The latest addition to the list of former Ch 8 actresses returning to local TV is Florence Tan, aka the 1997 Star Search champ who was once Ch 8's go-to girl for period dramas. The Malaysian-born former Ch 8 actress had impressed in her debut drama, Immortal Love, where she more than held her own against Chew Chor Meng in one of local TV’s most iconic coupling. Hey, she didn’t win Star Search in 1997 for nothing, okay? Proving that she’s no one hit wonder, she continued mesmerizing local audiences with her virginal maiden presence in dramas like 1998’s Return of the Condor Heroes, 1999’s Wok of Life and 2000’s Legendary Swordsman.
Subsequently, in 2006, she bid adieu to showbiz after tying the knot with her Taiwanese businessman beau. Her last Ch 8 drama was 2005's Zero to Hero, barring a cameo appearance in 2012 Ch 8 drama Joys of Life.
For those who think that she has since retired into living the life of a tai-tai à la other former Ch 8 actresses (we’re looking at you, Phyllis Quek), that couldn’t be further from reality. Since signing on with Mainland production company Lafeng Entertainment in 2012, the actress has been busy raking in the big bucks with never-ending acting projects in China.
Now, the Hongkong-based 40-year-old makes her Ch 8 comeback in upcoming drama Mind Matters, where she will unleash her inner crazy playing a sales assistant with bipolar disorder. The still doe-eyed beauty and mum to nine-year-old twin daughters divulged that she had to turn down two drama offers in China in order to take up this role. How’s that for sincerity?
8 DAYS: Welcome back, Florence! It’s been 12 years since your last Ch 8 drama. How does it feel being back?
FLORENCE TAN: It’s a brand new feeling ’cos we’re filming in the new campus. I’m very looking forward to it. My return has great meaning and significance ’cos this is my 20th year in the industry.
Why did you decide to take up this show?
It wasn’t that I decided to take it up, but that the director decided to use me. Thank you, director, for still remembering me! (Laughs) I’m very thankful for social media these days [which has allowed me to remain in the limelight]. Hopefully, [the producers here] can remember me and often tell me to come back! (Laughs)
For the past few years, you’ve been pursuing an acting career in China. What are things like over there?
The production cost of filming a show in China is very, very high. For a typical show, each actor takes home maybe 30 or 40 million yuan (S$6 or S$8 mil), and the production cost of one show could be 4 hundred million yuan (S$80 mil), so the total cost is already a few billion yuan. Their production crew is a lot bigger than in Singapore. Filming in China, there’ll be at least a hundred staff members on set ’cos there are a lot of props to handle and so on. For period dramas, I get the chance to wear robes that cost tens of thousands of yuan each. It’s very professional and I get to see a lot of different things. They pump hundreds of thousands of yuan into building a scene, film for a week, then demolish it and pump hundreds of thousands of yuan into building another scene (laughs).
So why film a Ch 8 show again if the money is so good in China?
Actually, as an artiste, money to me isn’t the greatest motivating factor. We’re artistic beings and not so money-minded. The working environment and relationships, and the type of roles, are very important in deciding if I should take up the role or not. In China, it’s the same.
In China, the competition is a lot more intense. Have you experienced any rivalry among your female co-stars?
Of course. When there’s one big group of girls… there’ll definitely be a lot of competition. There was one actress who isn’t famous and I think maybe she really wants to take my place, so she was rude to my assistant and scolded her. I think she lacks a lot of self-confidence and wants to protect her own position. Sometimes, after work, she’ll insist that the driver fetch her first. Or she’ll want first dibs on everything. In this industry, there are all kinds of people, so I don’t care lah. No use bothering about these “little kids”.
What perks do you enjoy being an actress in China?
I get a huge paycheck. (Laughs) I’ve my own private car, assistant and chauffeur. Also, on set, each artist gets our own make-up artist, wardrobe assistant and hair-stylist. Our work day is restricted to 12 hours. Nowadays, the production rarely does night scenes. It’s the same here in Singapore, unlike my earlier days in showbiz, where we’d film day and night — it was more tiring. Now, with age, I feel the early call time very suitable for me ’cos every day at 7am, I’ll automatically jump out of bed. When I was younger, I’d want to sleep in till 10am. With age, getting up early is no longer such a pain! (Laughs)
You’re now also a mum to two daughters. How has motherhood been?
Motherhood has been very interesting. I went to study a Montessori course on the developmental needs of kids from three to six years old to understand them. Being a mother is a blessing.
What’s different now since you became a mother?
A very big change is that in the past, I’d have hand cream, lipstick, powder, perfume, moisturiser and a mirror inside my bag. Oh and maybe even a pair of high heels to party later at night — a lot of things that had to do with myself. After having kids, I no longer carry those things — not even hand cream ’cos I had to feed my kids when they were younger lah. Now it’s a bit better, I’m slowly resuming my former life, and will start bringing along hand cream and lip gloss.
Do your daughters know that their mother is a star?
They know. During their summer holidays, I’d bring them to the set in Hengdian to suffer. In Hengdian, the summer is 40 degrees. It’s very, very hot. They’d be very impatient ’cos the weather’s very hot and there are lot of mosquitos. I’d try to stall time by buying ice-cream for them to eat (laughs). My purpose is to let them know how comfortable their life in Hongkong is, and how difficult it is to earn money outside.
You turn 40 this year, but still look so youthful. Pray tell us your beauty secret.
I’ll share [Dai Xiangyu’s wife] Chen Zihan’s [secret]. She’s a very cute girl. She’s that kind of person who when she does something wrong, will tug on your clothes and pout her lips and say, “Sorry...” She’s just very cute and maintains a very positive outlook, [which is the key to her youthful looks]. Of course, beauty salons are very important. Once in a while, I’ll go for facials and massage. Also, must use good beauty products lah! (Laughs)
Are you opposed to plastic surgery?
Absolutely not. I’ll encourage anyone to faster go and do it! (Laughs)
So have you had any work done?
You see, I still paste double eyelid tape! I really feel like getting work done on my eyes (laughs). I do go for beauty treatments like massage and peeling. But I won’t splurge on cosmetic surgery. I’m very thankful to my mum for giving me a face that helps me save a lot of money (laughs).
You just wrapped up filming for upcoming Ch 8 drama Mind Matters. What was one thing you missed about filming in China?
Rather than miss, I’d say it’s something that I’d have to adjust to. I don’t have a bunch of people waiting on me! I’ve already been spoilt the past 12 years! Over here, I’d have to maybe move my own stool, carry my own clothing, and if I sweat, I’ve to wipe off my own sweat.
So when you’re in China, there’s someone to wipe your sweat?
Every single take, there’d always be someone to wipe your sweat and help you adjust your hair. There’d also be someone on standby with scissors to cut off any stray strands of thread from our headgear. That’s where the four hundred million yuan goes to! (Laughs)
Do you still keep in touch with your fellow Mediacorp colleagues?
Yeah, a few of them — May Phua, Pan Lingling, Hong Huifang, Zheng Geping and Chew Chor Meng. I come back every two, three months. Every time I’m back, we’ll catch up. Also there’s Whatsapp, so it’s very convenient to keep in touch with them. Sometimes, I’ll make a call to whoever and we’ll end up chatting for an hour (laughs).
Mind Matters debuts Jan 1, 2018, on Ch 8, 9pm.
MAIN PHOTO: EALBERT HO