PETALING JAYA, Jan 3 — Just like the everyday characters she has earned accolades for playing, Johor-born actress Yeo Yann Yann is as real as they come in a sea of all things curated.
The 42-year-old was recently in Singaporean film Wet Season where she plays a high school teacher who finds herself in a forbidden romance with a fellow student.
The role won her Best Leading Actress at the 56th Golden Horse Awards in Taipei which is often dubbed the Chinese-language Oscars.
Looking back on the early days of her acting career, however, Yeo said she wished someone had given her some good old-fashioned financial advice, one that strips away the glitzy veneer of show business.
“Save a lot of money. So that you don’t just work for money.
“As actors, our body, heart and soul are our tools and they need rest but if you don’t have money, you have to accept the job when you should be resting, which requires money,” Singapore-based Yeo said.
The actress, who starred in films such as Ilo Ilo and You Mean The World To Me, highlighted the importance of saving, especially those who freelance.
“I’ve been freelancing my whole life, it’s important to save at least 50 per cent of what you earn in every project.
“This would be the best advice I could get when I was much younger,” said Yeo in a recent phone interview.
The actress can next be seen in Invisible Stories, a HBO Asia original series which sheds light on untold stories from the heartlands in a fictional neighbourhood housing estate in multicultural Singapore.
Each episode is told from the lens of one resident.
The first episode kicks off with Yeo who plays a financially drained single mother struggling to cope with her 19-year-old autistic son.
Yeo revealed she rejected the script a few times as she had just wrapped up a feature film.
“But while I was browsing videos, I saw one of my idols Meryl Streep who said when she’s choosing a character, she sometimes chooses characters that have a lesser voice in society and that really moved me.
“So I called the producer to ask if the role is still available and they said yes,” Yeo said.
As a mother with a seven-year-old daughter, Yeo was touched by how her character Ah Lian took care of her special needs son when she read the script.
The role also gave her a glimpse into the challenges of families with autistic children.
“I didn’t want to over-exaggerate the character but also didn’t want to underplay the challenges they are facing.
“Also, I wanted to play her as someone who is strong and I didn’t want her to appear as a victim,” she explained.
Yeo believes people will be able to relate to the challenges the characters face but at the same time the series lets viewers feel that there is hope in the world.
Asked if there are enough roles or stories being written about everyday lives in Singapore and Malaysia, Yeo said more can be done.
“I always see performing arts as something that reflects life, so it’s important that it reflects our life and reflects ourselves.
“I hope to see more in Malaysia and Singapore,” she said.
When she was a child, Yeo wanted to be a policewoman or a nurse but became intrigued by the idea of acting as a means of expressing her emotions.
“When I was six or seven years old I was watching a film and I was very touched by the little girl in the film and my tears started to roll.
“I tried to wipe it away and didn’t let anyone see me cry.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I’m that little girl then I won’t need to care about how others look at me when I cry’ – that was the first time I had the dream of becoming an actress,” said Yeo, who trained at Singapore’s Intercultural Theatre Institute.
Comfortable to let her craft do the talking, Yeo previously noted in a recent interview that she felt lucky to be able to take the MRT without being noticed.
But when the low-key star does get recognised, it is often comedic.
A passerby once asked for a photograph with the actress and followed up with asking her: “What’s your name? You look very familiar.”
“I’m like ‘Thank you very much for your support, I will work harder to let you know my name,’” Yeo recalled with a laugh.
Invisible Stories premieres on Sunday, January 5 at 10pm on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411/431 HD).