentosa for owing them $200K for the Ah Boys To Men musical.
The company wasn’t doing well. We ran into financial issues and unfortunately, it found itself in a not-so-flattering light, which was a legal battle. But the case was resolved very quickly. That company RITS has been liquidated. And we’ve moved on to other projects.
Since you spend so much time working, do you suffer from working-mum guilt?
All the time. There’s no way of making myself feel better, except to really try and spend more time with my son and to make him a priority over everything else. My son is wonderful and he never makes me feel bad [about not spending enough time with him]. But he will tell me that he misses me and ask me when I’m coming home. And that alone is enough for me to say, “Okay, stop working already and go home.”
MAIN PHOTO: JOEL LOW
Catch the whole series of BRA on Toggle.sg.