Hong Kong’s Actress Eliza Sam on Cantonese Culture, TVB Dramas, and Family
December 05, 2022
Canadian-born beauty figure, TVB drama actress, fashion model, wife to Joshua Ngo, and mother to sons Jacob and Julius Samuel, Eliza Sam is a local icon.
Growing into stardom in her hometown of Vancouver when crowned as 2009 Miss Chinese Vancouver Pageant and 2010 Miss Chinese International Pageant, Eliza landed on Hong Kong shores ten years ago to enter the entertainment world of Hong Kong dramas, becoming a household name with her role as Hannah Heung on TVB comedy “Divas in Distress.”
In between fashion shoots, quality time with her sons, and shooting for upcoming series, we were able to find a few minutes in her busy day to quiz her on life in Hong Kong, family, and her stardom on Hong Kong TV dramas.
What is your connection to Hong Kong, Eliza? What part does Cantonese culture and society play in your life and work?
I’ve been in Hong Kong for more than ten years and time passes very quickly [laughs]! It started off as a trip after attending the Miss Chinese International Pageant. It’s a place where I really had to get vulnerable, but it has also given me an opportunity to challenge myself and have a career for myself that I never thought was ever possible.
In these last ten years, Cantonese culture has played such an important part in my life. I was born and raised in Canada, so I didn’t speak much Cantonese until I came here to work in the entertainment industry.
With all my work in Cantonese on TV, I really had to dive headfirst, learning it and living it and trying to sound like I was a local. At first, my tones were all off and I could barely say a full sentence. It took a lot of perseverance, but I found that it was really rewarding. A big part of Cantonese culture I like is the get-it-done attitude here.
You won the Miss Chinese Vancouver in 2009 and Miss Chinese International Pageant in 2010. Why did you begin your involvement in pageantry in Canada?
When I was a kid, my parents really tried to instil the idea of seeking stability. As I was nearing the end of post-secondary, I was about to kind of start my journey into the corporate world. Prior to that, I wanted to try one last time to experience something that was different, and gain life experience that I could look back on, and so I decided to try out for the Miss Chinese Vancouver beauty pageant.
I never actually thought I would win, but I really wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone. It was exhausting eye opening, scary, and fun at the same time. It taught me that things are worth reaching for and that effort and journey counts. Sometimes, when you really want to do something, there might be a lot of voices and opinions from the outside, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
Did this motivate you to begin to understand and learn more about your Chinese background?
I am what they call here a gwai mui zai (Cantonese slang term for Caucasian girl), so of course when the opportunity came for a career in entertainment, learning Chinese and the culture in-depth was the first step. Watching Stephen Chow’s slapstick films and Hong Kong TV dramas were a big part of that.
I studied Chinese as a regular job in sense, studying eight hours a day, speaking with locals, watching movies. This allowed me to understand deeply [sic] my family more and where their deep-rooted traditions and values came from, appreciate why they are the way they are and why they think the way they think. The whole process of learning Chinese brought me even closer to my family and my Cantonese roots.
With your TVB acting role in Divas in Distress, what did you hope for your entrance onto the big screen?
Acting as Hannah Heung was such a memorable role for me. It was the first time I had such a big role in drama. It was tough with my poor Cantonese early on in my career, I worked hard to memorise my lines.
I liked the character I played. She was righteous, she was funny, and she was imperfect. However, she had good values, and she was true to herself. I really felt that this character could bring joy to the audience, so I really wanted to do her justice.
I was not sure about what I expected from this role. I was just so new and in disbelief that I was able to finish shooting a drama [for TV]. I remembered that I was nervous when it came out. I was simply excited to do something that I came out to do.
What is family life like now with two growing boys in Hong Kong?
Family life now is all about balance, learning to embrace my new role as a mom but also remembering to not forget who I am as an individual.
It is about trying my best to evolve into someone who can balance family and career. I am still learning everyday how to be the best me and the best mom I can be. Another important thing I think is how to be kind to myself. I need to remind myself that if I am being kind to myself, that’s enough.
What are the next steps in your career in fashion, modelling and acting? What can we wait in store for?
Now that my time is more divided, I must use it more wisely. I still love my job and it gives me so much joy. If the right role came around to star in a new series, I am game. Fashion too has always been something in my mind and that’s something that I can’t wait to explore.
For a long time, most of where my fans saw me was on the screen. I realised that after becoming a mother and posting my journey in motherhood, I found that I had a chance to connect with my fans that are in the same life stage as me. Social media has allowed me to connect with my audience [through] content creating, learning, sharing, and growing together.
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