Principal, librarian, songbird

The benevolent headmistress of a convent school, a brassy woman looking for love and a shy singer with a tremendous voice - these are the characters played by the three Best Actress nominees at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards.

Los Angeles-based actress Lydia Look, who scored her first nod in the category in 2001, is up for her role as principal Agatha Mao in Checkpoint Theatre's drama The Way We Go.

Her two competitors, Frances Lee and Mina Kaye, are both debuting in this category.

Lee is up for playing Helen, an overweight librarian in Pangdemonium's take on acclaimed playwright Neil LaBute's tragicomedy Fat Pig.

Kaye's nod is also for a Pangdemonium production, as Little Voice, the young songbird who comes out of her shell, in The Rise & Fall of Little Voice, a 1992 play written by British dramatist Jim Cartwright.

The award, among others, will be given out next Wednesday at the 15th M1-The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards ceremony, an invite-only event held at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

Go to for the complete list of this year's nominees and full coverage of the awards.

Lydia Look

Nominated for: The Way We Go (Checkpoint Theatre)

Previous nominations: Best Actress for One Bed, Three Pillows: Pillow Talk (Action Theatre, 2001)

Previous wins: None

The pint-sized but animated actress Lydia Look cruises into a photo shoot with Life!, declaring: "I know people always say 'Oh, it's great to be nominated' and all that, but I think that's bullcrap. If I get in, I want to win."

Look's larger-than-life personality is practically the direct opposite of Agatha Mao, a timid, kind-hearted former convent school principal, but the 42-year-old still gamely took on the role.

"I am way younger than Agatha in real life. So I knew that I had to reach for her depth of experience in living, above all else. Both my director Claire and (fellow actress) Neo Swee Lin guided me," says the actress, who is based in Hollywood, Los Angeles with her husband, stuntman and actor Jen Sung Outerbridge.

"The biggest self-imposed pressure for me was getting her convent school cadence, carriage and wit just right. I'm a proud Katong Convent girl and wanted to pay tribute to my teachers," she adds.

In the United States, Look has appeared on television dramas such as Bones and NCIS: Los Angeles.

This year, she will shuttle between LA and Singapore to visit her mother and to do projects here.

She is working on 7 Letters, a collection of seven short films to celebrate the nation's 50th jubilee (her segment is directed by local film-maker Tan Pin Pin) and will act in Wild Rice's historical play about Singapore and Malaysia, Another Country, in June.

On the difference between screen and stage, Look says: "TV is solitary. You show up and do your thing. But in theatre, you get to create with your fellow cast mates and they shape your portrayal. That's a real high for me... But I won't lie, I definitely get more excited from the wages I earn from TV and film."

This article was first published on April 15, 2015.
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