Acting takes back seat to directing for Michelle Chong

L-R: Jae Liew, Michelle Chong, Alexander Lee Eusebio, Calvin Chen

Fans of actress-director Michelle Chong will just have to get used to the fact that she will be retreating more and more behind the camera.

In her new directorial outing, 3 Peas In A Pod, she makes only a brief cameo appearance as a blonde-haired, bubblegum-chewing Australian hotel wait staff - a huge reduction in her acting profile compared to her directorial debut, Already Famous (2011), in which she had played the starring role.

Chong, 36, tells Life! in a recent interview that she simply enjoys her time working behind the scenes too much to be a full-on actress again.

"Writing and directing a movie like this, and being a part of a creative process - I'm just really enjoying that so much more now. I don't want to be in front of the camera anymore.

"But I did the cameo in 3 Peas because I know my fans who know me from The Noose expect me to do something like that."

She is well known for her many impersonations of character stereotypes in local TV comedy sketch series The Noose. She left the show last year after five seasons.

Still, she reassures fans that she will not be leaving the screens forever. "If a good opportunity arises for me to be part of the collaborative process as well as to act, then yeah, I can still act in front of the screen. It depends on the project."

Her new movie, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, is about three university students who go on a road trip through Australia together.

It stars Singaporean newbie Jae Liew, 23, Taiwanese singer-actor Calvin Chen, 32, and Korean pop idol Alexander Lee Eusebio, 25 - an international cast that Chong can describe only as "perfect".

"All of them have that very youthful vibe and look that I wanted, but what surprised even me was how good their performances were as well. They may all look like idol types, but their acting skills were definitely very good and professional."

Being a serious romance drama and shot abroad, the film is different from her debut flick, which was a comedy that poked fun at Singapore's entertainment industry.

She says: "I always want to tell new stories, so I wanted to make sure that my second movie was a different genre from my first.

"And it's a risk I'm willing to take, doing something that is not the typical comedy or horror, which is so popular with Singaporeans. But hopefully, I have made something that will find a new audience."

The film has been rated NC16 by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for "some mature content", a decision that Chong admits is "disappointing".

"I understand where MDA is coming from, but I'm disappointed, and already, I've seen a lot of feedback from disappointed fans of Alexander and Calvin who are too young to catch the movie.

"MDA gave it NC16 for mature content, but the only thing really mature about this project is me," she quips.

There is a twist in the movie, which Chong chooses not to address in this interview. She will only say that "it was something that was planned all along" while writing the script.

She is a lot more open when discussing the film's financial aspects.

When she made her first movie, she had made headlines as she reportedly had to sell one of her condominiums in order to pump a six-figure sum of her own money into the $900,000 production.

This time, the singleton says with a laugh that she "did not have to sell anything" due to the new film's many sponsors, perhaps the result of her successful debut flick, which made $1.4 million at the box office and was Singapore's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2012.

"I am really lucky I got so many sponsors on board this time around. Still, out of the $1.7-million budget, I sunk in a six-figure sum of my own money. When you really want to do a project, you have to do everything you can to make it happen."

Some of the sponsors for 3 Peas are Tourism Australia, electronics retailer Best Denki and imaging products brand Canon.

Whether the movie does well at the box office, this will not be the last you will see of Chong, who professes to "love working" and will continue to make movies "and tell stories".

"Once you start, you just cannot stop."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

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