Television actress Roxanne Tong may have been born with acting in her blood, but she never expected she would follow in her family’s footsteps and become an actress too.
Tong’s father, Tong Chun-chung, and uncle, Kent Tong Chun-yip, are both television actors. Growing up, Tong would pay short visits to her father’s shoots, so the acting and television industry never felt like something foreign and out of reach to her.
“I liked psychology since I was young. I thought that Kelly Chen in Infernal Affairs was very cool,” she said. “And I liked interpreting people’s behavior, reading self-help books, and learning about the nine enneagrams.”
So she chose to read psychology after studying for her A Levels in Britain, completing a degree at University College London in hopes of becoming a therapist.
However, after studying and dipping her toes into the world of therapy by volunteering at an organization for the mentally handicapped, she realized that the reality was vastly different from her expectations.
“I realized that I would always be facing depressing situations in this career, so I asked myself if I was really able to handle that,” she said.
“It is, of course, great to help people, but it is also important to ask yourself whether you would be able to help others without being affected by them. I was worried that I couldn’t, so I did not pursue that direction in the end.”
After graduating, Tong was not sure what her next step should be. In 2012, she became a part-time model, and her path in life became clearer when her mother signed her up for the Miss Hong Kong pageant.
“I was looking at all sorts of jobs at the time. My personality is quite spontaneous and I am not someone who has everything planned out. So I didn’t join the pageant because I particularly wanted to be in it.”
Though she won just the Tourism Ambassador Award and only made it to the top six before being voted out, she signed up as a TVB artiste and made her debut in the hit sitcom Come Home Love in a recurring role.
“In the beginning, acting felt like a hobby, but it slowly turned into a profession,” she said, as a lot of preparation goes into each role, even though they look effortless.
“To me, the meaning of this career is to entertain and make people happy.”
And her knowledge of psychology proved to be useful as it helped her adapt to her new career.
“I think because I am a psychology student, I worried that I would be unhappy, so I have already prepared myself mentally and thought of the problems I may face in this career,” she said, adding that she had weighed the pros and cons before deciding to become an actress.
She believes that some of the downsides to her career include coming under the scrutiny of the press, facing criticism and having less freedom – but they could be faced with a good mentality.
“As you read more comments and criticism, you will slowly realize whether they are malicious or constructive. You don’t have to care about the malicious ones, but those with constructive opinions can be taken as attempts by a mentor or parent to guide you into doing better.”
An issue Tong believes is important is mental health education, which she thinks can be better developed in Hong Kong, as many in the crowded city stigmatize mental illnesses and play down the symptoms rather than seek help.
“Do not underestimate the importance of your mental wellbeing. Mental and physical wellbeing are equally vital.”
As for Tong’s recent role as a female lead in the period drama Final Destiny, she says her character, So Yau, a female constable, is her favorite role.
“I’ve had the most action scenes so far in this drama and this character is very different from my previous roles,” she said. “Those involved feminine girls, but this character is more tomboyish.”
Tong finds the character to be more masculine and uptight, while she is comparatively more feminine and laid back.
“I think there are a lot of things in life that are out of our control, so I am less stubborn and unrelenting than she is.”
Tong also believes that this personality contributes to the chemistry between So and the carefree Lee Sau-yuen, So’s romantic interest played by costar Edwin Siu.
Tong refuses to let her landing a first leading role go to her head, saying a well-written script is much more important.
“Instead, I would like to try a lot of different things and brush up on my acting skills,” she said, adding that this role challenged her to learn how to do action scenes.
She adds that titles that come with awards do not determine success for her, as her sense of accomplishment comes from within.
“Self-confidence comes from yourself. Don’t rely on others to give you that. If you always rely on others’ criticism or praise to survive, you will forever rely on people and feel insecure.”
The finale of Final Destiny will air on TVB Jade tonight at 9.30pm.