I didn’t dare to look at myself
Actress Ong Ai Leng takes days to get used to new look for role of sick woman
By Kwok Kar Peng
June 30, 2010
THE reflection in the mirror was so ghastly that actress Ong Ai Leng didn’t dare to look.
Gone were the pretty face and long smooth tresses worthy of a shampoo advertisement.
Instead, the 32-year-old had bald patches on her head and looked deathly pale.
‘It took me two days of filming to finally accept the new look,’ Ong told The New Paper in a recent interview.
So dramatically different was her new image as a seriously ill patient for the upcoming Channel 8 police drama Unriddle that even her colleagues didn’t recognise her at first.
In the series, which is still in production, Ong stars as Li Shan, the girlfriend of a gangster played by Zheng Geping. The show, which also stars Chen Liping and Rui En as the cops, will debut in August.
For her role, Ong had on light make-up and exaggerated dark rings under her eyes.
But it was the wig with glaring bald patches that shocked most people .
Ong added that wearing the wig for long hours gave her headaches.
She said: ‘I even asked the drama’s executive producer if Li Shan has any scenes looking beautiful, and he said no.
‘The character is sickly right from the start. There aren’t even flashbacks of her looking healthy.’
Despite that, Ong, a former model, admitted she’s quite happy to sink her teeth into this new role, which is the first time she has ‘uglified’ herself.
Director boyfriend says after seeing photo of her in new role: ‘Your eyes look too lively for a sick person’
‘I think it’ll be a real challenge to play an ugly character like the one Karen Mok played in the 1996 Stephen Chow movie God of Cookery,’ she said.
Mok’s character was uncouth, had huge buckteeth and a scar above one eye.
Ong said her scenes were filmed behind closed doors in hospitals and nursing homes, away from the public.
She also didn’t have many lines.
Ong said: ‘It was very uncomfortable. I needed to make my eyes look listless so I kept telling myself that I was very tired and weak.
‘I would feel very down at the end of the day. Even though I didn’t have much action during filming, I felt very tired.’
The Malaysian-born actress said some colleagues were shocked when they saw her at Caldecott Hill before she left for filming.
Even Ong’s co-star, Zheng, 46, and the cameraman were taken aback the first time they saw her.
Said Zheng: ‘Before we started filming, I saw a photo of her character which was to be used by the policemen in the drama. She looked very pretty there.
Like Darth Vader
‘Then on the first day of filming, I was shocked to see her in her wig. She looked like a totally different person, like Darth Vader from Star Wars when he took off his helmet.’
Another co-star, Andie Chen, 25, added: ‘Some places where we filmed were old and dark. When I walked past a corner and saw her sitting quietly there in her wig, with the lights shining from behind her, I was truly spooked.’
The film crew even advised Ong to stay unseen during the lunch break in case her image frightened the public.
Ong took photos of herself with her mobile phone and sent them to her family members. She also told her boyfriend, who lives in Canada, to look at photos of her character published online .
‘I told him that I missed him so much that I looked like that,’ she joked.
‘But he replied that my eyes appeared too lively for an ill person.’
The couple met on the job when Ong was filming the drama Addicted To Love in Kuala Lumpur in 2008. The drama was a joint collaboration between Media-Corp and Malaysia’s ntv7.
Ong played one of the leading roles and he was the director.
The actress declined to reveal more about her boyfriend, except that he’s in his 40s, was born in Hong Kong and later migrated to Canada. He now directs advertisements there.
She said in a 2008 interview with Malaysian newspaper The Sun that his name is Kenne Yam.
Romance bloomed only after filming had wrapped, she said in the interview.
The couple keep in touch via Skype every day.
When she isn’t busy filming Unriddle, they chat online for a few hours in the morning and a few hours again at night.
While she’s now a homebody who spends her nights chatting with her boyfriend, watching movies and replying to her e-mails, things were quite different two years ago.
Ong said she went out with her three girlfriends every night.
‘I named us HBO, which stood for High By Ourselves. We were high without the influence of alcohol or attention from men,’ she recalled happily.
‘We made a point to dress up every time we met. It was very fun. We didn’t care how people saw us and we never fought.’
In that one year, the girls, one of them MediaCorp actress Apple Hong, were out every night either partying, dining or watching movies.
The other two are a fashion stylist and a spa owner.
Ong added she also did a lot of shopping during that period.
‘I’m usually very thrifty but that year, I allowed myself to spend and live a different lifestyle,’ she said.
She had around 40 pairs of shoes, some of which cost about $1,000 each.
Said the actress: ‘That was the peak of my singlehood. I saw, experienced and learnt a lot. I travelled to Europe for the first time with my girlfriends.
‘We went to many fashion shows during the London Fashion Week and partied at members-only clubs. I also met Hollywood actor Cuba Gooding Jr there.’
When asked why those days ended, she replied with a smile: ‘Pak tor (Cantonese for going on dates) lor. Things changed, and my girlfriends understood. We have passed that partying phase and everyone has found their focus.’
Her time spent in Kuala Lumpur filming the drama Addicted To Love also changed her. While she still enjoys looking at branded products, she doesn’t buy them any more.
She said: ‘I was posted to KL right after I returned from Europe and I experienced a different kind of a lifestyle. Life there is simpler.
‘The people there don’t look at what you wear or what bag you carry. I like that feeling and it pulled me back to who I am.’