Even after three decades in the business, Zoe Tay, 49, still radiates star power from every pore. When we arrive for our interview with the Ah Jie at Hotel Fort Canning, where she had just been announced as L'Oreal's Age Perfect anti-ageing skincare ambassador, she was wrapping up another interview with a group of reporters, seasoned entertainment journos, we must add, who had eagerly asked her for photos. When she sees us approaching, Zoe gets up from her seat and graciously us offers a handshake. We remark that she looks good. "Really? Thank you!" she says, breaking into her signature husky laugh. "You should use L'Oreal's products then!"
8 DAYS: Now that you’re the L’Oreal ambassador, do you feel any pressure to keep looking youthful?
ZOE TAY: As artistes, we can’t just let ourselves go and not take care of our looks. We have to accept that our job demands certain requirements [like maintaining our appearance]. If you have to portray a pretty girl, then you need to look the part. If I’m endorsing anti-ageing skincare, I have to make sure I don’t look like I’m ageing so fast. It would mean the products are not working. Being the ambassador of anti-ageing skincare is motivational instead of pressurising, ’cos it means I must keep looking my best. I’m so vain anyway! (Laughs)”
Your male peers like Li Nanxing get less flak for their appearance as they age. Do you feel that this is unfair?
There’s no such thing as fairness when it comes to this issue. (Laughs) It’s a cruel fact of life that women are expected to maintain their looks, while men are allowed to age naturally. But that’s changing with the times. People these days don’t really think like that anymore. A woman’s looks may change, but she becomes more charming as she goes through life. Of course, you can’t expect her to look as beautiful as she was when she was young. But for actresses, the most important thing is that they are able to portray their roles well regardless of their age or looks, and that the audience are receptive to their performance. You get different roles at different ages. The local audience are pretty forgiving. I think they prefer actresses who look more [natural]. But sometimes they do criticise how I look, like ‘Oh, why are there so many wrinkles and bags on her face?’”
Does that hurt?
It did a little, especially during the early days. But you can’t expect people to praise you all the time. Not being perfect is very normal. I’ll just take it as a reminder that I have to take extra care to stop the lines from worsening. If you want to remain in showbiz, you have to take things in your stride and conquer all your self-doubt. I can’t say I’m exactly the same as the younger artistes, but after almost 29 years in the business, I’ve accumulated enough experience to be myself. If I had spent my career trying to do everything people want me to do, then I’d have lost sight of where I’m supposed to go. What matters is that I’m confident.
When you get together with your pals like Hong Huifang, Yvonne Lim and Chen Xiuhuan, do you all talk about the pressures of ageing?
Women love to talk about such issues! My friends are blessed with naturally good skin. Everyone had good skin when they’re young. I only started having skin problems in my twenties when I entered showbiz, and had to start using beauty products. It was a painful process of finding the right products. I once mistook a facial mask for moisturiser. (Laughs) It’s good to start taking care of your skin early. Since my sons were babies, I’ve always made sure they have sunblock on.”
PHOTO CREDIT: MARK LEE