1. Cover Story Pages 38-48
By Jonathan Fam
Float like a butterfly sting like a bee
Here’s why we love Rui En: The enigmatic star says she’s “happier” now, but her badass, don’t-mess-with-me ‘tude? Well, it’s still here. We sit down with Ch 8’s regining princess (future queen?) for a knockout, can-she-get-any-cooler interview.
Rui En is wearing a wry smile on her face. It usually means she’s unimpressed with something. Her skinny legs, clad in a pair of black jeans, are curled under her. Then she sighs. “The ones about why I don’t do kissing scenes….The ones about why I’m, yeah, so aloof. They’re such a drag,” she laments. Rui En’s talking about questions she dreads most during interviews. Questions that she is, put simply, bored of, and which we assure her won’t be asked today. “Oh, but you already have. Or rather, your magazine has,” she says. Her smile is more off centre than ever, and then she laughs: BWAHAHAHAHA.
For someone who’s been dubbed ‘Ice Princess’ and ‘Queen of Cool’, Rui En, 32, has a surprisingly bawdy laugh. It’s throaty, robust, and loud. So loud you can probably hear it over a jet engine. Loud enough that it throws you off the first time she lets it rip. Would we have guessed that the inscrutable star has this other side had we not spoken to her? Probably not. It’s such discoveries that make any little contact with the elusive, publicity-shunning star so precious. Like wildlife photographers hoping to capture the spotted deer on film, you hope she’ll show – without you having to poke and prod like a kaypoh aunt during Chinese New Year – a little crack in the armour, an anecdote that offers a peek into her real self.
Contrary to popular belief – and what her painfully awkward Kristen Stewart-esque Star Awards speeches may suggest – Rui En’s neither a tough not boring interview subject. Sure, she’ll throw you the side eye when she considers a question lame, but she comes off as direct, not disdainful.
Yes, Rui En can’t be arsed to charm or wow you with juicy soundbites (but boy, does she have those in spades). She also doesn’t bother to be breezy or coy. That’s not to say she’s reticent. In fact, she’s surprisingly chatty. And candid. The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and Raffles Junior College alum answers questions – both tough and throwaway – thoughtfully, never beating around the bush. No, she still won’t talk about her love life, but yes, she’ll be honest, or as honest as she’ll allow herself to be, about anything. She’s really not as socially awkward as popularly perceived. While Rui En prefers to read her script (she’s currently filming Ch 8 legal drama Sudden) instead of chit-chatting with her glam squad like most other stars do while having their hair and make-up done, she doesn’t retreat into her shell when faced with an unfamiliar social situation either. During the shoot, we see her twirl her fingers and dance – groove, actually to – Gossip’s ‘Heavy Cross’ blasting from the speakers. She even makes small talk with our art director whom she is meeting for the first time. Yes, Rui En is capable of small talk.
The truth is, Rui En’s not as austere as we think she is. Just check out her handphone case, a cutesy rubber cartoon duck complete with two rubber ‘feather’ sticking out of its top. It looks like it belongs to a bubble tea-addicted 14-year-old. A disclaimer: the method for her role as a simple-minded assistant director in the upcoming Ch 8 showbiz exposé, The Dream Makers. But um, filming for the mid-year blockbuster wrapped three weeks ago.
“I don’t know why I still have it,” she chuckles when we tease her about her choice of cellular fashion (Cineleisure-chic?) It’s the first time Rui En seems genuinely stumped. Then out of nowhere she turns to us, and says, “It looks like something you would use. BWAHAHAHAHA.”
8 DAYS: We know you’ve turned down many endorsements over the years. SO why did you agree to be the face of L’Oreal?
Rui En: This is another question I’ve been getting a lot. I’m someone who doesn’t want to feel like I’m telling a lie. If I can’t have faith in a product or if it doesn’t fel with my image – like endorsing a slimming centre – I won’t endorse it. I’m a skincare junkie and I’ve tried the product before. I thought the whole thing was seredipitous (smiles).
8 DAYS: You’re not someone usually associate with vanity.
Rui En: As a kid, I’ve always been the ugly duckling tomboy. Dark, skinny, with braces and a bowl cut. So, to get to a point where I get to say “Because you’re worth it”…Seriously? It’s a big deal to me.
8 DAYS: While many artistes delightedly welcome endorsement deals, you’ve been doing quite the opposite and rejecting them. What do you have against money?
Rui En: (Ponders) You know, I wasn’t close to (Huang) Wenyong, but his passing really drove home the point that I really have to get my life right. I only have one life to live. It’s short, and my career, even shorter. So I have to do things by my rule or I’m going to regret it. I don’t want to use the word ‘sell-out’ but yeah…Being picky with my endorsements, turning down money, it ties in with my beliefs. It’s the same with having views on certain things, not wanting to do certain scenes.
8 DAYS: You said earlier that sometimes the roles you take on “bleed into your reality” even after the cameras stop rolling.
Rui En: (Laughs) Yeah. I would never have gotten this phone case for myself. I tend to hold on to things from all my roles. Unriddle, ‘cos it was so dark, really affected my mood. But Dream Makers makes me happy. There was a scene where I tried to moonwalk, and it was an epic fail. We would collapse in fits of laughter. My blooper reel for this show would be exciting.
8 DAYS: But how bad can endorsing, say, a fridge, be?
Rui En: It has to be appropriate lah. I might not be of the right target consumer segment to reliably sell a fridge.
8 DAYS: What’s ‘appropriate’? Ice cubes?
Rui En: (Laughs) The wouldn’t fridges be absolutely perfect? I don’t know…Eyeliner? I love eyeliner. I’ve never thought of this. I only know when I get the offers. Thing is, L’Oreal isn’t trying to make me into a person I’m not. A lot of these endorsements are about appealing to the mass, being approachable. L’Oreal’s not asking me to do that. They’re not forcing me to smile. They want me to be myself.
8 DAYS: And obviously, the pay must be good.
Rui En: No comments (laughs)…but…they’re sincere (smiles).
8 DAYS: Ker-ching. Is it true that you source and pay for the clothes your characters wear in your dramas?
Rui En: (Looks taken aback) How do you know this? It’s not [completely true]. To me, a role is the sum of all the little details. The wardrobe unit provides the clothes, but I have to have all the accessories to feel the part. Like the cutesy phone cover. I notice that the assistant directors in MediaCorp all like things with cartoons on them. The character I play in Dream Makers needs soft toys hanging from her keychain and bag. It’s part and parcel of the whole persona. I started doing this during Happy Family (2010). I went to Chinatown ‘cos that’s where the character lived and I bought all these tees with Michael Jackson and Obama on them.
8 DAYS: You said earlier that sometimes the roles you take on “bleed into your reality” even after the cameras stop rolling.
Rui En: (Laughs) Yeah. I would never have gotten this phone case for myself. I tend to hold on to things from all my roles. Unriddle, ‘cos it was so dark, really affected my mood. But Dream Makers makes me happy. There was a scene where I tried to moonwalk, and it was an epic fail. It was so hilarious. We would collapse in fits of laughter. My blooper reel for this show would be exciting.
8 DAYS: Do you think you take acting too seriously?
Rui En: Some people might think that way. They’ll tell me (mimics someone whispering) “Aiyah, it’s just acting.” But I don’t care. I’m the sort who needs to know I gave my all. If I know in my heart that I held back, I wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror.
8 DAYS: There was a scene in Unriddle 2 where you got so worked up you started blabbering lines in English that weren’t in the script.
Rui En: Yeah…swear words.
8 DAYS: Which ones did you use?
Rui En: Only the one (guffaws).
8 DAYS: And you needed time alone after that scene to collect yourself.
Rui En: I’ve never had an intense experience like that before. It’s exhausting even talking about it now.
8 DAYS: Well, it worked out fine ‘cos you picked up your second Best Actress award for it. What went through your mind when your name was announced? Did you think “S***! Now I have to make a speech!”
Rui En: Let me tell you, the “s***!” comes when you’re sitting in the audience thinking, “Don’t call my name, don’t call my name.” I’m not good at things like giving a speech. It’s taken a long time for me to become a little more comfortable. The red carpet isn’t my thing either. But when they do call your name, your mind goes blank and you go into auto pilot mood. It’s bizarre.
8 DAYS: Does winning Best Actress change you in any way?
Rui En: Not really, but there’s pressure. You gotta be on the ball all the time. My game has to be on all the time.
8 DAYS: You started filming Sudden just two days after Dream Makers wrapped. This non-stop back-to-back filming schedule has been going on for a few years now. When was the last time you went on a holiday?
Rui En: (Thinks for what seems like an eternity.)
8 DAYS: It’s been that long, huh?
Rui En: Yeah…I’m not the sort who needs to fly off every chance I get. I’m happy staying home. Oh! I went to the Maldives for a few days after Code of Honour. After I won my first Best Actress award.
8 DAYS: When’s your next break?
Rui En: I’m taking a much needed month off before filming for C.L.I.F. 3 starts later this year. I do want to use the time to get down to writing a script.
8 DAYS: What is it going to be about?
Rui En: No clue at all, but it will be for TV ‘cos that’s what I know.
8 DAYS: Why do you work so hard? Didn’t Huang Wenyong’s sudden passing make you think that maybe there’s more to life than work?
Rui En: To me, work is the reward. A lot of people aspire to be tai-tai. Not me, I’d be lost without work. There’s no sense and purpose. I guess my sense of identity is derived from work.
8 DAYS: Have you ever neglected your health ‘cos of work?
Rui En: (Shakes her head) Oh no…I’m very auntie. I’m very good at taking care of myself. I always have with me a variety of Chinese medicines. Though I’m very ang moh pai, I’ve realised that Chinese doctors work wonders.
8 DAYS: Really?
Rui En: Yeah, I came down with a very bad flu during Joys of Life and the Western meds I was taking only made me drowsy. My friend took me to a sinseh and that was it. I didn’t use to believe in TCM until it worked. That’s when I realised there are bigger things out there. When I got injured during Unriddle, I went for acupuncture, which was terrifying. In Muar, where I was doing Code of Honour, I went for bloodletting [a TCM practice to remove stagnant blood] when I got injured too. I didn’t dare to look (laughs).
8 DAYS: You don’t seem like someone who’s into bloodletting and acunpuncture.
Rui En: You’ll be when you’re desperate to settle a problem fast ‘cos the crew’s waiting for you. My friend calls me Donnie Lu [Lu being Rui En’s surname]. You know, like Donnie Yen, with all the martial arts and bloodletting. I’m so cheena tong tong now (laughs).
8 DAYS: We have to ask about you and Elvin Ng. Three time we’ve watched you both collect the Favourite On-Screen Couple Award. But there never seems to be any chemistry between you guys off-screen.
(Guffaws) To be honest, I don’t understand why people like to see us together. Maybe it’s ‘cos we look good? When my friend watched us give the speech this year, she sent me a text to say we’re an epic fail (laughs).
8 DAYS: Do you guys rehearse your speeches?
Rui En: No (laughs). In Elvin’s defence, it would be equally awkward for anyone who’s up there with me.
8 DAYS: Maybe he’s intimidated by you?
Rui En: No lah! Maybe in the beginning? People normally go, “Oh she’s not as bad as I thought she was” after they get to know me.
8 DAYS: Who do you think you have chemistry with?
Rui En: I’m more comfortable onscreen with (Li) Nanxing. A lot of people agree too.
8 DAYS: What about Romeo Tan, who’s romancing you for the first time in Sudden?
Rui En: We’re still in the midst of filming so I don’t know. He’s quite new and he’s got to be familiar with someone first…I’m trying to make him confortable ‘cos I know he’s under a lot of pressure. We’re still trying to work it out (smiles).
8 DAYS: You said in a recent interview that a lot of scenes in Dream Makers, though inspired by true events, are “blown out of proportion..dramatised…all in the name of good fun.” Any example?
Rui En: Like the one where the resident Ah jie in the show causes physical harm to Jeanette’s character. I didn’t really like that ‘cos it makes us look unprofessional, cheapens what we do. No one I know will cause bodily harm to a fellow actor. The most they do is backstab. I was a little uncomfortable reading it ‘cos I don’t want the audience to get misled. They already think that showbiz is like the mafia. Look, we’re whiter than white in Singapore. If you think people here have to sleep around to get a role, no lah. That’s rampant overseas, but not here.
8 DAYS: You’ve also said that backstabbing in showbiz is “a little bit more serious ‘cos “your failures, your successes, are for everyone to see.” What’s the worst rumour you’ve heard about yourself?
Rui En: It’s a little sensitive to say ‘cos it involves other people. There’s backstabbing everywhere, which is why I prefer to live in my own shell. People are scary. I used to be quite naive. It was only after many years in this business that I opened my eyes. It’s amazing what people would do for fame, for a little bit of attention. It may be human nature but I don’t believe in doing things, like stepping on people, to get ahead.
8 DAYS: Are you jaded?
Rui En: When you’re in showbiz, you either learn about human nature than detach yourself from what’s happening, or you get completely embroiled in it. Unfortunately, it’s more common for people to get embroiled – everyone’s just trying to survive. Showbiz has made me a lot more mature about what to expect from people. I used to think if a person’s nice to me, she must be nice.
8 DAYS: Do you have a bulls*** indicator when you talk to people?
Rui En: I think I read people quite well. I’ve got a gut feeling about things. I’m a little bit more straightforward and upfront so when I see someone who’s not like that, I take a step back. It’s good to be careful.
8 DAYS: With your fiercely independent streak, do you think you would have made it big in, let’s say, your BFF Chen Liping’s era when artistes were said to be more ‘obedient’?
Rui En: This is an interesting question. I guess not. The fact that audience embraces and supports me shows that our audience has matured a lot. They’re able to accept someone who’s a little different, not cookie-cutter. (Ponders) Hmm..I’ve never thought about this.
8 DAYS: Does Liping share stories about ‘back in her day’?
Rui En: She does. It’s fascinating. I’m in awe of how they used to do period drama in this heat! I had a couple of scenes in Dream Makers where I’m in period costume. They wrote it for the viewers [‘cos people have never seen me in a period costume before] (laughs). It was just one scene but it was enough. I was sweating even though there was aircon! I hear her war stories and I’m like, my life is such a breeze in comparison. To get through that kind of hardship, to be sleep deprived…I respect them.
8 DAYS: To be honest, I didn’t think that you and Liping were really friends until I bumped into you guys having coffee at The Grandstand.
Rui En: Oh my God! Are you that jaded and cynical? (Rolls her eyes and laughs) I remember that day! We were filming Dream Makers before that. Did you think it was a publicity stunt? (Guffaws) There have been many sightings, okay?
8 DAYS: Yahui says that Liping is her best friend too. You got rival leh.
Rui En: (Laughs) The three of us don’t hang out together, though. When it’s Liping and me, it’s just us. Rival? Are you in secondary school (laughs)?
8 DAYS: Isn’t showbiz like that?
Rui En: It is a little. The cool clique. The pretty girls clique. And the outcasts.
8 DAYS: You’re trying to say you’re an outcast, right?
Rui En: I’ve always been! I was an outcast in RJ ‘cos I was a bit of delinquent. Now in showbiz, I’m generally seen as an alien.
8 DAYS: You’re more like the girl people don’t dare to approach but secretly aspire to be.
Rui En: (Laughs) I’m just not in the pretty and cool clique, okay?
8 DAYS: So who’s in that clique?
Rui En: I can’t say. You should know better.
8 DAYS: Will you get mad if we ask about your love life?
Rui En: Yes, please don’t (laughs). I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It might sound cheesy but what Angelina Jolie did recently got me thinking. You can either educate the world – literally nobody knew about gene testing and preventive surgery before her – and choose to conduct your career in that way or you can let people obsess about your love life. Like I said, I only have one career that won’t last very long, especially so for women. And I need to know I spent it doing something worthy. I can’t leave this line feeling like it was all about being popular or pretty on the covers of magazines. I’ll kill myself. Reporters have told me that I’m boring ‘cos I don’t talk about my personal life. But the fact of the matter is that I want to keep the focus on my work instead of having people obsess about who I’m dating.
8 DAYS: You do wish to settle down eventually, right?
Rui En: If it happens, it happens. I’m very comfortable on my own. And I think you can be with a person and not get married. It’s easy to be cynical about marriage when you come from a broken family. And I do know that having kids is something I won’t be doing.
8 DAYS: You do seem happier and more open now, though.
Rui En: Happier, yes. I’m in a good place now. I’m thankful for what I have. When you’re younger you get caught up in the small things like, “Oh I can’t believe she said that about me.” Now it’s “Whatever.” Dirt off my shoulder (Mimics dusting her shoulder).
8 DAYS: You said in an interview years ago that you stopped wanting to be famous and popular when you got disgusted watching yourself on TV. And when you stopped wanting that, you got famous and popular. Surely the irony’s not lost on you.
Rui En: I do see it. To me, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of. The fact that this industry expects you to do things a certain way…And yet I’ve done things differently and people have accepted me. I hope kids can learn that you don’t have to be conventional, or have to follow the tried and tested path. Sure, there’s a price to be paid, and people are going to talk. But if that makes me a b****, fine (smiles).
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The Dream Makers 志在四方 debuts 24 June 2013 9pm on Channel 8.
Sudden 骤变 debuts 2 September 2013 9pm on Channel 8.
C.L.I.F. 3 警徽天职 3 debuts 10 April 2014 9pm on Channel 8.