Interview with Lydia Sum
March 17, 2004
Interviewed, transcribed and translated by Junie Quah
Additional research by Terry Leung
APA: How long has Living with Lydia been showing in Singapore?
Lydia: Well, this has been its third season, and the fourth season is coming up.
APA: It has been three years already? How did this show begin? And how did the producers in Singapore approach you in becoming the main character of this show?
Lydia: The Singapore Television station had contacted me a lot of times. They’ve tried to invite me to be their award presenter. Due to my tight schedule in Hong Kong, I had not been able to accept their invitation. Three years ago, I felt bad after being invited by them so many times. I then managed to spare two days off my schedule to go there (Singapore) and take up the offer as their award presenter. Their English station, Channel 5, then approached me and asked if I’d be interested in taking a role in their sitcom. And I said "yes." They then asked me if I would be okay with English. I am the type of person that is afraid to be asked if I am “okay” or comfortable with something. If they ask me, of course I would reply “Sure!” And they were very glad.
After I had agreed, they started to write up the scripts. Their story plot is to have me play a role as a single-parent. Because of my business failure in Hong Kong, I became a chef due to an unexpected incident that resulted in bankruptcy. So, I brought my son and daughter with me to Singapore to start my career all over again. And this is how it all began.
It was when they sent the scripts to me that I started to get nervous. I was thinking to myself, “Wow! That is a lot of English. How can I do it?” I started acting when I was really young and I did not actually receive much education. So I started to become worried about my English, and I had told my daughter, “They have sent me the script and it is all in English. I really don’t feel like taking this role anymore. I want to quit.” But my daughter replied, “Mom, you shouldn’t give up. This is the best chance for you to learn English.” I asked her if she would become my English tutor, and if she agreed, I would let them know that I would fly there during summer to film the show. That way my daughter would be able to accompany me to Singapore during her summer vacation and teach me English. She agreed, and that is how I started my first season.
I considered the first season a challenge. It was very difficult and all the English words were foreign to me. I locked myself in my room everyday to read and read and read, and try to learn and memorize my lines. If there is anything I didn’t understand, I would call my daughter to my room and ask her. After the screening of the first season, the feedback was really good. And they said they wanted to continue on to the second season. Well, I was thinking since I’ve already completed the first season, there is nothing to be afraid about of with the second season.
It was strange, during the second season, I felt that everything became easier. It was not as difficult as before. If there were still some new vocabularies that I didn’t know, I would ask my daughter. After the second season, we went on to the third season. The third season just ended so we are now going to start the fourth.
APA: So, it is more like getting addicted to the show now?
Lydia: Yeah, that’s right.
APA: Are there any similarities between you and the character you play on the show?
Lydia: Yes. There are a lot of similarities. First of all, I am a single-parent myself. I have to earn my own living to support my daughter. In the show, I play a great chef. In reality, because I like to eat, I also like to experiment with cooking. To me, this show makes me feel comfortable and cordial. Seventy percent of my character is actually me; it's like I'm playing myself.
APA: Have you ever thought about writing or directing an episode of the show?
Lydia: For now, I still don’t have this kind of opportunity because the Singapore culture and the Hong Kong culture are different. I do have an interest to become a director or to teach other actors since I have been an actress for 43 years. I am able to teach people about acting but I am afraid that there is still a difference between our acting methods. So, I am afraid that they (the Singapore actors/actresses) might not be able to accept my way of coaching, thus possibly leading to difficulties in communication.
APA: Which of your co-stars are you closer to?
Lydia: All of them. The show actually does not have a very big cast. The few main characters are all close to me. We are now like a family. My son and daughter in the show, I treat them like my own. They are also attached to me. They call me “Auntie Lydia.” They come to me when they need advice. Everyone is working together and getting along very well.
APA: Have you ever considered coming to America to make films or television shows?
Lydia: If given the opportunity, I wish to do it. It is just that I still haven’t had the chance yet.
APA: Are there any actors/actresses that you have always wanted to work with and would want to invite to make a guest appearance on the show? Anyone from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore?
Lydia: In shooting this sitcom, I think it is more suitable for comedians. Of course, in my mind, I’d like to invite Eric Tzeng. I think if I worked with him, we’d be able to create a spark or have that “chemistry.” I also would like to be able to invite Meng Da, Wu. Of course there are some actors that are quite impossible to invite to the show, and they are quite unlikely to guest-star. For instance, it would be kind of difficult to invite Stephen Chow.
APA: Do you know Stephen Chow very well?
Lydia: Yes. He and I have been friends. We came from the same big family. We are all from TVB (a TV station in Hong Kong). Stephen Chow used to host a children’s show, and after that, he also came to join our show (at TVB), Enjoy Yourself Tonight. We worked as partners before. He then started to make films and now he is focusing all his energy on filmmaking. Since then, we never had the chance to work together again.
APA: Which do you prefer doing - films or television shows?
Lydia: As long as it has a good script and the character is challenging, it does not matter if it is a film or a television show. I think that actors/actresses should not limit themselves and get trapped in a frame. If there is a good script with a good role, and room for actors to give a full performance of the role, then that is what matters. I don’t think I would give up any good opportunities.
APA: You have just won the Best Actress in a Comedy at the Asian Television Awards. How do you feel about that?
Lydia: Certainly it was joyous to be able to win this award. But I do not think I should be too proud of it. I also feel I have been working hard for many years, and now I am getting a good report for my hard work. I am happy and I feel that my acting has been recognized by everybody. Of course, I won’t become proud. Instead, I will continue to work hard in my career.
APA: Is it hard having to film in Singapore since you are in Hong Kong usually, and your daughter goes to school in Canada? How often do you go back to Hong Kong?
Lydia: For the past three seasons, I have chosen to film the show during summer vacations because I have to collaborate with my daughter so that she is available to accompany me to Singapore. But this year, I chose to film in September since I’m planning to take my daughter to Europe with me this summer. I made a promise to her earlier. My daughter is now going through dieting. She has managed to lose seventy pounds in eight months. I admire her will-power. After all, she is only a 16 year-old girl. She has to put up with not finishing the entire gourmet that is presented to her. If not, she’ll put on weight again. So I told my daughter that if she is able to lose weight successfully, I will take her on a trip to Europe. I think it’s time to fulfill that promise. I will take her for vacation this coming July. This is also a chance to spend more time with her.
APA: What will you be doing during your trip back to Hong Kong? What future projects do you have coming up?
Lydia: I am now still in Canada. I will be flying back to Hong Kong tomorrow night. On the 26th, I will be going to Chong-Qing, China, to host a television show. The show is on the 27th, and on the 28th, I will fly back to Hong Kong. On the 30th, I will have to host another television show called The Mahjong King Competition. It is about the mahjong game. This is a special program because it does not appear on television every week. After this, I am hosting another charity show on April 3rd in Hong Kong. This show is a special charity event to raise funds for sexual harassment against children. On April 8th, I will be going to Las Vegas to help Jacky Chen host his charity show. This is a big soiree which is going to be held in the MGM hotel. And after all this, I will fly back to Canada to visit my daughter. And at the beginning of May on Mother’s Day, I will be in Atlantic City (at the Trump Plaza) to do another show. This year, I will be working on one movie and two TV shows.
APA: Who will you be working with in the movie?
Lydia: Clifton Ko is the director. The cast includes Leon Lai, me, and some other actors from China and Singapore. In September, I will be filming Living with Lydia, and in November, I will be going to Beijing, China to film another TV show.
APA: You are a really busy person. Well, thank you for sparing some time out for this interview.
Lydia: It’s my pleasure.