From being an actress on some of TVB’s most popular shows, to embracing motherhood, Corinna Chamberlain Cheng shares her multifaceted life as a singer, dancer, actress, and entertainer in Hong Kong.
If you watched TV in Hong Kong at some point in the 2010s, chances are you would’ve noticed Corinna Chamberlain Cheng (陳明恩). As an actress, vocalist, and dancer – not to mention that she’s fluent in Cantonese – she’s a triple threat. But other than being recognised for being ‘the foreigner who speaks amazing Canto on TV,’ there’s, of course, much more to Corinna. From her musical talent to her faith and family, read on as Corinna spills the beans about her experience in Hong Kong.
Meet Hong Kong actress, singer, and dancer Corinna Chamberlain Cheng
Hey, Corinna! Thank you for chatting with us today. As a vocalist, actress, dancer, MC, and model, you’re truly an all-rounded performer. What do the performing arts mean to you?
I enjoy performing as a way to express myself and (hopefully) inspire people. I want to share positive energy that will influence and encourage those who are down, and I suppose this desire came from when I was growing up. During the times when I was unhappy, I would listen to some Christian artists; their music helped me climb out of those helpless moments in my life. So, that’s what I want to do now, as well: use music and the arts as a language of the heart to encourage others and be alongside them.
While growing up in Hong Kong, what were some things you liked (and disliked) about this city?
While I was born and raised in Hong Kong, my dad’s a Kiwi and my mum’s Australian. They came to Hong Kong as missionaries, and because they could speak Cantonese, they taught me the language. But I didn’t only just stay in Hong Kong; I often went to Australia and New Zealand as well when I was young. Then, throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to travel to many countries around the world, including China, Singapore, Malaysia, the US, the UK, amongst others.
But having travelled to so many places, there are still so many things I love about Hong Kong. Besides great food and shopping options, I have a lot of friends here and they’re all working in the performing arts scene in Hong Kong. Not only is our community very tight, but with Hong Kong being such a dynamic city, there are all sorts of opportunities for us, whether it’s theatre shows, teaching, television, or other commercial jobs. Plus, a lot of shows are brought in from overseas, so you can watch troupes from France, England, Australia… For people who love the arts, Hong Kong is an exciting place to be in.
Oh, but there’s one thing I dislike about Hong Kong – cockroaches! I’m terrified of them!
Many Hongkongers recognise you as ‘the foreigner who speaks amazing Canto’ on TV. How was your experience as a public figure in the mainstream broadcast media and an ‘ethnic minority’ in Hong Kong?
I think people in Hong Kong generally respect gwailo (Westerners), so this has been a benefit to me a lot of the time. They give extra grace to me, say, when I don’t get my Chinese lines right. However, I must admit I have noticed discrimination in the industry towards those with darker skin. They can be so talented, clever, and enjoyable to watch, but because Hongkongers don’t traditionally look up to those races as much…
What are the differences between acting on television and on stage in Hong Kong?
One huge difference is the technique, of course. Whether it’s realising how the audience only sees you through the camera, or getting used to the non-chronological way of filming for television dramas, there have been many things I’ve had to get used to when switching to acting on TV.
Furthermore, the theatre (at least in Hong Kong) is very much about your skill and your art; when you get off the stage, you’re just very much yourself, relaxed, and down-to-earth. But in the local commercial scene, it’s not just about your acting; the whole of your life is part of the show. So, you have to package your normal life as well, and think about how it’s presented to the public. This mindset is one of the biggest differences to me between acting on television and on stage. Being on TV really takes up your whole life.
Along with the performing arts, faith and religion seem to be a fundamental part of your life as well. Yet, the entertainment industry is often seen as a secular space, its extravagance at odds with the spiritual values of religion. Do you think this conflict exists? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yeah, faith and religion pretty much mean everything to me. They’ve changed many things in my life, including the way I think about myself. But in terms of art, it doesn’t matter what religion you have, because art is just something you express from your heart. That said, when you enter the entertainment industry… I suppose it just depends on what kind of performer you want to be. It’s not a bad thing to want to make a lot of money and become famous – I also want the same, and who wouldn’t, TBH? But for me, that’s not the be-all and end-all. While it’s easy to lose track of what you really want, and lose sight of who you really are in that scene, my ultimate goal is to have a bigger loudspeaker to share more things with more people, and do more charity events. My faith helps me keep a clear focus on this and use the performing arts as a tool to get there, rather than being overtaken by fame and money. I feel that I can stay grounded and level-headed; I’m able to see what really matters to me and control who I want to be.
Also, faith and religion help me gain true self-confidence. In the television industry, you can be absolutely successful one day, but on everyone’s bad side the next; or, people simply forget you after a while. So, if my self-worth depends on how many people like me, then I’m going to be on a rollercoaster ride; whereas because my self-worth comes from God, I know that He loves me no matter what, and that I’m just a humble human.
Jaydon’s so cute! How did you feel transitioning from a full-time performer to a mum?
The transition to becoming a new mum was a little difficult, because I love my work. But, after telling myself that there’ll always be shows happening, yet my son will never be the same age twice, I’ve come to realise that it’s my moment – it’s my time to take this stage in my life as a parent. Motherhood is a beautiful experience, and it’s not one that I can repeat many times (even though we do plan on having a second child!) So, everything has a price – it just depends on what’s important to you. I’ll be continuing theatre and my career, but I’ll also be taking it slow, so that I can make sure I have time for my family.
What are your future plans?
Be a mum! That’s my biggest plan. Also, I’m in Brisbane at the moment to take care of my parents, as they’re in their senior years. I’ll be back and forth between Hong Kong and Brisbane, although it may be tough considering the global pandemic situation. Career-wise, I’m trying to manage more things online, whether it’s my Instagram, YouTube, or other music stuff. I hope to do more jamming with people, too. In addition, I hope I’ll be able to do a chunk of jobs and shows every time I come back to Hong Kong. There are a few theatre shows up in the air right now due to COVID-19, but we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed that I’ll be on stage again next year in Hong Kong!