THERE was a brief time when Carmen Soo was thought to have fallen off the radar. Nothing to get worried about though, Soo had simply taken a year off to have a baby.
She returned to work this year with a role on Disney’s Wizards of Warna Walk, as well as a role on the Singaporean TV series Fried Rice Paradise.
Soo was also seen in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians, which she described as a dream opportunity to be a part of an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood movie.
A model since she was 17, Soo was on the job in Hong Kong when she landed a small role in the Jackie Chan movie Gorgeous (1999). It gave her a taste for acting.
As an actress, Soo has not only made her mark in the Malaysian entertainment industry (starring in the 2006 film The 3rd Generation), but she has also been featured in TV dramas in Singapore (The Pupil) and the Philippines (Kahit Isang Saglit).
However, she took a break from all that in 2018 when she gave birth to her first child, a daughter.
Soo told theSun: “I was with her from birth until she was a year old. I got a project and I started working when she was 13 months old. I worked back-to-back.”
Although Soo admitted to taking on fewer projects after getting married in 2015, she said: “I will never stop working. I have to give my child most of my time especially over the next few years because they are her formative years. Motherhood is now my priority, and acting is something I do on the side. I just hope there will interesting roles for me that will also allow me to adjust around my schedule. My husband is also very supportive ,and fills in for me a lot.”
In Wizards of Warna Walk, Soo plays Jazmin, mum to teenagers Amelia, Alissa and Aiden.
“When I am with them and I look at them, I feel more like a mummy than I did when I previously played a mum,” said Soo, who adds that her maternal instincts kicked into high gear after the birth of her child.
“There are many times when I think what it would be like when my daughter grows up and reaches their age. I wonder about all the things I would have to handle.”
When asked how she was balancing work and motherhood, Soo laughed and said: “With great difficulty.
“In the past I could do three overlapping projects at a time but I can’t do that anymore. I have to prioritise. When I had to shoot Fried Rice Paradise in Rawang, my baby had to go to play school. When I was shooting Wizards of Warna Walk in a studio in Johor Baru, I brought her along with my mother.
“Whenever I shoot something, her life is a little disrupted. When I finish a project, I will be with her and try not to take on anything so soon after.”
She still does modelling shoots, and only recently finished shooting for an upcoming movie.
When asked if she sees herself as a ground breaker, Soo says: “That was not what I initially set out to do. As an actor I want to be able to expose myself to as many markets as possible.
“Some actors prefer to focus only on the local market, which is great, but I like new experiences. I like to travel to work and I have been quite lucky that things happened the way that they did.”
She also touched upon the 2008 TV drama Kahit Isang Saglit, which was nominated at the Seoul International Drama Awards, and garnered a 37th International Emmy Award nomination for Telenovelas.
She said: “[It] was actually accidental. There was a casting here, and I got the role. I did not expect it to be so huge in the Philippines and it opened up a new market for me.”
She landed a few other projects in the Philippines following the series, and her success overseas gave local fans the impression that she had ‘disappeared’ from the local market.
Soo also worked a lot in the Singapore entertainment industry and has at least one project there each year.
When asked if she is getting offered more ‘mum roles’ now, Soo said: “Yes and no. I was told that there are not a lot of actresses who can play mother roles, or who are willing to play them. I am very conscious of not taking only mother roles. [My upcoming film role] is completely different. I can’t say much about it but I am glad that roles like this still come to me.”
She also has no qualms about taking on smaller roles in films that have a huge cast.
She explained: “I stopped worrying about the size of the role. When I was younger, people would tell me I should only play the lead role, that I should only play the good girl.
“I did that for a few short years. I would play the girl who gets bullied and then the hero comes and saves me. It got a little bit boring. Things changed when I got my first lead role in [Singaporean film] The Pupil.
“[My character] was not a bad person, but because somebody tries to steal her boyfriend, she takes revenge.
“Over the years I stopped worrying if I would get the lead role or not. It was about playing the right role.”