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Mingpao Interview with actress Teresa Mo: The joys of staying at home

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#1 llwy12

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Posted 13 February 2013 - 11:03 PM

Mingpao Interview with actress Teresa Mo: The joys of staying at home

Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2309

Translation: llwy12@ http://asianfanatics.net



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As soon as Teresa Mo (毛舜筠) arrived for her interview, she immediately asked the crew to show her exactly where the interview would be conducted and where she would be posing for pictures -- she is the type of person who needs to understand clearly what she is getting into so she can adequately prepare. Last year, when she participated in her friend Eric Tsang’s (曾志偉) Lunar New Year comedy I Love Hong Kong 2012 (2012我愛HK喜上加囍), the script was done entirely ‘on the fly’, with the dialogue constantly being changed / added last minute – this year, instead of collaborating with Eric again, she decided to ‘change camps’ and participate in producer Raymond Wong’s (黃百鳴) Lunar New Year comedy Hotel Deluxe (百星酒店) instead.

Asked whether she was ‘betraying’ Eric by filming for the ‘opposing’ camp (Raymond Wong), Teresa replied: “Just trying to make a living!!” After saying this, she bursts out laughing.

Her personality may be straightforward and blunt, but when it comes to certain matters, she can also be a bit stubborn – this is her ‘Mo Jeh’ style.

Back during the early days of her career, Teresa once played the character of Lin Dai Yu (林黛玉) [from the famous novel Dream of the Red Chamber], however at the time, she was criticized for being ‘wooden’ and not having Lin Dai Yu’s characteristic ‘sickly beauty’. In reality though, Teresa can’t be more opposite than the characters she used to portray – she is the type of person who understands how to have fun and especially enjoys joking around. The ‘turning point’ in her career came in 1989 -- while filming TVB series The Justice of Life (他來自江湖), Teresa was ‘inspired’ by fellow co-star Stephen Chow (周星馳) and after that, she started going on the ‘comedic’ path in her acting career, with later ‘representative works’ playing funny, tomboy-like characters.

After becoming a mother, Teresa toned down her acting a bit, taking on a more mature comedic style. A few years ago, she returned to TVB once again (after 17 years away) and over a span of 3 years, starred in 2 sitcoms filming more than 400 episodes. However, those 3 years ended up being very ‘painful’ for her: “One time, my housekeeper called me at work to tell me that my daughter had contracted swine flu – I sat there in the studio and almost went crazy!”

After that experience, Teresa decided not to film TV series again. Even the offer of a lead role in TVB’s 2010 anniversary series No Regrets (義海豪情), in which she would get to battle acting chops with old partner Wayne Lai (黎耀祥) as well as TV Queen Sheren Tang (鄧萃雯), did not succeed in swaying her decision to give up filming TV series. For Teresa, satisfying her ‘acting bug’ pales in comparison to staying at home and spending quality time with her 2 daughters – choosing between family and career will always be one of the most difficult decisions an actress will need to make at some point in their lives.


Stephen Chow’s ‘Category III’ dialogue

When she started her acting career 30 years ago (1970s), Teresa Mo epitomized the ‘jade girl’ image, as she often portrayed refined, pure wholesome characters in both modern as well as ancient drama series: at Rediffusion Television [ATV’s predecessor] she was often paired with Leslie Cheung (張國榮) in series with sweet, ‘puppy love’ relationship storylines and later, when she joined Commercial Television [now defunct], she played Lin Dai Yu. After she joined TVB in the early 1980s, her career path pretty much continued in the same direction – that is, until she met actor Stephen Chow and collaborated with him in 1989’s anniversary series The Justice of Life. The experience helped Teresa tap into her comedic potential and after that, she went on to become one of the HK television and movie industry’s rare, highly coveted comedic actresses.

“Filming that series with Stephen was the first time that I became interested in comedy. I definitely learned a lot while filming with him – comedic rhythm, expressions, grasping comedic timing, etc. I discovered that I actually had comedic potential as well – it was a good start for me!”

Stephen Chow has a penchant for changing dialogue in scripts – not just his own, but also the dialogue of those filming the same scenes with him. Teresa admits that this ‘habit’ of his actually helped her acting career, as the ‘special training’ she received from him helped her refine her skills.

“He’s actually more suited for movies because a lot of the dialogue he comes up with is the ‘Category III’ type that would never pass television censors. The interesting thing is that sometimes he would come up with dialogue for us too and would try to persuade us to say it. I remember when we were filming The Justice of Life, there was a segment of the story where his character is pursuing me and so always tries to buy interesting stuff for me to eat – one time he bought a sausage and instead of saying what was in the script, he wanted me to say something else…I told him I won’t say it because it can’t be aired on TV. Another time, he bought something else and ad-libbed some ‘colorful’ dialogue to go along with it – I told him that stuff won’t pass either, but he told me not to be concerned with it and to just say my lines and he’ll respond accordingly. This would happen all the time and we often didn’t know if we should laugh or cry at his ‘creativity’! One thing’s for sure though – every time we’d watch the playback of the scenes together, we’d laugh like crazy!”

After filming those 30 episodes, Teresa slowly went from being overly reserved and cautious with her acting to being more open and less restrained. She came to realize that there was a ‘different’ way of doing comedy – it was like learning to ride a bicycle and finally finding a way to keep yourself balanced.



Moving to better environment for the kids

Subsequently, Teresa’s career took a comedic path, with her taking on ‘funny woman’ roles in various movies, such as a ‘small woman’ in 1992’s Legendary La Rose Noire (92黑玫瑰對黑玫瑰), a tomboy in 1992’s All’s Well End’s Well (家有囍事), seductress Poon Kam Lin in 1993’s Laughter of Water Margins (水滸笑傳), a bossy shrew in 1993’s All’s Well Ends Well Too (花田囍事), etc. In practically all of these movies, there are jokes and dialogue that are borderline suggestive -- Teresa expressed that after watching these movies, luckily her 2 daughters never asked her what the audiences were laughing at: “Since they go to international schools, their English is better than their Chinese, so they don’t understand Cantonese jokes. It’s the same as when I hear them laughing at English jokes, I have no clue what they’re laughing at either.”

The difference in language could be seen as a ‘sacrifice’, but also a blessing as well, since international schools actually have fewer exams. Teresa’s eldest daughter is already 18 years old and when she enters college this year, she’ll truly experience the ‘pressures’ of studying for exams.

A few years ago, Teresa’s daughter studied at an international school where there was a bigger mix of Western students – she felt that the atmosphere at the school was too ‘open’ and was worried that her daughter would get the wrong message at school: “The general atmosphere at the school was that it’s ‘common’ for 11 -12 year old kids to start dating – at times, the school would even hold parties and events for the kids to get to know each other on their own, without any parental or teacher supervision! One time, my daughter came home from school and told me: ‘Mom, a lot of girls in the U.S. already become mothers when they’re 12 years old!’ Hearing her say that scared me to death!”

Teresa (and her husband) decided that for the sake of their daughters, they should move to a better suited environment. After moving the family from HK Island to Shatin, she enrolled her daughter in a more conservative Christian international school: “We feel it’s a wiser choice that’s more in line with our values. Currently both of our daughters attend the same school – it’s great!”



The swine flu scare

A few years ago, Teresa returned to TVB to film 2 sitcoms: the 300+ episode Off Pedder (畢打自己人) and the 120 episode Some Day (天天天晴). Within those 3 years, Teresa worked practically every day – the biggest sacrifice was not being able to spend quality time with her 2 daughters.

“Even when we talk about it now, they [her daughters] still complain about it! They always ask me: ‘Mom, do you remember how we would spend New Year’s back during those years? We’d all be gathered on your bed watching TV and counting down, but because you’d be so tired and have to get up early the next day to film series, you’d always fall asleep in the middle. Do you remember? We remember!’”

At the time, her youngest daughter was only 7 years old – the one ‘blemish’ to her happy childhood was all because her mother couldn’t get any time off.

“Everyone thinks that filming sitcoms is more relaxing because of the 9 to 5 shift, but in reality, filming until 10pm or even later is normal. With that type of schedule, if there’s a chance to finish work early and go home to have dinner with my daughters, I’m already very lucky. On the weekends, we usual go off-site to film, so even less time to spend with my daughters. This was the way things were for 3 years.”

The scariest experience was when Teresa’s housekeeper called her at work to tell her that her daughter was sent home from school because she had contracted swine flu: “I was sitting there in the studio and practically went crazy. All I wanted to do was get home as quickly as possible, but I had to finish 2 more scenes before I could leave. I could barely concentrate on what I was doing, as all I could think about was my daughter’s condition: ‘How high is her fever? How will I be able to quarantine her?, etc.’ My colleagues had never seen me like this!”

When Teresa returned home, the situation was worse than she imagined – her daughter had vomited all over the living room carpet due to a severe reaction to the medication that the housekeeper had given her and was lying on the bed with a 105 degree fever. With her husband working in the Mainland at the time, Teresa called up her neighbor -- good friend and ‘sister’ Ada Choi (蔡少芬) – who rushed over with husband Max Zhang (張晉) and helped to take her daughter to the hospital: “Since the flu was contagious, the hospital wouldn’t take her in, so I had to stay home and be with her until she got well – there was no way for me to go to work. Given the situation, I didn’t care whether she was contagious or not – I would rather I get the illness than to see her suffer!”

Teresa took 2 days off to be with her daughter until she got better. Afterwards, she told herself: “This filming series lifestyle won’t work for me, since I have children. It has to stop!”


Originally invited to participate in anniversary series No Regrets

After being away from TVB 17 years, Teresa agreed to return to film series a couple years ago (2008) because of her mentor [TVB’s head of production] Catherine Tsang (曾勵珍) – however, due to the overwhelming sense of guilt that she felt towards not being able to spend time with her family for those 3 years she spent filming, she decided that after filming for the sitcom Some Day wrapped, she would not film any more series.

“I felt that it just wasn’t working out – it’s pointless to live this way. No matter how much I love acting, it’s only going to have a negative effect. That’s why I told myself that I’m not going to film TV series again – I had to tell myself that so I wouldn’t get soft-hearted and agree to film again. Thinking back on the experience now, it still scares me.”

In the 3 years she was filming for TVB, there was no way for her to go on trips with her daughters -- this past Christmas and New Year’s, Teresa made up for it when the entire family went on vacation trips together: “The whole family spending time together, very enjoyable! For New Year’s, we went shopping, skiing, sight-seeing in Japan – it was only an 8-9 day trip, but we enjoyed every minute of it! We talked about a lot of things too – it’s quality time that we got to spend together!”

Teresa first joined TVB more than 30 years ago [back in 1981] – back then, she was single and didn’t have kids, so it was fine for her to live the ‘no night no day’ filming TV series lifestyle. If people think that filming series nowadays is arduous and exhausting, it was even more so back then!

“Back then, we didn’t have trailers for costumes and makeup like we do now – when filming off-site, we pretty much had to change right there in the street or hide out in the car. Also, the makeup and costume people are much nicer now then what we got back then – in the past, they were very mean and would basically just ignore you. If your hair got messed up and you asked them to help fix it, they’d yell at you and say they didn’t come here to help you fix your hair, then turn around and go back to what they were doing!”

When she returned to TVB 5 years ago, she agreed to film sitcoms, but didn’t dare to film regular series because she knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it: “0630 [6:30AM start time] schedule every day – definitely couldn’t handle it, unless I’m prepared to drop dead afterwards! This type of ‘system’ [TN: filming night and day with little to no rest] can kill you – it’s very inhumane! Tim Gor [producer Lee Tim Sing (李添勝)] had actually invited me to film No Regrets in a ‘love triangle’ storyline with Wayne [Lai] and Sheren [Tang], but I turned it down, so they had to change the script. I’m actually very grateful to Tim Gor for seeking me out, as he had told me back when I was filming Off Pedder that he really liked my pace and I looked forward to the opportunity to work with him. I asked whether there could be a ‘system’ for me to get some sleep, but unfortunately, TVB said ‘no’ and that the filming schedule had to be 0630. In my heart, I really wanted to film the series, as I felt that getting the chance to battle acting chops with others who loved acting as much as I did was a very happy matter, but if I wouldn’t get to sleep, then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it anyway.”


Still desires to win awards

In both sitcoms that Teresa filmed upon her return to TVB, she was paired up with 3-time TV King Wayne Lai (黎耀祥). When it comes to this partner of hers, Teresa has nothing but praise and admiration.

“Wayne is a very mellow person – he doesn’t have a temper and never gets upset. No matter what happens, his mood is always pleasant and no matter what you ask him, he always tries to accommodate. Oh and he also has a superhuman memory! Other actors only start to study the script when they get here and no matter how many times they look at the script, they still forget their lines, which can get quite frustrating. But Wayne is different – he comes in, reads through the script, practices a little, and just like that he has all the dialogue memorized! That’s why whenever the 2 of us have scenes together, we finish very quickly. Also, we’re both very punctual – we start at 9am and after 1 or 2 takes, our scenes are done. Definitely enjoy having such a great partner!”

For their Anniversary Awards, TVB had instituted a ‘One Vote Per Person’ system to have audiences vote for TV King. Towards this, Teresa half-jokingly asked our reporter: “Do you guys really believe that?” As for Wayne winning TV King for the 3rd time, she states: “Wayne is always worthy of getting that award! In fact, I registered my phone number just so I could vote for him!”

For herself, Teresa admits that she doesn’t have much affinity when it comes to awards. In her 30 year acting career, she has never gotten any Best Actress awards, whether in television or movies. Her only award was back in 2006, when she received HKFA Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film 2 Young (早熟).

“My attitude towards awards is still ‘yes, I want it’ – I admit that I don’t have Wayne’s nonchalant attitude when it comes to awards. To be honest, my feelings towards awards are a bit complicated – generally, I wouldn’t care whether I get an award or not because after so many years in the industry, HK audiences already know who I am in terms of acting. But once you engage yourself in this ‘game’ [competing for awards], of course the natural reaction is to want to win – it’s just like when you sit down at the gambling table and place a bet, you’re not going to say ‘oh, doesn’t matter whether the winning number comes out or not’…of course you’re going to keep yelling out the number you bet on, hoping it comes out in the end! With all that said though, at the end of the day, it truly is just a game.”

Nominated many times, but lost many times as well – how does she prevent herself from getting discouraged?

“Luckily, I have my faith. I believe that God has his timetable – if he feels it’s not time yet, that’s fine, I’ll wait and leave it up to him. Every time I lose the award, I always self-reflect on why I didn’t win – there are many factors, but the main reason is because my acting isn’t good enough yet. Also, the comedy genre is still at a disadvantage in HK – even though in my opinion it’s sometimes much harder acting in a comedy than in a drama, the reality is that most people still think of comedies as lighthearted fun that doesn’t need to be taken seriously.”



Eric Tsang vs. Raymond Wong

Nevertheless, Teresa is still very willing to film comedies, as the ability to bring happiness and laughter to audiences is very satisfying. Last year, she starred in Eric Tsang’s Lunar New Year movie I Love Hong Kong 2012, however this year, she ‘changed camps’ and decided to film Raymond Wong’s Lunar New Year comedy Hotel Deluxe instead.

Teresa expressed that filming for Eric takes some getting used to, as his scripts are usually done ‘on the fly’ – for someone like her who needs to sufficiently prepare ahead of time, it’s difficult to adjust.

“[When filming ILHK last year], I would rush them all the time to hurry up and get me the script. They give me the script the night before and I study it, memorize it, but then when I go in the next morning, I realize it’s not the final version. The funniest thing is that even the script you receive the day of filming or while in the makeup chair right before the scene, it’s still not the final one, so you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to memorize it because as soon as you get into place preparing to do the scene, Eric suddenly has a new idea – he’ll tell you to do ‘this this and this’ instead – I usually reply back with ‘what what and what?’ and ask him to slow down. Doing things last minute like this makes me very nervous, as I’m the type of person who needs to know clearly what will happen when it comes to filming – I need to know the storyline, the dialogue, the logic behind the flow of the story, etc. With Eric, preparing in advance is impossible – of course I complained about it, but it’s no use because he’s too busy and doesn’t have time to prepare the lines for you in advance.”

Teresa has played Eric’s wife many times already in movies and since they’re good friends, she understands his filming style and doesn’t fault him. As for why she decided to ‘switch camps’ this year and film Raymond Wong’s LNY movie instead of Eric’s, Teresa expressed that when she filmed Raymond’s movie Love is…Pyjamas (男人如衣服) last year, she had already promised him that she would participate in his holiday film. She had also already let Eric know in advance so that he could prepare and find someone else for his movie.

Both Love is…Pyjamas as well as Hotel Deluxe are directed by Vincent Kuk (谷德昭) – his directing style is entirely opposite from Eric’s in that he not only refuses to do ‘on the fly’ scripts, he also doesn’t allow actors to change his scripts.

“When it comes to the script, Vincent is always fully prepared before filming even starts. His scripts are very meticulously written, so he doesn’t allow people to change the dialogue – if you want to change something, you have to discuss with him ahead of time. Also, all the dialogue must be recited word for word from the script – can’t change even a single word! This is both good and bad: good is that the director has already fully prepared everything for you, so all you need to do is the acting – makes it easier to film other projects at the same time, since everything runs exactly according to schedule; bad is that if the director isn’t good or doesn’t know what he’s doing, you’ll regret not having the chance to change things.”

For Hotel Deluxe, the filming takes place almost entirely at a 5 star luxury hotel in Qiandao Lake, so filming is very relaxed and comfortable. In the movie, Teresa plays a slightly perverted manager and has many scenes with co-star and fellow comedic actress Sandra Ng (吳君如).



Her ‘artist’ husband

When we read through the names listed in the ending credits to renowned director Wong Kar Wai’s (王家衛) latest masterpiece The Grandmasters (一代宗師), one name in particular stands out: Tony Au (區丁平). Tony is not only a famous art director in the HK entertainment circle, he’s also Teresa Mo’s husband.

“He participated in the art direction for the gold building scene in the movie!” Asked whether being married to an ‘artist’ is a difficult chore, Teresa responds in her usual humorous way: “Being married to anyone is ‘difficult’! In fact, 2 people in a relationship together is already difficult, as you really need to put in the effort to learn how to love each other and accept each other’s differences. It’s a mutual thing – I accommodate him in certain things, but he also accommodates me too.”

When he’s working, he ‘forgets’ about home? “All men are like that, not just ‘artists’ -- HK men are especially that way – work always comes first!”

#2 themoon

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 04:05 AM

Thanks for this article. I like Teresa Mo the most when she was pairing with Gor Gor back then and I was only a little kid then.

Filming for Eric Tsang sounds harsh and takes a toll on the actors to adapt to the impromptug script. However I know some of them who enjoy filming Eric's Lunar New Year movies just because the athmosphere is fun and is like a big gathering.