The actress goes behind the camera to script, direct and produce short films, and spends time baking too
It has been a while since local audiences saw Singaporean actress Jeanette Aw on their television screens in Channel 8 dramas – her most recent one being After The Stars late last year.
That is because the 41-year-old has expanded her career beyond Singapore and acting to appear in Chinese productions and direct, produce and script short films.
In a telephone interview with The Straits Times, Aw says going from writing to directing was a natural progression for her.
“Being able to produce your own script and film is very fulfilling. Directing is a lot about communicating and taking care of the acting across the board, and to make sure everything feels right and in place,” she says.
She made her short-film directorial debut in 2018 with The Last Entry, which is about a woman who has Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a new focus for the actress as she matures in her career.
“I want to explore the ‘making’ aspect of things, especially directing and writing scripts. If I get better at short films, I might try feature-length,” she says.
Her latest film, Senses, was supposed to premiere in Japan at the Takasaki Film Festival – Aw is an ambassador for the city – but the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The film – about a blind woman, played by Aw, who is travelling in Takasaki – is available on YouTube and on PicturesqueFilms.com.
“When we explored how to do publicity and promotions for the city, I brought up the idea of a short film. Instead of the usual tourism videos, I thought we could create a story,” says Aw, who became an ambassador for the city in Gunma prefecture after filming Eric Khoo’s Ramen Teh (2018) there.
She has an affinity with Japan, having worked there multiple times.
She acted in This Is Tokyo, a short film promoting the city, which is showing at Tokyo’s Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia this month.
She also stayed in Tokyo briefly when she completed her three-month Superior Patisserie course at culinary school Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo late last year.
The accomplished baker has been keeping her fans busy with Instagram videos of her baking during the pandemic.
She says: “The recipes I share are quite basic and you can build on them, like the no-bake cheesecake, for example.”
“People who don’t bake professionally ultimately want to enjoy the experience of baking, so when it’s something simple, they can customise it for themselves and not feel like they’re only following a recipe.”
Aw was one of the Seven Princesses of Mediacorp – the broadcaster’s most bankable young female stars – in the early 2000s.
Her major claim to fame is the epic period family drama The Little Nyonya (2008), which remains one of Mediacorp’s most viewed dramas and was recently remade for the Chinese market.
Aw played the central roles of a mother-and-daughter pair.
The actress, who is of Peranakan descent, says that while she did not manage to watch the remake, she is grateful for it.
“I suddenly had an influx of messages with people reminiscing about my version. You usually don’t expect people to still be talking about a drama 12 years later.”
She was the hot favourite to win Best Actress at 2009’s Star Awards but castmate Joanne Peh bagged the trophy instead.
In a recent episode of local talk show Hear U You, hosted by Quan Yifeng, Aw cried while talking about it.
Explaining her emotional reaction on the show, she says: “It’s something in my past, but it was the way Yifeng expressed her feelings to me. You know, sometimes, when someone speaks to you, he or she just triggers something in you.”
Asked if negative comments about her acting over the course of her career are still hurtful to her, she says: “Those things were really long ago. I’ve gone to classes and improved myself since then.”
“If it’s something constructive, I’ll continue to work hard. But at the end of the day, what moves me is that audiences still remember me after 12 years.”
Audiences will next see Aw in a Chinese production about the fashion industry, which she shot early this year in Beijing alongside Ma Yili and other Chinese stars.
She says: “I’ve always enjoyed acting in Chinese productions – their techniques, the equipment used, how mature their industry is.”
“And you’re always playing off really great actors in China because with the tough competition there, the actors put in their all to hone their craft.”
She will also head to Malaysia to film horror-adventure series The Ferryman – Legends of Nanyang, reuniting with her love interest from The Little Nyonya, Qi Yuwu.
Like Qi, she is not someone who enjoys the horror genre.
She says with a laugh, “I don’t like to watch horror films. Why do I want to pay to scare myself? But I was really attracted to the story and there’s something deeper to this series beyond the ghosts and the horror.”