By PohNee Chin

Louise Wong Is Stepping Up To Her Greatest Role As An Actress

Our July 2023 digital cover star is a work of art
Miu Miu top, underwear

Ask anyone who has watched the Anita movie and they would not be able to guess that Louise Wong had, in fact, no acting experience up to that point. Yet, the former model was able to put on such a stunning performance that not only won her the best new performer award and a best actress nomination at the 40th Hong Kong Film Awards, but also shot her into stardom and left people wondering, who is she?

For a new actress who was given the near-impossible task of portraying one of the most legendary Chinese celebrities of the ’90s—Anita Mui was crowned the “Madonna of Asia”—feeling pressured could not even come close to describe what Wong was going through when she was informed that she had gotten the role. In fact, she even thought that it was a scam. The story goes that Wong had been informed of her audition success via a Facebook message. When she realised that it was true, she immediately hightailed it out of Hong Kong just to process the news.

“It scared me as I had no experience in acting. I booked an air ticket to escape to Thailand and cried by myself in the hotel room for two days,” she shared in a previous interview with Hong Kong actress-host Carol Cheng. It took her several days to absorb the reality of it all, realigned her mindset, and finally accepted the role. The rest, as they say, is history.

Loewe top; Gucci skirt

Starting her career as a model, Wong was—and still is—the only model from Hong Kong to have won the Elite Model Look Asia-Pacific regional competition, the Asian arm of the prestigious modelling contest that set off the careers of Cindy Crawford, Gisele Bundchen, Diane Kruger, and more. In her modelling career, Wong has walked the runway for major brands such as Saint Laurent, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. 

But she admits that transitioning into her new career took a lot of mental adjustment. “My role [up to that point] was to dress up and ensure that clothes looked good on me,” Wong says in our interview. She explains that a model’s job is to assist the fashion designer in bringing out the best of their work—that is, their clothes.

“However, as an actor, the roles are swapped. I become the main character—the clothes become secondary, serving to support me in portraying the role I’m playing.” 

She shares that getting into that perspective was completely new to her, as she had always been in the camp of helping the designer achieve the desired effect they want from their creations. “Now, I have a whole styling team assisting me in embodying the character.” 

That transition from model to actor would prove to be one of Wong’s biggest challenges. “A model’s job is relatively superficial, focusing only on the surface. Our main objective is to exude a specific vibe that the designers want,” she says. “However, acting is so much more than that. I need to deliver my lines naturally, breathe life into the character’s entire life story, and create a distinct persona that sets them apart from others.” 

“None of these roles reflect a lesser part of myself, because they are simply different facets of me or different ways I interact with others”

To play the role of Anita Mui, Wong underwent a six-month training programme. “I needed to improve my acting while also acquiring additional skills like singing and dancing. I also had to thoroughly research Anita’s life history and read books on her, watch movies, as well as interviews,” shares Wong. “The latter was particularly important because it allowed me to study her manner of speaking.” 

Earlier this year, Wong appeared in her second movie, Guilty Conscience. She played Jolene Tsang, a mother who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her child. “Jolene Tsang is a fictional character, which meant that I had more room for personal interpretation,” says Wong. “I could design the character and collaborate with the director to combine their vision for the character too.” 

Dior jacket, top, skirt, loafers, earring

This experience in different acting styles has led Wong to conclude that being an actor is a continuous learning process with intense groundwork involved before the actual filming begins. “I don’t think I possess any particular strengths as an actor thus far, especially since I’m still new to the industry,” confesses Wong humbly. She has only recently wrapped up her third film, the details of which she was still unable to share with us at press time.

“I feel that I’ve improved with each project I take on. Of course, I believe this applies to any profession: with experience, you gain valuable knowledge and learn how to perform better in the future,” she says. Learning how to communicate more effectively with the directors, sharpening her script-reading skills, and developing a better understanding of the characters she portrays are just among the few things that she’s gaining confidence in. 

“Interacting with other actors is also a learning opportunity for me, but it’s important to remember that it’s a give-and-take relationship. It’s all about continuous improvement and striving for better outcomes.” 

It helps that Wong also had the privilege of being mentored by great actors, including the late Liu Kai-chi. One of the greatest pearls of wisdom that he imparted to her while training for Anita was: “Feel the character with your heart and avoid being fake with it,” she recalls. “He told me that as an actor, you need to genuinely believe in the setting, character, plot, and your interaction with other actors—act with sincerity. Regardless of the role you’re portraying, the foundation of your acting skills should be your belief and passion for the character.” 

Loewe dress, earrings; Fendi heels

His was not the only guidance that she sought, and she has been attending various acting classes to hone her skills, with her most recent mentor being The Mad Phoenix actor Tse Kwan-ho. “With different mentoring styles, I’ve made a conscious effort to absorb everything. It’s through this process that I can discover my own style and approach,” she says. 

One of the most exciting aspects of acting, in Wong’s opinion, is the moment she receives a new character and script to research. “It fills me with excitement, yet at the same time, I struggle with it. I have to build a new character, consider various facets, conduct continuous research, and ensure that my prep work is going in the right direction.” 

She adds that at times, she may even need to overturn her preconceived notions of the character she is playing and start anew, so as to portray the character in the most suitable way. “In my first and second films, I may not have been as privy to these details, but now that I’m on my third film, I’ve learnt how to handle and play roles more efficiently.”

Loewe top; Gucci skirt; Balenciaga heels

When it comes down to it, life is just as Shakespeare said in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” in that sense, we are all but actors taking on different roles in our lives. Wong, for example, is a daughter, an older sister, a mother, a wife, a model, and an actor. When asked which role is the most reflective of “Louise Wong” herself, she replies without hesitation, “All of them.” 

“None of these roles reflect a lesser part of myself, because they are simply different facets of me or different ways I interact with others,” she says simply. She elaborates, sharing that while she may be more clingy around her own mother, she would not show that side of her to her colleagues. “In a professional setting, I take on more responsibility, encourage teamwork, and demonstrate passion for my job.” 

Balenciaga dress

As a mother, however, she has to assume the role of a caregiver and educator—especially when her daughter does something wrong. “I need to explain to her why her actions were wrong and provide reasonable explanations. Therefore, in different roles in real life, I express different facets of my personality.” 

Growing up with a single mother, Wong had begun working at a young age to help support her family and younger brother. It was precisely because of this that she explicitly did not want her own daughter to work at a young age, despite her child receiving plenty of offers from talent agencies. “Studying and playing were rare moments during my own childhood, so it is my hope that she can have those experiences.”

However, she can’t deny that her daughter also enjoys being in the spotlight. “She has so much interest in music—she can play the piano, compose songs, and sing. I love recording her performances. It’s both funny and impressive to see how she can already express herself so well at a young age and have so many creative ideas—it’s pretty cool,” she says with a smile. So will we be seeing any mummy-daughter collaborations any time soon? She laughs. “The one time of the year I actually allow her to “work” is during Mother’s Day!”

“Sometimes, I will take her photos to update on her Instagram profile, but I think it’s too early to turn all this into a job,” she says. “But if she develops an interest as she grows older, I will definitely support her.” Putting one’s self on display is clearly something that runs from mother to child, in this context at least.

As we wrap up our interview, we pose a more conceptual question to the rising star: how does she interpret “exhibition”? “To me, ‘exhibition’ is a platform to express and showcase various facets of oneself,” says Wong. “When you’re observing a piece of art at an exhibition, you’re looking at it from a 360-degree view. You can see and feel the message that the artist intends to convey, whether it’s through the choice of materials used, shapes, forms, or emotions it evokes within you. It’s an opportunity for observers to rely on their own interpretation and imagination to fully appreciate and enjoy the art.” 

Safe to say, Wong is one piece of art we wouldn’t mind appreciating each time.

Photography: Issac Lam
Creative Direction: Ian Loh
Styling: Izwan Abdullah
Makeup: Pinky Ku
Hair: Kolen But
Photographer’s assistants: Ivan Chan, Jason Li, Kiano Cameron
Styling assistant: Manfred Lu
Production: W.Y. Li
Interview Translation: Jane Law