Singapore’s own Jolie is more than just a pretty face

With her porcelain skin, jet black locks and cherry pout, it might be tempting to write off 26-year-old Victoria Loke as just another “hot Chinese girl”. But the born-and-bred Singaporean actress, who plays Fiona Cheng in the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians, is nothing close to the stereotype of a pretty young thing.

For one, Loke’s character in the film Fiona Cheng is nothing like the ditzy Kitty Pong or loose-lipped Radio One Asia—caricatures of pretty female stock characters we’ve all met at some point in our lives. Instead, she’s the down-to-earth wife of Nick Young’s cousin Eddie Cheng, herself coming from old money. A caring mother to her three kids and someone Loke describes as “unimpressed by most things in general”, Fiona Cheng is above all a self-assured, accomplished badass; if anything, it’s her husband who’s the vapid bimbo.


Photo credit: Reuben Foong

And Loke certainly embodies her character. The NYU Gallatin graduate is also an artist and activist, with particular interest in feminist issues and women’s rights. She’s already well aware of her oriental look (and the problematic hotbed of cultural issues that opens up); in 2014, Loke spearheaded an ongoing collaborative art series titled ‘#AsianGirl’, which, while exploring the discourse of, critiques the prevalent and inherently imperialist representation of Asian women in Western cultural consciousness. She’s also worked with the Singapore Committee for UN Women here.

Previously from a theatrical background, Loke transitioned to screen acting in 2015, through roles in indie shorts shot both locally and abroad. Crazy Rich Asians, the film on everybody’s lips, is her box office film debut.

It must be daunting for someone with so little professional screen experience to go straight into Hollywood, work with a cast of A-listers, and become a cemented part of what’s already going down as a win for Asians in cinematic history. But she’ll manage. We have a feeling that after the film opens here tomorrow (Aug 22), it’ll be Loke’s name on everyone’s lips instead.


We chatted with the sultry new star on her involvement in the film.

Tell us more about yourself. How did you get into acting?

I was born and raised in Singapore, and I moved to New York to enrol in NYU; and I lived there for five years. It was in New York that I first became comfortable in front of the camera: I had become a part of the downtown creative scene, and that was when my friends started asking me to model for their brand campaigns and to appear in their music videos and such. Prior to Crazy Rich Asians I had been working on indie films and shorts, and yes, this is my box office film debut! I had only been acting professionally for about a year before I was picked up and cast in CRA.

Who do you play in the film?

I play Fiona Cheng, Nick Young’s cousin-in-law, whose family owns the largest shipping company in Hong Kong and has known the Young family for generations. She knows the ins and outs of old money society and its subdued elegance and etiquette, so she is very unimpressed when her husband Eddie Cheng (played by Ronny Chieng) goes about his attention-seeking ways; in fact, she is unimpressed by most things in general.

Where were you at the time the audition call for Crazy Rich Asians was announced?

I had just arrived in Singapore after graduating from NYU, and was looking to build a career as an actor here in Asia because of the limited opportunities at the time for Asian actors in the US. Crazy Rich Asians was the first audition I was sent for!

What did you have to do for the audition? Were you reading specifically for Fiona?

It’s hard to believe but I was actually called in to read for Kitty Pong (played by Fiona Xie)! I was a little taken aback when I received the script, but I decided to have fun with it anyway, and during my audition our director Jon M Chu and our producers and I were just laughing the entire time. I was cast as Fiona without reading for the role, but I can see why they saw it was such a good fit: I see a lot of myself in Fiona’s attitude and personality, and I think that a lot of the cast has a bit of their character in them as well.

 

A post shared by Victoria Loke (@velle_) on

Loke and Xie were roommates during the film's production.
 

How do you choose your projects?

I choose my projects based on the writing above all else. I spend almost all my free time reading, and so I am very aware of what I respond to and what I don’t. My first agent actually got frustrated with me because of all the roles I was turning down, but unless I find the writing meaningful and compelling, I cannot in good faith attach myself to that project. I suppose I am still quite idealistic in that way.

There was quite a bit of negative buzz locally when the trailer first came out, on a different kind of representation and how it didn’t reflect representation in Singapore. As someone who’s done the film, is this a fair critique? Tell us your thoughts.

I think that perhaps it is more productive to turn this critique of CRA’s version of Singapore into an interest in what is happening in our local cinema. Having worked in the indie scene in Singapore I know for a fact that there are so many incredibly talented Singaporean filmmakers trying their best to put out authentic stories about Singapore, but they often face a lack of support locally and have to fight to even have their films screened in local theaters because of this perceived lack of interest. I find it upsetting that so much negative buzz about inauthentic representation can be generated, yet it has not translated into support on the ground for locally created content. I would love to see a thriving local film industry that tells stories from even the most invisible corners of Singapore, and I hope this newfound awareness of our need for representation will go towards making that happen.

How similar or different are the struggles of a Singaporean actress abroad and an Asian-American actress in the same country?

As an English-speaking, visibly Asian person, I found myself naturally folded into the Asian-American community and I put a lot of due diligence into understanding the history and complexities of the community. As a Singaporean Chinese person I had the privilege of having grown up in a country in which I was a part of the majority race, and this lends a different kind of voice to the Asian-American struggle for representation as a minority group in the US. A Singaporean actress abroad has the option of moving back to Singapore, whereas an Asian-American actress does not, and this safety net that we have is something we must use to help and advance the Asian-American community in their push for meaningful representation in Western media; I believe a Singaporean actress abroad has a bigger responsibility in that way.

Tell us more about your activism work. What causes or issues are most important to you?

I am mostly active in the areas of women’s rights and transitional justice, which comes from the understanding that part of my position—as a Southeast Asian woman who has had the privilege of education and access to a vast array of resources—is the duty to parlay the academic and artistic labor I am able to perform, into something that can actually bring about significant good to those who have not had those privileges.

I am currently working on my own research about the feminized knowledge diasporas that arise from the transnational nature of domestic and intimate services, and my objective with research is always ultimately to translate this into tangible forms of civic improvement for the communities in question, by working with rights advocacy groups and understanding how to fulfil some of their needs. I hope to eventually pursue a master’s degree in human rights when I get some time off from my acting career.

Loke's ongoing project #AsianGirl includes various multimedia forms, from print to performance art.
 

Has anything in your life changed since the film?

Perhaps I am quite oblivious about these things but I don’t feel like much has changed about me or my personal life; I go about my regularly scheduled programming and I still do whatever I want to do.

What’s next in store for you?

I have just gotten together my team in the US, and so I will be jumping back and forth a lot more now that I am all set up. I am looking forward to doing more work internationally, and I can’t wait to show everyone the other projects I have in the pipeline!

Do you have any advice for fellow young actors looking for their big break?

Do what you love, not what someone tells you to do! I was once told that we were made to be passionate about certain things because that was god’s way of telling us what our calling in life should be. What you are individually passionate about will create a niche for you that no one else can replicate.

Shoot, shag, marry: Nicholas Young, Michael Teo, and Alistair Cheng

Marry Nick Young, shag Alistair Cheng, and shoot Michael Teo (sorry Pierre!)