Fala Chen is one of Hong Kong's top TV actresses, but she is surprisingly hard on herself. During a sit-down interview with The Straits Times, the dark-haired beauty says on several occasions that she still has "a lot to learn" and "a long way to go" in her career.
The perfectionist is such a harsh self-critic that she says she feels some "regret" about her performance in every role that she has done so far.
Speaking in fluent English, the 31-year-old star of such hit TVB dramas as No Regrets (2010) and Lives Of Omission (2011) says: "I regret something about every single one of my roles. I always, always have something to regret about them, because I just think I didn't do well enough with them.
"I always go home and think, why didn't I do it this way instead? Why didn't I try that when I had the chance?"
The China-born, United States-educated actress was in town to promote her latest TV drama Triumph In The Skies II, the highly anticipated airline drama and follow-up to the 2003 hit show of the same name.
In the series, which is centred on the people working for a fictional airline named Skylette, Chen plays Holiday, a young woman who is mourning the death of her fiance.
The pilot trainee finds solace in her friends and co-workers at Skylette, including potential love interests in two dashing pilots played by veterans Francis Ng, 51, and Julian Cheung Chi Lam, 41.
Chen says with a laugh: "Of course, the theme of our drama is not about flying, but about romantic relationships.
"But you know, I really loved the story and I loved the chance to work with all these actors whom I admire. Both Francis and Chi Lam are very friendly and funny, and the whole thing was just a great experience. I can't comment on how well I did this time around but I really gave it my all."
Chen, who is single, shot to prominence in 2005 after coming in second at the Miss Chinese International Pageant in Hong Kong that year. Her sweet demeanour and pleasant dimpled face got the attention of broadcaster TVB, which signed her on as a full-time artiste.
She would soon get roles in a number of popular TVB dramas including Moonlight Resonance (2007), where she played a mute girl, and period drama No Regrets (2010), where she played a young woman with a heart disease.
For the latter role, she won Best Supporting Actress awards at the TVB Anniversary Awards and the Asian Television Awards, which recognises excellence in performance around the region.
She did not renew her full-time artiste contract with TVB when it ended in May and is taking on projects with the station on a per-series basis.
In any case, the actress sounds eager to improve her craft. She says seriously: "I want to challenge myself constantly. In the future, I hope to do as many types of roles as possible.
"And I know that there will always be some sort of regret with all my performances, but you learn from your mistakes and hope that you do better with every new role you get."
1 You sound rather tough on yourself as an actress. What goes through your mind when you watch your own shows?
It actually takes me a few years before I can watch my own shows, and even then, it's still hard. I'll be like, 'Oh my god, that actor was so good with me in that scene, why didn't I see that and interact with him better?'
So far, I've seen only my really early work such as Forensic Heroes (2006) and The Ultimate Crime Fighter (2007). I haven't even seen Heart Of Greed (2007) yet. I've heard people say good things about it but I need a little more time.
2 Francis Ng has a reputation for being a stern, no-nonsense guy to work with. Were you intimidated acting opposite him in Triumph In The Skies II?
People always say he is intimidating but I found him to be a great working partner. He just looks really fierce because when he furrows his brow, he looks very serious. But he's not actually fierce, he's just very dedicated and it's always about full-on concentration with him.
Actor Ron Ng also taught me how to not be intimidated by him. He said that I just have to look like I'm unafraid - the less afraid I am, the more Francis will like me (laughs).
3 Did you learn anything from working with him?
I learnt so much. Francis is really into every character that he plays, and we rehearsed many times because he always wants to do better. Even if there is a scene that the director says is okay, he will ask to do it again because he thinks he can do better.
And every time we rehearsed our scenes, he would try new things and give me different things to work with. Sometimes I would even change the lines and rehearse in English with him as an experiment, even though I knew that it wouldn't be part of the show. You don't get experiences like these every day.
4 You acted in your first mainland Chinese TV drama in March with the period drama Romance Of The Desert. Were there any major differences between working in China and working at TVB?
Working in China, especially on a period drama, is so different because it gave me a whole new way of looking at period dramas. From costumes to the set to the machines they have, everything is just on a bigger scale there compared to TVB.
Also, there is a lot more time to rest in China and you get proper time to rehearse your lines too, while at TVB you sometimes get your scripts just the night before you shoot. Working in China was such a new experience and I really enjoyed it.
5 A few months ago, you openly shared photos of yourself in a bikini with the Hong Kong media. What was the motivation behind that?
I mean, why not? But really, Chinese people must love bikinis because out of all the things I've shared, that was the one that got all the attention. I was just having a holiday in Thailand and I felt so happy because I had no filming for three whole days. I was having so much fun and was so relaxed and I just wanted to share that moment.
6 You are 31 years old, and many new Hong Kong actresses are starting out younger than ever. Are you worried about ageing?
I remember when I started out, I actually asked someone in the industry why so many actresses quit so young. He said it's because they cannot stand to watch themselves grow old in front of the camera. At that time, I didn't understand it because I thought growing up was such a natural, happy thing. Now I think I finally understand what he's saying.
But it's more of the fear that I can't do certain roles anymore, like how I can't play high school girl roles anymore. I've been lucky to have been offered many different roles but I feel like I need to push myself as much as I can before it's too late.
7 Does that mean you will have no issues playing mother and grandmother roles in the future?
I look forward to playing someone's mother or grandmother because I look forward to making acting my lifelong career. This is my first job after university and I've been lucky to have done roles that people enjoyed. I see actresses such as Louise Lee who have done all these great characters at every stage of their life. So I see acting as a very long term thing.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
I don't know, that's not up to me to say. As much as you hope that people will remember you as a great actor or someone who's kind and has brought them joy or love, it's not up to me to say that. But I just want to entertain people, to enjoy playing the characters that I'm playing, to tell the story that I'm doing. If I can do that, I'm satisfied.