Seven Series [Actresses]: Pamelyn Chee3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Her first major role was in a Jerry Allen Davis film entitled The Shanghai Hotel where she played a girl who pretended to be a boy. She then went on to star in a myriad of other films, and played a young Yoko Ono in Dolly Parton’s MTV for a cover of the John Lennon classic “Imagine”.
With a penchant for playing slightly off-kilter, wayward characters, she was most recently seen in Wayne Wang’s latest film, Princess of Nebraska, playing a wild bar hostess. She is Pamelyn Chee, our interviewee for today’s Seven Series.
1. Ok, let’s start. How and when did you become an actress? Is this your full-time job?
I graduated from Victoria Junior College’s theatre studies and drama programme in Singapore, and started doing professional theatre and some TV stuff locally before quitting law school here and heading off to New York city. Acting is my full-time job now.
2. So why did you choose to be an actress?
I think this is the best way I can contribute to society and reach out to people. I’m also masochist [smiles]. It’s the most difficult thing that I can do, but also the most satisfying.
3. What was the most challenging role/scene you had to do so far?
I played a girl pretending to be a boy in “The Shanghai Hotel” , with Cheng Pei Pei, Eugenia Yuan, and Hill Harper. I had to relearn my whole body language — from stuffing my underwear with a ball of socks and wearing ankle weights underneath my pants so that I would walk more like a guy, to learning to smoke like a man — your hands give you away more than you think!
4. Do you think it is very easy to become stereotyped in one role / character? Do you think this happens more in Singapore / Asia?
We are always being stereotyped. This is a no-win situation. For e.g.: Wayne Wang saw me as a wild and out-of-control character from my showreel and casted me as the lead role, playing X in “Princess of Nebraska” because he wanted someone who could be uninhibited and tough. In the end, both my performance [and Ling Li’s (the other lead)] turned out so different because the stories, circumstances and characters are different.
Sometimes I think that stereotypes are actually better for the actor, because at least it means that they are convincing enough in one role that people want to see more of them doing the same thing. But even in a similar role one can be different. For e.g. There are infinite ways to portray a bad person — you have to work within the limitations to come up with new, subtle and interesting changes, and not rely on your old bag of tricks.
5. How do you improve your craft?
There is this long running joke in New York: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
The answer: “Practice, practice, practice!”
6. What is your dream role(s)?
7. What’s next for you?
I am now working with a Sicilian director and an American writer on a feature script which we are going to shoot in Singapore. Once the treatment is out we will start approaching some Singaporean producers. I’m really excited about this; it’s high time I did something back home!
Pamelyn Chee goes where the work takes her, most often shuttling between New York and Singapore. And yes, she is currently single.