Off to a fresh start

KARENA TEO believes she is very blessed to be an actress because of the chance to play different roles that are different from her real self. However acting has taken a back seat when she decided to prioritise her family, especially after giving birth to her now one-year-old daughter. Yet a woman's work is never done as she forges ahead by starting her journey into business.

Coming from a banking and finance background, getting into the entertainment industry never occurred to her until she joined a beauty pageant. At that time, she told herself if she could get good results she would go on and if not, she would stop and go back to an office job. In the end, she was crowned second runner-up.

"I didn't get into acting right away, instead I did modelling as well as television commercials. I remember I went for the casting for the movie, Love You You by Hong Kong director Jingle Ma and he thought I was already an actress in Malaysia, but at that time I wasn't yet. That was my first acting stint and I had a small role alongside big guns like Eddie Peng and Angelababy," Teo said.

But that small part jump-started her acting career as she went on to play various main roles in a number of dramas, eventually landing her the Best Actress award at the Golden Awards 2017.

"I wasn't expecting to win. When I knew I was nominated, that itself was a great present to myself but when they announced my name, I was extremely surprised. I didn't think I would have a chance because I wasn't working on any productions for some time. I couldn't sleep the whole night after that," she recalled.

Teo won the award for her lead role in the drama, The Missing Menu, which was the last drama she acted in before giving birth. She said she truly enjoyed the role and felt blessed she got to play the character.

"Winning the award opened up a lot of opportunities for me but now, I choose to prioritise my family. After giving birth, I did discuss with my husband whether I should continue acting but we felt we need to dedicate our time to our daughter because she is still little.

"If I take on the main role, the drama would take about three months and that means long hours and full days of shooting. I won't be able to see my baby girl and that is very challenging for me. I still enjoy acting but for now, I have decided to put it on hold. Once I have settled down with my family and if a good role comes by, I will consider returning to acting," she said, adding that she can't give a timeline to how long she will be away.

Reminiscing her acting days, Teo revealed that she truly suffered when she first started acting because she had absolutely no background in it. She said posing as a model and acting for the camera is totally different. As an actress, she needed to express her feelings in front of the camera as well as in front of a lot of people on set.

"I was like a blank piece of paper. I didn't know anything from acting to studying the script. I think because of my stubbornness I was able to stay in the industry. If I wasn't stubborn enough, I would have given up when facing a demanding director. You have to be really tough to handle being scolded in front of so many people.

"I wanted to prove I could do it and I hope everyone was able to witness my hard work. I believe as an actress, it is important to be polite, be humble, be punctual and have a good attitude. It is best to maintain yourself as an empty glass so you can continue learning more things," she said.

Currently, she is spending most of her time with her daughter and their most recent favourite family activity is going to bird parks and zoos.

In the beginning, she did experience mother's guilt for leaving her daughter for work, but now she feels better as she believes having her "me" time is also very important to de-stress and do the things she loves.

"I think love is very important for a child and they can feel it. We are responsible to educate them but they are individuals who have their own choice. Regardless which pathway they choose, when they face challenges, they know they have a home to return to," she said.

She is also working on two businesses – a mobile app which she will be launching soon as well as an online shop selling baby clothes. She had planned to start her own business even before she starting acting, and her businessman husband has been her mentor, giving her all kinds of advice.