8days.sg is about to conduct a really weird interview with Lina Ng.
On this humid December afternoon, we’re waiting for our turn to speak to Lina old on the set of the Mediacorp English drama Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of a Wayang Star in a school assembly hall in Ipoh.
Here, a pivotal moment in the biopic of Hokkien opera icon Oon Ah Chiam is being staged. Lina is required for the scene, and we’re told by her handler she’s only has a few minutes to spare. Oh and that, she’s a bit under the weather, which explains the face mask she’s wearing. But that isn’t the weird part; the baby she's cradling is. You see, it's a fake plastic baby.
“This is my third grandchild,” says an aged-up Lina, 45 going to 65, pointing to the eerily inanimate infant. On the show, she stars as Ang Di, the disapproving mother-in-law of protagonist Ah Chiam (Koe Yeet); Joel Choo plays Lina’s on-screen son Ah Hock.
Lina’s main concern is nailing down Ang Di’s speech pattern. “I was more worried with my delivery than how I’m going to play her,” says Lina who made her English drama debut on Lion Mums as an elitist, perfection-seeking parent.
“Should I speak in fluent English or broken English?” the mother of three boys continues. “The director said just say my lines in a very monotonous way, no Singlish — no lah, leh, lor. My delivery sounds a bit comical but there’s also an element of nastiness.” But — spoiler alert! — Ang Di isn’t all around mean: “She turns out to be a nice mother-in-law — she's helping Ah Chiam to look after her children!”
Before Titoudao came long, Lina knew little of its source material — a play by Goh Boon Teck — or, for that matter, Chinese wayang. Her knowledge on the subject matter was limited to what co-star and real-life opera artiste Nick Shen told her. (He's Teochew; I'm Teochew.") And today, she gets to watch an opera being performed for the first time, “so I am very excited.”
For Lina, who picked up a Top 10 Most Popular Artiste at the Star Awards in April — 23 years after she won her first — 2019 has been a year of many firsts. She got to be a mother-in-law for the first time on Titoudou. She got to break bad for the first time, as an illegal organ trafficker, on the Jesseca Liu-starring thriller The Driver. She got to be a part of Mediacorp’s first M18 production Last Madame. Another first, playing a doctor, in Anthony Chen’s Golden Horse Award-feted Wet Season.
As Yeo Yann Yann’s gynaecologist, Lina found the role challenging. “Anthony was very meticulous," she recalls. "I went through a few rehearsals before I got the feel that he wanted. I didn’t understand his process; I didn’t feel that I did well. But after I watched the movie, I thought I did okay.”
“I’ve been very blessed with these roles,” Lina says. “Even though they are minor roles, they helped me explore the possibilities of what I can do as an actor.”
Is there any role she’s dying to play? “I haven’t played a police officer yet,” says Lina. “Or a shoplifter.”