Switch secret of her success

Actress Elena Kong.

After toiling 16 years in the entertainment industry, Hong Kong actress Elena Kong has become a hot new star.

The 42-year-old is a known name only in recent years after working on productions by broadcaster TVB from 2009.

Before that, she starred in productions by Hong Kong's other - and far less popular - broadcaster ATV.

To her, the switch of broadcasters is like "graduation".

In a telephone interview with Life!, she says in a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese that her time now at TVB is equivalent to "going to real work".

"All those years that I spent at ATV feels a little like going to school, where I learnt about acting and got to try all these different roles.

"After I left, it's like I graduated, so working with TVB now is like going to work and I can apply all my previous knowledge."

Her graduation has come at a time when mother roles are going her way.

In the new movie A Secret Between Us, she plays a sickly mother whose relationship with her daughter is strained when the girl prostitutes herself for money to pay mummy's medical bills.

Says Kong with a laugh: "When director Patrick Kong first told me that he had me in mind for a new romance drama, I thought he wanted to cast me as the romantic lead.

"Who knew that he would cast me as the mother? I asked him, 'Am I really that old?'"

Still, she agreed to sign on "almost immediately".

"He told me that he wrote the role specifically with me in mind for it. When someone tells you that, you can't really say no. It's a great honour for an actress when that happens.

"I'm just happy that someone remembers me well enough to offer me something like this."

Being singled out and remembered is something she clearly appreciates, especially given how low-profile she had been for many years.

Since joining TVB, she has fast become known as a reliable and versatile performer, taking on prominent supporting roles in hit dramas such as Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles (2012) and River Of Wine (2011).

The roles earned her nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, respectively, at the TVB Anniversary Awards.

Her time at ATV has given her a different perspective of TVB's notoriously harsh working conditions, where actors film for hours on end with little time to rest.

Kong says frankly that all of it is "nothing" compared to her time at ATV.

"I think it was even tougher working at ATV because you put in so much effort there too, but no one watches your shows," she says with a hearty laugh.

"At least now at TVB, work is tough, but audiences get to see me and know who I am."

She left ATV in 2008 as the broadcaster was reportedly cutting staff pay.

At the time, she pondered between going over to TVB and relocating out of Hong Kong altogether to go to mainland China for work. "I was really thinking very hard about which option would be better, but in the end, I decided to stay in Hong Kong as it is my home after all. Many Hong Kong viewers didn't know who I was.

"I thought that it would be a good move to go to TVB and have my own fellow Hong Kong citizens see my work first before I go anywhere else. I could still go to China in the future," she reasons.

Adding that she is "very pleased" with her decision, she says: "I think I made the right choice. I'm really happy that more viewers are watching my stuff and not just in Hong Kong.

"TVB is popular with viewers in South-east Asia and among Chinese-speaking populations in Canada and the United States as well, so it was a good move for me."

In her personal affairs, the level-headed actress sounds just as no-nonsense and practical.

Kong, who has been dating her accountant boyfriend for the past seven years, sees "no need" to ever get married. "We live together and we see each other all the time, so there's not much difference between our lifestyle and that of a married couple. I don't see a need to get a piece of paper to prove our love for each other.

"Even if we have this piece of paper, he could still choose to leave one day if he wanted to, so it doesn't matter whether we have it.

"As long as we're together and happy, that's good enough for me."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

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