Nervous No More: An Interview with Sammi Cheng

It was almost 13 years ago, in 2005’s Everlasting Regret that auteur Stanley Kwan last worked with superstar Sammi Cheng and it seems most apt that they would choose to work together again to mark what might be considered a triumphant comeback in 2018’s First Night Nerves. The connection and mutual respect between them was already palpable in the many published interviews and events leading up to their in person appearance at the film’s Southeast Asian Premiere in the recent Singapore International Film Festival in December 2018.

While their presence certainly brought a significant amount of star power to the local film festival, it was actually in their openness and interviews that the public got a glimpse into a world beyond the silver screen.

In the movie, leading a cast of eight women, Sammi plays Yuan Xiuling, a theatre star past her prime, who takes the opportunity for a return to the spotlight following the death of her philandering husband. Behind the scenes drama takes centre stage as the role of her co-lead is given to her biggest rival, He Yuwen played by Gigi Leung. The film also stars Bai Baihe, Angie Chiu, Qi Xi, Catherine Chau, Kiki Sheung and Kwok Leung Kam.

SINdie managed to capture a few precious moments with Sammi both in her public appearance during an In Conversation question and answer session, as well as in a more private press interview where she began by expressing how honoured she was to be on this important mission to be in Singapore to present First Night Nerves.

Sammi shared how she personally felt the movie journeyed with the two rivals – how they overcome and release the past to finally find the means to let go and forgive each other to be able to move forward. 

Displaying complete mastery, Sammi answered a barrage of questions with a mix of professionalism and approachableness that truly demonstrated her years of experience in the entertainment industry. It was almost easy to forget that here lies in the flesh a true superstar with countless acting and singing accolades.

She shared with openness on her fight with depression, not shying away from the topic at all – instead she gave it the appropriate relevance before moving on revealing the motivation for her return and for being in the industry for so long, which is passion. How she enjoys performing and exploring on stage or in film, of working without setting any limits or boundaries.

It was like watching a performer grow as Sammi shared too about how she felt a very big difference between acting in First Night Nerves as compared to when she worked on Everlasting Regret with Stanley. Looking back, she felt that perhaps she approached her earlier role with an unstable state of mind while for this new collaboration, she instead felt ready, healed and confident to handle the role.

Tapping on the recent focus on strong female characters in the news, she acknowledged how it was indeed rare to have films focused on women in the first place hence grabbed at this opportunity and this script. She even went so far as to joke that audiences have yet to throw eggs at her at recent film festival screenings hence felt that the film must be doing ok – her satisfaction being happy that there had been reviews that saw the character’s many dimensions through her acting.

It was almost cathartic when Sammi revealed she felt her biggest asset currently would be inner peace. Crediting her husband (HK singer actor Andy Hui) as her pillar of strength, she now feels a better sense of work live balance and can enjoy the happiness that stability and family life has brought her.

In a flash the interview was over and her team indicated that it was time for Sammi to move on to her next round of public engagements. As even jaded journalists excitedly lined up for a quick picture with a very obliging Sammi, one of her earlier answers come to mind - when she shared how she liked the subtlety that her character portrays in relationships and conflicts. In answering she remarked about its similarity to life where events may not be obvious but yet can be felt in the air. How these moments touch then go. Likewise it was my experience speaking to her, that I was just touched by a superstar’s presence then gone.

Trailer - First Night Nerves by Stanley Kwan

Plans look to be in place for First Night Nerves to be on general public release in Singapore in April 2019

Interview by Ivan Choong (pictured with Sammi Cheng)

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