Jessica Hsuan may be a popular Hong Kong actress, but she certainly doesn’t behave like one. The 36-year-old, who will be in Singapore until early next month to film the upcoming MediaCorp TV Channel 5 drama Parental Guidance, was at Pasir Ris Park recently posing with co-star Adrian Pang for this newspaper’s photographer when a fan interrupted the session.
It turned out that the person wanted to take a photo with Adrian, and in his eagerness to do so, ignored Jessica completely.
As Adrian prepared to pose with the fan, Jessica bounced over and offered to help snap the photo, seemingly unperturbed by what may have seemed like a snub.
"Let me take it for you," she chirped in her British accent, the result of studying at an English boarding school and subsequently London’s Imperial College.
Despite a successful career that spans more than a decade in Hong Kong’s competitive TV industry – Singaporeans would know her from popular TVB dramas such as File of Justice, A Step into the Past and Square Pegs – Jessica seems to have very little in the way of an actor’s ego.
When TODAY visited the set of Parental Guidance, she was as friendly as could be, and likened her two weeks working in Singapore to a short holiday.
Part of the reason for her upbeat mood is that she works only half the hours she logs when filming in Hong Kong. She also enjoys the luxury of dressing in shorts and flip-flops.
"There’s a certain freedom that I get walking around in Singapore," she said. "People here respect you, unlike in Hong Kong where they secretly snap pictures of you with their mobile phones and some of them even sell these photos to the tabloids.
"When fans want to take a photo here, they ask you first. I always say no, because I never wear make-up when off work, but they’re always fine with an autograph. It’s quite unbelievable!"
Jessica decided to accept the offer to come here after hearing good things about acting in Singapore from fellow TVB actress Flora Chan, who appeared in the Channel 5 drama Like My Own in 2004.
It’s not her first time staying in Singapore for an extended period though, as her father used to come here often on business during the 1980s and she would tag along.
Her family even owned a house in Ayer Rajah – "Or was it Bukit Timah? I can’t remember," she said – and she recalled enjoying trips to the old Rasa Singapura hawker centre, which was located behind Tudor Court.
These days, she spends her time off shopping, visiting the supermarket and cooking for herself in the serviced apartment where she currently resides.
"I don’t have a car here, so I don’t have to stress about finding a parking space. I didn’t bring a lot of clothes, so I don’t have to open my wardrobe and stare at it for half an hour deciding what to wear. It takes only five minutes to dress."
True to her word, she was clad in an unspectacular ensemble of a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. Her makeup was minimal and her hair was tied up in a simple ponytail.
"I’ve realised that it’s good to live a simple life," she said. "I want to try and simplify my life and do the things that are worth focusing on."
Despite being one of the best-loved actresses in Hong Kong, Jessica seems to have achieved her goal of simplicity, at least in terms of steering mostly clear of the major scandals that tend to plague her peers.
There were, however, some damaging rumours in 2003, when it was alleged that she had broken up the marriage of good pal Gallen Lo and his wife. Both Jessica and Gallen have rubbished such talk.
"Gallen and I are very good friends," she said. "We’re genuine with each other. He’s the kind of person who would tell me straight in the face if he wasn’t happy. Sometimes I get a little out of control at work, and he would tell me, with the most serious face, to stop fooling around.
"I don’t date within the circle because I’m insecure. I think there are too many temptations. I’ve seen too many things happen."
The paparazzi have told Jessica that she is boring. She pointed out that while she accepts that being stalked by photographers comes with the territory when you’re a public figure in Hong Kong, she still feels a certain pressure at the sight of them waiting in cars outside her home.
"The paparazzi want to snap celebrities drunk at Lan Kwai Fong. I’m not going to do that," she said. "So, they say my life is boring because when I step out of the house I just go to dinner and to the cinema. But isn’t that what normal people do?"
Jessica may not be known for being mixed up in scandals, but she has a reputation for being outspoken.
"I do tend to speak up for myself more. I’ve always believed that if you have a problem, just say it out loud and then you can solve it."
However, she admitted: "It has created some friction."
In the late 1990s, believing reports in the media that TVB actress Maggie Cheung Ho Yi was badmouthing her, Jessica spoke out. She succeeded only in fuelling the media’s appetite for scandal.
"After that, we were like, we’re so silly because the press was just trying to create a story. We’re okay now," she said, although there are still rumours that the two don’t get along.
After filming for Parental Guidance wraps, Jessica will prepare for her role in a 60-episode drama that is a co-production between TVB and China’s CCTV.
Her contract with TVB ends next month, and while Jessica has plans to continue acting, she says she’s looking to take things a little slower.
"I’ve asked myself before: ‘Do I want to be really famous like Leon Lai?’
"But I’m happier as I am. Other people want the glam life but I want to keep things simple."