Zoe Tay ages to 72 for matriarch role in Emerald Hill, Latest TV News - The New Paper

Zoe Tay ages to 72 for matriarch role in Emerald Hill

Veteran local actress Zoe Tay has portrayed mums many times in her three-decade career – but never one this old.

Her latest role is that of the matriarch of a Peranakan family who ages up to 72 years old, in Mediacorp’s upcoming Mandarin blockbuster drama Emerald Hill. A spin-off of popular series The Little Nyonya (2008 to 2009), it is slated to air in early 2025.

“She’s the oldest character I have played, and the first time my on-screen children are so grown up,” says Tay, 56, during a media visit on June 18 to the mansion where Emerald Hill is being filmed.

The four cast members playing her children – Shaun Chen, Hsiu Chieh-kai, Romeo Tan and Sheila Sim – are between the ages of 39 and 45. 

To get into character, Tay tells The Straits Times during an interview on set that she looked to her mother, who is in her late 80s, as a reference. Although playing an elderly woman was challenging for the “Ah Jie” of local show business, she says it has been an enjoyable process. 

“I have to adjust my tone and reduce my energy to be calmer and more relaxed,” adds the mother of three boys aged 13, 16 and 19. 

Despite being cast as the oldest character on the show, Tay does not feel pigeonholed by her age.

“It’s true that I can play characters way older than 72, but I don’t think Mediacorp will put me only in such roles moving forward. Instead, I think they will give me more opportunities to demonstrate my range in acting if I can handle this role.”

Playing Tay’s eldest on-screen son is Malaysia-born actor Chen, 45. The pair previously co-starred as would-be lovers in the drama My One And Only (2023).

He says going from that relationship to mother and son has been very challenging. 

“However, we’re actors and whatever relationship we have to play is acceptable to me. By making our on-screen appearances look younger or older, the age gap can be believable,” he says. 

For local actor Tan, 39, treating Tay as a maternal figure comes naturally. Since the start of his career in 2010, he has “always seen her” as one. 

“She gives us a lot of advice, and I respect her tremendously,” he says. “Now that she’s playing my mum, it’s very close to home. I feel really comfortable calling her that.”

Before being cast in Emerald Hill, Taiwanese actor Hsiu, 41, had never watched any of Tay’s performances. 

He adds that he did not know her age before filming either, which only made him treat her with a lot more respect.  

Emerald Hill marks Hsiu’s first time acting in a Singapore-based production. 

“It’s quite stressful because coming from Taiwan, I’m not that knowledgeable about Peranakan culture and had to learn a lot to get into character,” he says in Mandarin. 

However, he says his castmates have taught him a lot about the culture, which has helped them bond greatly.

To prepare for their roles, they were taken to the Peranakan Museum as well as ronggeng classes, a type of traditional Javanese dance.

For local actress Sim, 40, seeing everyone try their hand at dancing has been the most memorable part of the production.

“When we went for our ronggeng dance rehearsal, I laughed until I cried,” she recalls. “It was hilarious. I felt like that was a distinctive moment in this production as we all put ourselves out there.”

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