Ask anyone who has watched the Anita movie and they would not be able to guess that Louise Wong had, in fact, no acting experience up to that point. Yet, the former model was able to put on such a stunning performance that not only won her the best new performer award and a best actress nomination at the 40th Hong Kong Film Awards, but also shot her into stardom and left people wondering, who is she?
For a new actress who was given the near-impossible task of portraying one of the most legendary Chinese celebrities of the 90s—Anita Mui was crowned the “Madonna” of Asia—feeling pressured could not even come close to describe what Wong was going through when she was informed that she had gotten the role. In fact, she even thought that it was a scam. The story goes that Wong had been informed of her audition success via a Facebook message. When she realised that it was true, she immediately hightailed it out of Hong Kong just to process the news.
“It scared me as I had no experience in acting. I booked an air ticket to escape to Thailand and cried by myself in the hotel room for two days,” she shared in a previous interview with Hong Kong actress-host Carol Cheng. It took her several days to absorb the reality of it all, realigned her mindset, and finally accepted the role. The rest, as they say, is history.
As a model first, transitioning into her new career took a lot of mental adjustment. In our interview, Wong shares, “My role was to dress up and ensure that the clothes look good on me.” She explains that the model’s job is to assist the fashion designer in bringing out the best of their work—that is, their clothes.
Wong wasn’t doing too shabby as a model either. She was—and still is—the only model from Hong Kong to have won the Elite Model Look Asia-Pacific regional competition. The Elite Model Look competition is a prestigious modelling contest that has set off the careers of Cindy Crawford, Gisele Bundchen, Diane Kruger, and more. In her modelling career, Wong has walked the runway for major brands such as Saint Laurent, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.
“However, as an actor, the roles are swapped. I become the main character—the clothes become secondary, serving to support me in portraying the role I’m playing.”
She shares that getting into that perspective was completely new to her, as she had always been in the camp of helping the designer achieve the desired effect they want from their creations. “Now, I have a whole styling team assisting me in embodying the character.”
That transition from model to actor, however, would prove to be one of Wong’s biggest challenges. “A model’s job is relatively superficial, focusing only on the surface. Our main objective is to exude a specific vibe that the designers want,” she says. “However, acting is so much more than that. I need to deliver my lines naturally, breathe life into the character’s entire life story, and create a distinct persona that sets them apart from others.”
To play the role of Anita Mui, Wong underwent a six-month training programme. “I needed to improve my acting while also acquiring additional skills like singing and dancing. I also had to thoroughly research Anita’s life history and read books on her, watch movies, as well as interviews,” shares Wong. “The latter was particularly important because it allowed me to study her manner of speaking.”
Earlier this year, Wong appeared in her second movie, Guilty Conscience. She played Jolene Tsang, a mother who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her child. “Jolene Tsang is a fictional character, which meant that I had more room for personal interpretation,” says Wong. “I could design the character and collaborate with the director to combine their vision for the character too.”
This dual experience in acting style has led Wong to conclude that being an actor is a continuous learning process with so much groundwork involved before the actual filming begins. “I don’t think I possess any particular strengths as an actor thus far, especially since I’m still new to the industry,” confesses Wong humbly. She has only recently wrapped up her third film, which she was still unable to share with us at the time of print.
“I feel that I’ve improved with each project I take on. Of course, I believe this applies to any profession: with experience, you gain valuable knowledge and learn how to perform better in the future,” she says. Learning how to communicate more effectively with the directors, sharpening her script-reading skills, and developing a better understanding of the characters she portrays are just among the few things that she’s gaining confidence in.
“Interacting with other actors is also a learning opportunity for me, but it’s important to remember that it’s a give-and-take relationship. It’s all about continuous improvement and striving for better outcomes.”
It helps that Wong also had the privilege of being mentored by great actors, including the late Liu Kai Chi. One of the greatest pearls of wisdom that he imparted to her while training for Anita was: “Feel the character with your heart and avoid being fake with it,” she recalls. “He told me that as an actor, you need to genuinely believe in the setting, character, plot, and your interaction with other actors—act with sincerity. Regardless of the role you’re portraying, the foundation of your acting skills should be your belief and passion for the character.”
His was not the only guidance that she sought, as she’s been attending various acting classes, with her most recent mentor being The Mad Phoenix actor Tse Kwan-Ho. “With different mentoring styles, I’ve made a conscious effort to absorb everything. It’s through this process that I can discover my own style and approach,” she says.
One of the most exciting aspects of acting, in Wong’s opinion, is the moment she receives a new character and script to research. “It fills me with excitement, yet at the same time, I struggle with it. I have to build a new character, consider various facets, conduct continuous research, and ensure that my prep work is going in the right direction.”
She adds that at times, she may even need to overturn what she already had and start anew, just so she could find the most suitable way to portray the character. “In my first and second film, I may not have been as privy to these details, but now that I’m on my third film, I learn how to handle and play the role efficiently.”
Life is But a Stage
When it comes down to it, life is just as Shakespeare said in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
We are all but actors taking on different roles in our lives—Wong, for example, is a daughter, an older sister, a mother, a wife, a model, and an actor. We asked which role is most reflective of “Louise Wong” herself, and to that, she replied: “All of them.”
“None of these roles reflect a lesser part of myself, because they are simply different facets of me or different ways I interact with others,” she says simply. She elaborates, sharing that while she may be more clingy around her own mother, she would not show that side of her to her colleagues. “In a professional setting, I take on more responsibility, encourage teamwork, and demonstrate a passion for my job.”
As a mother, however, she has to assume the role of a caregiver and educator—especially when her daughter does something wrong. “I need to tell her why her actions were wrong and provide reasonable explanations. Therefore, in different roles in real life, I express different facets of my personality.”
Growing up with a single mother, Wong had begun working at a young age to help support her family and younger brother. It was precisely because of this that she explicitly did not want her own daughter to work at a young age, despite the child receiving plenty of offers from talent agencies. “Studying and playing were rare moments during my own childhood, so it is my hope that she can have those experiences.”
“However, I know that she enjoys being in the spotlight. She has so much interest in music—she can play the piano, compose songs, and sing. I love recording her performances. It’s both funny and impressive to see how she can already express herself so well at a young age and have so many creative ideas—it’s pretty cool. She also has her opinions on what she wants to wear. Right now, she’s into dressing in a punk and cool style, embracing the rock girly look with black items, leather, and accessories.”
“Sometimes, I even take her photos to update on her Instagram profile. But I think it’s too early to turn all this into a job…if she develops an interest as she grows older with the ability to make her own choices, I will definitely support her.”
Putting one’s self on display, no matter the setting, is a form of exhibition. “To me, ‘exhibition’ is a platform to express and showcase various facets of oneself,” says Wong. “When you’re observing a piece of art at an exhibition, you’re looking at it from a 360-degree view. You can see and feel the message that the artist intends to convey, whether it’s through the choice of materials used, shapes, forms, or emotions it evokes within you. It’s an opportunity for observers to rely on their own interpretation and imagination to fully appreciate and enjoy the art.”
It’s safe to say, Louise Wong is an exhibition we wouldn’t mind appreciating each time.
Photography: Issac Lam | Creative Direction: Ian Loh | Styling: Izwan Abdullah | Interview Assistance: Pakkee Tan | Interview Translation: Jane Law | Makeup: Pinky Ku | Hair: Kolen But | Photography Assistant: Ivan Chan, Jason Li, Kiano Cameron | Styling Assistant: Manfred Lu | Production: W.Y. Li