Natalie Tong (唐詩詠), a model turned actress turned TV Queen, has never received formal acting training in the 20 years since her debut. Reaching a plateau in her career, Natalie decided to try out a drama class held by French theatre professor Philippe Gaulier in Malaysia. Not only did the class give Natalie newfound wisdom about her craft, it also changed Natalie as a person.
The 39-year-old grew up as a timid child. Because of her social anxiety, she developed a fear of embarrassment and judgment. “I had braces during a time when braces on a kid was not common,” said Natalie. “I grew very concerned about how people saw me. And because of that, I didn’t talk a lot, so I didn’t know how to communicate with people.”
Ironically, Natalie chose a career where she had to be constantly on-screen, constantly be the center of attention, and constantly be an open model judgment. “I think it’s the Heavens telling me that I have to overcome this barrier in my life,” she said. “My first few years in the industry were definitely very difficult time for me. I met a lot of different people where I had to use different methods to communicate. It was very challenging.”
In 2017, Natalie won Best Actress for her performance as Cherry in My Unfair Lady <不懂撒嬌的女人>. While fans celebrated her win, many netizens had expressed their disappointment, as they felt Natalie was unqualified to win. That night, paparazzi also had a field day pitting Natalie against her TV Queen competitors, especially Sisley Choi (蔡思貝).
On the night of her win, paparazzi labeled Natalie as being “black faced” while watching her other colleagues accept trophies, also calling her egotistic and arrogant. Natalie explained, “Through these experiences I’ve learned the importance of knowing how to express myself. When people say I’m being misunderstood, it’s probably not that. I feel, in many cases, it’s just me not knowing how to handle certain situations.”
Natalie described herself as a “switch.” When she’s on work mode, she’s switched on. When she feels like she’s done, she turns off the switch completely.
“On the latter half of the awards night, I was already switching off,” she said. “I wasn’t in my best state that night. I had to go to a surgery the next day, so I wasn’t in my best shape. When the reports said I was black facing Sisley, it was really because I was already shutting off. I was trying to listen to her speech, but I was physically incapable. That’s why I looked so dark.”
2017’s My Unfair Lady was a turning point for Natalie, who went from flatlining on a valley to reaching a peak. On how she completed her “Natalie Tong 2.0” transition, she credited French theatre professor Philippe Gaulier.
“There was a period of time when I had no drama work for nine months. My friend recommended me to try out a class held by Philippe Gaulier in Malaysia. I managed to take the last spot. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Philippe Gaulier did not hold back in his criticism. Once Natalie stepped foot on the stage, he shouted, “You’re trash! Get out! What are you doing? My sister can act better than you!”
When Gaulier asked Natalie if she felt pleasure while acting, it made Natalie realize that she had been carrying a heavy burden her whole life. “I’ve learned to let go of my own face, my own judgment. He saw how much fear I had for the stage. No matter what kind of role you play, your job is to be the jester and make people smile. No matter how ugly you look on the outside, it is the inside that matters. It is the inside that is meant to be beautiful.”
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.