By Karen Yip
Local R&B honey, RUI EN, may have ruffled some feathers among Jay Chou devotees. But between celebrating her English drama debut in Ch 5’s Chemistry and preparing her second Mandarin album, who has time to worry about other people’s jealous fans?
LIME: How did your friends react the first time they saw you on TV?
RUI EN: I was the girl running to the ATM machine in SingTel’s pod hi!Card commercial. Nobody thought much of it ‘cos I was already modelling then and appearing in ads. It was the Chinese drama, No Problem, that was a big deal to my friends. They know my Mandarin sucks. They watched it just to laugh at me.
You were Chen Hanwei’s love interest in No Problem. Now you play the main character in new Ch 5 drama, Chemistry. Is it easier working on a Chinese or English production?
English, because of my comfort level with the language. In Chemistry, I play Rachel, the type of girl your parents warn you about! She’s a lot like me, so there’s no acting involved. (Laughs)
For English productions, everything has to be shot very precisely before we move on. The filming process is kinda faster for Chinese productions.
What’s Chemistry about?
Basically, it’s about love and relationships and revolves around four young working adults. Rachel is a radio DJ and her love interest, CK [played by Howard Cheung] is a fitness instructor. Both put up brave fronts and pretend they aren’t looking for love, when they really are. Rachel’s best friend, Stephanie [Mavis Cheong] is dating CK’s friend James [Christian Koh]. Things become complicated when James starts getting slimy with Rachel and Stephanie gets angry.
We hear that in an interesting twist, Rachel and CK wake up one morning in each other’s bodies.
Hey, that’s supposed to be a surprise! Essentially, Howard and I had to act like the opposite sex. I practiced sitting and standing like a guy, even going to the toilet and scratching my crotch! The weirdest scene is the one where we first realise our bodies have been switched. I had to act like a guy who suddenly discovers he has breasts! It was very funny! Filming Chemistry helped me remember that everyone’s got a soft and fragile side – even guys.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I have absolutely no time.
You graduated from Raffles Junior College and are now in your final year studying finance at NTU. From experience, are guys afraid of intelligent girls?
No, guys like intelligent girls. They are intimidated by the fact that I’m a celebrity more than anything else.
Do you have any siblings?
No, I’m an only child, a spoilt brat. If I want something, my Dad gets it for me. And he always sides with me against my Mum! When I’m tired from filming and school and I wake up the next morning looking like s***, my dad feels bad. He told me to take a longer time to finish my degree if I can’t cope. My parents are really cool about my showbiz career. They just want me to be happy.
Having entered the working world earlier than your peers, have you become more cynical?
Definitely, especially since many things are fake in the entertainment industry and you do things just for the camera. There are also added responsibilities, like making sure I do my job well. It has made me grow up faster.
Hype Records talent scouts spotted you filming the SingTel ad and auditioned you without knowing if you could sing. How did it feel knowing looks were their first priority when it came to making you a pop star?
I’ve tried modelling and that’s even more based on looks, so I wasn’t surprised at all. The voice and looks matter nowadays for pop stars. That’s just the way it is. I realised that early in my career and it’s just one of the things you learn to accept. I don’t feel comfortable ‘cos I’m a very practical person. If this is what it takes to get things done and to succeed, then okay.
Does it freak you out to hear your songs as ringtone tunes?
You know what? I saw my song ‘Who’ advertised as a ringtone and I paid to get it! I was like, ‘Oh so exciting! Let’s just hear what it’s like!’ You wanna hear? It’s actually very gross!
Jay Chou composed the song ‘White Feathers’ on your self-titled debut Mandarin album and appeared in your album commercial. You’ve played his love interest in his ‘Secret Signal’ music video and was a special guest at his concert this year. Are you riding on his popularity to get noticed?
If you’re familiar with the Asian music industry, you’ll know it’s very common to have an artist take on a ‘junior’ from the same record company. It’s just that I’m a girl and Jay Chou is Jay Chou. He’s so famous, that’s why people tend to notice and wonder about us.
Does that bug you?
(Sighs) People are saying a million and one things about me. I really can’t be bothered. But to these people, I say, “If you wanna judge me, listen to my album first.” At least be fair, don’t get personal without giving me a chance. Generally, Jay’s fans haven’t been nasty. Only once, when some of them went on our company website and warned me to stay away from him. The Taiwanese press blow that up really big, like oh…his fans were gonna murder me or something. It wasnt such a big deal but when I came back home, everyone kept asking me about it.
So what’s the relationship really like between you and Jay?
We are friends but I barely see him ‘cos I stay here in Singapore. We get along when we’re together and he treats me like a boy. I’m very, very sarcastic to him and he always says if I was a guy, he would have beaten me up long time ago! (Chuckles)
Is your image as Rui En, the singer, far off from the real you?
In Taiwan, people think I’m sweet. The marketing campaign for my first album was a bit un-me. My clothes were too sweetie-pie – all dresses and short skirts. I’m looking forward to my second album where I get to be more myself. Style-wise, I’d say I’m a cross between Avril Lavigne and Gwen Stefani. I hate clothes that are tight, short or low-cut!
What will you be doing next?
I’m almost done with the lyrics for the second album. I’m writing them in English and then we’re gonna translate it to Chinese. It should be out end of this year.
You wear glasses in public so people won’t recognise you. Does it actually work?
Yes, especially if I don’t wear makeup, too. Once, I said hi to an acquaintance in school and she just went blank. When she realised who I was, she went, “You look very different.” I don’t know if she was being nice. Anyway it’s okay if I look gross, that’s the point! I just don’t want people recognising me.