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14 September 2020 16:31

The Singapore Grip ITV Colonialism

Since her mainstream debut on Coronation Street, the 30-year-old has continued to dazzle on-screen, including playing a recurring character in Netflix's highly-acclaimed Top Boy revival. Most recently, Elizabeth landed the role of Li in Emily in Paris which was created by Darren Star [Sex and the City, Younger, Melrose Place] and drops on Netflix early October, as well as the part of Vera Chiang in the TV adaptation of author J. 1883 Magazine chatted with the bright, young actress about rectifying the racist erasure of Asian stories in media and history, her response to criticisms of how The Singapore Grip portrays colonialism and Asian characters, and why Emily in Paris is precisely what the world needs in 2020. It was a notable event… I was playing the first-ever Chinese character on that show which is probably one of the most popular shows in the UK, and it's been running for 40 years. I was immediately recognized on the streets, and it meant a lot for the East Asian community, in terms of being represented on a very big show.

As a young girl, you've said that the actresses who inspired you were all white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, which lays bare the dearth of East and Southeast Asian representation in mainstream media. I'm wondering which East and Southeast Asian women — whether family members or other artists — were role models to you throughout your childhood and played a role in your budding career? And then on television now, I quite like Sandra Oh [Killing Eve]… I'd love to see more East Asian characters like that… Like you pointed out, it's really important for young people to see themselves on screen because it's very isolating when you tell your family 'I would love to be an actress,' but there are no examples of people who look like you on-screen. What message would you like to send young East and Southeast Asian women who are watching you on-screen? The advice I would give to young [East Asian] people is that if you persevere, I do think that there are opportunities and I think that we might even see some sort of real representation in the future because we are having those conversations now.

Ideally, what I would love to see is that we're no longer even having the conversation, it's just there… I think with the East Asian [community], [we are] still very, very underrepresented and, therefore, it's still a major talking point within the community. I think that's what draws you, as an actor; you're interested in people and their stories, and because you are embodying characters, you're also very interested in what drives [them]. Whilst we learn a lot at school about European history, British history and even American history, we don't really get into the finer details and aspects of Asian history and certainly, the fall of Singapore during World War II is a part of history which we did not study in depth. And for me getting into this role, I did have to do a lot of research, [including research on] aspects [of] Vera's character such as that she was from Harbin. I needed to learn about what that would have been like to really embody that character… I did a lot of research on the internet, even talking to people. I also want to talk about your relationship with Georgia Blizzard, who plays Joan Blackett [The Singapore Grip's other leading lady and Vera Chiang's nemesis]. I think it is a credit to this fantastic story that the female characters are incredibly strong-willed and independent, as both our characters are, so when you have a meeting of these two very driven and powerful women, there is that electricity that you see on-screen. And even when we have scenes with Matthew [portrayed by Luke Treadaway], the… dialogue between Georgia's character and Vera's is so nuanced and full of… subtext [which is] really quite compelling… It is that energy, the coming together of two very complex and strong women. I think that it's wonderful that we get to see that in a historical British drama because sometimes it's rare to see such characters represented. And also, for my part playing Vera Chiang, it's wonderful and something to be applauded to see an East Asian female heroine being portrayed with such multilayered and multidimensional features, and attributes of kindness, independence, resourcefulness and intelligence. So, that's quite a vivid and multilayered character and frankly, I'm so pleased that ITV and Mammoth Screen have brought this character to life, of course with the help of Christopher Hampton who's beautifully adapted it. As reviews of The Singapore Grip are coming in, some critics are praising the show's satirization of wealthy white people, but others are raising concerns about how the show represents colonialism and Asian characters. For instance, BEATS [The British East and Southeast Asian non-profit media advocacy group] called the portrayal of colonialism 'breezy and inconsequential' and said that the show represents Asian characters as 'exotic dancers, giggly prostitutes'. So firstly, I just want to say that the East Asian and Southeast Asian community… is still extremely underrepresented in film, television, storytelling, and media in general, and it is something that… I feel is being addressed and I am hopeful that there will be many more of these wonderful stories to tell. There's also the incredibly bad behavior by this central white family, the Blacketts, of being arrogant, self-serving and self-important and not living in a way which is respectful of the locals… The governing of that colony during that time was also full of hubris and arrogance and resulted in [its] downfall which in actual fact shouldn't have been the case because the British army really outnumbered the Japanese troops, so [there] was that misjudgement… I think it's really important work and great storytelling. [In terms of the critique about Asian representation], [Vera] has such great qualities [which] does a world of good for young East Asians all over the world… in terms of representation if nothing else. She is also the romantic lead, and I think that East Asians and Southeast Asians in general [will feel] like, 'Oh yes, I can be a romantic lead as well as a nuanced and complex character with many positive attributes.' So, I think it holds her up in a very positive light, and it's certainly doing a lot of good in terms of this rare occurrence where you have a central character who is Chinese [and] not just serving another character's story but has her own distinct story and her own mind and her own journey. I applaud the fact that this character is here representing the Southeast [and] East Asian community. The character I play in that; she's a Londoner, she's gay and she's having this amazing relationship with another strong female who's also an ethnic minority. And I believe [that] whatever your sexual orientation is and preferences are as you go through the journey of life and as they evolve, these wonderful relationships are sincere and real, and it's so important to have them portrayed in our media so that, again, people who are of that mindset don't feel isolated. So, I think the more inclusive we become in every way that we've talked about, in race, in terms of sexual orientation, in terms of how you identify, it's going to give greater peace in how well we all get along… I really feel optimistic that we can get there because we're having really strong conversations now and I do believe people are generally open to it when they understand, but I think at the beginning when people are not so open to it, it's mainly because they don't fully understand. And moving ahead to your role in Emily in Paris that's coming up in October, what was it like to work with a star-studded cast and crew including lead actress Lily Collins and creator Darren Star? You've got Darren Star who's an absolute genius and has such a track record of really understanding the young woman's journey and making it exciting and vivid and very vibrant… You've got some really incredible locations all around Paris… so it's pure escapism and on top of that, you've got a wonderful storyline — following this young American woman as she goes to work in Paris and all the different challenges and adventures she faces — and then on top of that, you have some incredible set designs and wardrobe from costume consultant Patricia Fields [Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada]. But it was incredible because the character I play is… lots and lots of fun, very confident and slightly mad, but in a good way. There's a lot of diversity in the cast… and it's multicultural, as Paris is… I think viewers all around the world will love it. The Singapore Grip arrived on ITV on Sunday, September 13th but just who plays the enigmatic Vera Chiang? But now, at long last, new drama is arriving on ITV and on Sunday, September 13th, viewers were treated to the opening episode of The Singapore Grip. Taking on a key role in the opening episode was the character Vera Chiang but just who plays this enigmatic character? The Singapore Grip arrives on ITV on Sunday, September 13th at 9pm. Who plays Vera Chiang in The Singapore Grip? In The Singapore Grip, Vera Chiang is played by Elizabeth Tan. Since then, the 30-year-old actress has appeared in more than 30 acting roles with her most prominent appearances coming in the likes of Doctor Who, Waterloo Road, Top Boy and Coronation Street where she appeared as the character Xin Proctor in 46 episodes. Up next for Elizabeth Tan are roles in the high-profile Netflix series Emily in Paris as well as the TV film Agatha and the Midnight Murders. The Singapore Grip, which features Elizabeth Tan as Vera Chiang, continues on Sunday evenings on ITV while the opening episode is available to stream now on ITV Hub.