TV preview: New police drama Mata Mata

SINGAPORE - She has barely any acting experience, but rookie singer Cheryl Wee, 26, has landed the lead role of a feisty female police officer named Elizabeth Lee in MediaCorp's upcoming Channel 5 period drama Mata Mata (Malay for police).

"The first thing my mother said to me when she heard the news was, 'Are you sure they want you? You've never acted before,'" recalled Wee at a press conference recently.

Her mother is Jean Yip of hair and beauty specialist Jean Yip Group fame.

"I've gone for a few auditions for MediaCorp's Channel 5 and Channel 8 productions, but they were all unsuccessful, so I didn't have high hopes when my manager at Music & Movement asked me to try for this role," said Wee.

She was trying to get started on her music career in Taiwan in January, but decided to return to shoot the drama as she was convinced by the script.

"I also felt that there were many similarities between myself and the character, except that she is much stronger and braver."

Inspired by the life of the first female Assistant Superintendent in the police force in 1961, Mary Quintal nee Voon, Mata Mata focuses on the careers of three policewomen in post-war Singapore between 1949 and 1965. This 18-episode drama is the first season of a three-part series launched to commemorate MediaCorp's 50th anniversary in 2015.

MediaCorp declined to reveal exact figures, but said that a lot more resources and a higher budget were committed to this production compared to a regular contemporary drama.

Wee acts alongside fresh faces to Channel 5 such as Suria actress Nadiah M. Din, 23, and Malaysian artist Daniella Sya, 24, who producers said showed "immense potential" during auditions and stood out for their personalities and ability to connect, despite being relatively new to Channel 5.

Daniella had played a supporting role in the Channel 5 drama series Keong Saik Street (2012), while Nadiah has acted as domestic helpers in two Channel 5 crime television series, In Cold Blood (2011) and Code Of Law (2012).

Spurred by her mother's admonishments against "bringing down the whole show", Wee said she had to do "a lot more homework" in terms of familiarising herself with the script and practising her lines, especially when her female co-stars were already experienced actresses.

"People know me as Jean Yip's daughter, but it doesn't mean that I can get away with not working hard," she said.

Filming took place from mid-March till early this month, and all three female stars had to undergo martial arts training under their stunt director to prepare themselves.

"There's this move coined 'Butterfly' by our director - we managed to beat gangsters even when we were in dresses and high heels by simply using our flapping arms," Wee said.

The drama also features Suria star Erwin Shah Dawson as Nadiah's love interest. He said the drama was a "very heavy" one, and the cast had to deal with the tight filming schedule which saw Wee working on set almost every day.

Nadiah added: "You become so tired that you can sleep almost anywhere. I learnt to micro-sleep at the kampung house in Lorong Buangkok between my scenes."

The cast members also had to brave the haze, putting masks on only between scenes.

Girl power is the catchphrase in this historical drama fronted by three women.

Nadiah said: "I see women in a different light now. We can do whatever men do and maybe even do it better as we have the gift of instinct that men do not possess."

Wee added mischievously: "And this show definitely proves that girls are tough and we can kick the guys' butts."

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