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Part 1 of 3: Magdalene See

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I caught up with the three leads in one of the first HD telemovie on Mediacorp’s HD5, 18 Grams of Love. First up is one of the lead actresses who is part of the new generation of Singapore artistes whose profession is not defined by a single category but spans a range of talent and skills.

mag.jpgFly Entertainment’s Magdalene See gave insight into her ability to juggle the roles effectively to fit the growing demands of the film, media and entertainment industry. She was most recently seen as the face for Starhub, and in the interview that follows below offered up refreshing and reflective views. It is soon apparent that this pretty young face has indeed absorbed much from her early exploration into the industry, to the professional that she is now.

AW: We know that you are effectively bilingual, and we know you sing, write songs, done film, theatre and also host. So how do you see yourself as an artiste? Do you identify more with actress, singer or host, or do you think there’s a place for multi-disciplinary artistes here in Singapore?

MS: Okay the good and bad thing about being able to do so many things is that you have a foot in each, but when you ask me the question “do I see myself as actor, singer or host’, I would say neither. I enjoyed every one of them and I think for me I started out more as a host, because in my school days, even when I was in University, I started out hosting and the very first TV-related thing that I did was actually to host a travelogue. I saw myself more as a host then. When I came into the industry, I started to do more acting, and I really do much more acting than I host right now. So for now, I see myself as a growing actor. As for the singer bit – it was something I’ve always wanted to do. Even before I started hosting, I wanted to sing. Right now I act and I sing at the same time, ‘cause right now what I do are musicals.

AW: So if you started out as a host, when did you start pursuing a career as a full time artiste?

MS: I know it sounds cliché but it really happened by accident, or no I shouldn’t say that – it happened because God planned it – it wasn’t something that I planned for. Back in school, I started to do some modeling, and a friend of mine recommended me to a talent agency. When I went there, the production house downstairs were auditioning for a travel documentary.

And I said, “Huh, travel programme, go China? For like 40 days?” At that time my impression of China was like no toilet… quite backward. But since it was her first recommendation I didn’t dare say no; I didn’t want to seem like I was picky. Turns out I was selected, and I went to China, and the toilets really were horrible *laughs*. But of course the cities were nice, and [my career] just started from there. I realised that this was something I really do enjoy, so I continued hosting live events part time, mainly for the Chinese channel.

After I graduated I thought to myself that I really didn’t want to do a 9-5 job. I majored in advertising but, the more I saw how crazy the industry was, and how your creativity is determined by what your clients can accept (since they are the ones paying) – that put me off a little bit. At that point, Fly Entertainment also approached me just as I finished my exams so I signed up and the rest is history. I’ve been doing this for the last three and a half years. I do enjoy trying to express my own creativity in the way I express a character and the way I host an event ¬– to me that is more fulfilling.

AW: How do you feel about the local media entertainment scene then, maybe from a creative perspective especially?

MS: To give it credit: I think it has progressed a lot in the last few years. Take the theatre industry for example – in the past, people didn’t go to theatres, but now they actually do want to go for certain shows, even though they may be very commercial shows like Dim Sum Dollies. They may not go for the experimental plays, but at least they are more open to the idea of pantomimes, musicals, and stand-up comedy. So that has created more jobs for us so that’s good news.

As for the film industry I think it’s always been difficult. I’m glad to see more and more local films, even with channels like Art Central commissioning short films. That creates a lot of space not just for actors but also for directors, scriptwriters, to put in something that is not so commercial as say a Channel 8 drama, or Channel 5 sitcom, which always uses the same formula. So I think there has been encouragement, and a lot of improvement in the industry. Right now I would say we still have a long way to go but I do hope there can be more support for the local film industry. Maybe lowering the barriers to entry so more and more people can do local films.

AW: So speaking of films: Which would you say is you’re most challenging role to date?

MS: I guess for me, when I first got 18 Grams of Love, it was actually quite challenging for me. The character is quite different from how I’m like, her mood changes in a split second. One moment she’s smiling, the next she’s screaming her head off. The film’s a comedy, so the comic timing is very important. And with comedy it’s very easy to go exaggerated, but at the same time if you exaggerate it too much, it’s not real. So I guess that was the challenge for me; trying to find the balance between caricatures and realistic portrayal of a person. So that was difficult, but it was fun. In fact right now I’m filming a Channel 8 sitcom done by the same team of people who did 18 Grams of Love. They got me back to do a role that is very similar to this girl, so I guess the director liked that character and wrote a script around her and cast me. This time round it’s much easier to just get into it because that character has sort of become mine.

AW: Wow, so you were the muse for the character!

MS: Well, I’m playing a supporting role but I hope that it brings some unexpected elements to the viewers.

AW: We also want to know, especially since you do so many different things, what would you say drives you everyday?

MS: Of course I have good and bad days but usually a new project, an exciting project that you’re passionate about would get me really excited. So I guess it’s part passion, and for me its part faith, as a Christian. God has provided for me for the last 3-4 years; I’ve never lacked anything I’ve been able to do. So I think it’s really passion and faith that drives me.

AW: How do you improve your craft then? For someone so multidisciplinary, how do you select which craft to invest in so you only have so much time and resources?

MS: The good thing about doing this job is you get your training on the job: by doing more you learn more. If I’m doing say a musical, I get to train and improve on my singing and my stage acting. If I’m doing a film I get to work on more subtle acting, so every project is a chance to learn. I think it’s a luxury to learn on the job. Even right now, though I’m not working on anything, I still take vocal lessons because its something I want to work on. A lot of my acting was learnt on the job and through projects and directors.

AW: Okay here’s my favourite question: What is your dream role?

MS: Ok this may sound very silly, but I recently watched Enchanted. And I thought it was really funny how the lead actress, Amy Adams, was really acting in typical 2-dimensional Disney cartoon fashion in the real world, and I thought that was so funny and so out of this world as well. I thought it would be really interesting to look at these cartoons and really act like a Disney princess in real life.

AW: … so you want to be a Disney Princess?

MS: Uh… No I don’t want to be a Disney Princess. I want to act like a Disney Princess for laughs. It’s really funny: that wide-eyed wonder, that innocence, the breaking out into song, and yet she looked like she was having good fun. It is something I’d really like to try!

AW: Sounds fun, I hope you do get to try something like that. Can you share with us what you have lined up for now and what are you’re future plans?

MS: Right now I’m currently filming the Channel 8 sitcom: its called Folks Jump Over the Wall. Its gonna be out in January, probably, and its a sitcom – I think it’s the first sitcom based on the story of old folks in an old folk’s home. After that I um… Actually, I want to go on a holiday. *Laughs* Some other plans that I have is to fuse my two loves: one of my other loves other than acting is actually baking. I have some ideas to actually fuse the two together, but we’ll see.

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