Q&A: Sheren Tang
For years, actress Sheren Tang Shui-man looked for substitutes - work and boyfriends - to replace the parental love and care she missed during her childhood.
Born into an unsuccessful marriage, Tang was abandoned by her parents at birth and raised by her grandparents. At the age of 18, she found a way to escape from her family, starting a career as an actress. Her debut television series The Legend of the General Who Never Was (1985) was a big hit and gave her a great start. Over the next 24 years, she had many roles, culminating in her winning the best actress title at TVB's television awards ceremony last month. But the 43-year-old actress says she has always struggled in her personal life.
How was your childhood like?
I have never had a normal childhood. My mother was 16 when she was pregnant and gave birth to me at 17. Perhaps both of my parents were still too young to have a child then. They left me with my grandparents after I was born and they divorced when I was five years old. Since I don't have any siblings, I have always played by myself and talked to myself. I still prefer to be alone than have too many people around me.
How did you become an actress?
My grandparents were very strict. As soon as I graduated from Form Five, I wanted to leave them very badly. At first, I applied for an air-hostess job but was unsuccessful. Then I saw an acting class recruiting students and thought I'd always liked watching television dramas, so why not give it a shot. Back then, I didn't know if I was good at acting, but I was a caged bird who had always wanted to see what it was like outside.
You had a great start with your career, but that didn't help your love life. Why do you think that was?
I think every one of us has a hole in us somewhere waiting to be filled. My hole obviously was the lack of love from my parents and the way I was going to fill it up was to fall in love with a guy and get love from there, just like other people might turn to drugs and gambling. I admit I was naive and went too far with some of the relationships, falling for people I shouldn't [have fallen for]. But love to me at that time was like having fast food - although there are no nutrients, you are just desperate for it - and many of my relationships failed because of that. At one point, I tried to stop myself from falling for another guy by visiting gay clubs. It was very silly. Luckily, my faith put me back on the right track and now that hole of mine is filled with the love of God.
How did you find your faith?
I had been attending Christian schools from kindergarten, but I became much more devoted to God after my baptism in 2005. My relationship with my mother has improved, too. And I have learned to love myself more. I used to push myself very hard, because I thought that was the only way to prove I was valuable. But now, I know God will love me even if I am not good at acting, he loves me because I am who I am. So, now I am learning to take things easy and love myself more.
As a Christian, how do you feel about playing characters that are against your faith?
When I consider a role, I would first look into what it is really promoting. What kind of influence will it have on the audience? If the negative influence is bigger than its positive influence, I don't want to be part of it.
One of your characters, a 37-year-old single businesswoman Hilda in La Femme Desperado (2006), borrows sperm to bear a child. What do you think of that role?
To be honest, I did have initial concerns with that role, but my immediate response was that if I didn't take it, someone else would. It would be better for someone like me, with a strong moral stance on the issue, to do it and when I promoted the drama series, I could tell people what was right and what was wrong with that character. But what I didn't expect was that people actually saw sperm borrowing as a new trend after the series was aired. Given a second chance, I probably wouldn't do it.
Of all the characters you have played in your 24-year career, which one is closest to your real character?
It is a tough pick. Every character I played, I put a bit of myself into it and that makes every role special to me. But if I have to choose one, I would probably say I am closest to the workaholic Hilda from La Femme Desperado. Both of us are very independent women, living alone - I have been living alone for more than 20 years. But I think I also have the same sense of justice as [a rice merchant's fourth wife] Hong Po-kei from Rosy Business (2009). But I have to say the character that is the furthest from my true personality is Mung Ka-ka, a mother of two who commits her life to her family in The Family Link (2007). I guess being an artist for so long, I am too used to being taken care of but not the other way round. But I do find playing characters that are totally opposite from my true self more fun.
Many people enjoyed your role as the power-obsessed consort to the Qing emperor, Ru-yue, in War and Beauty (2003). What do you think of that role?
She is a very calculative person. I think I would get very tired being like her, having to calculate every step I take. I can't live like that. I won't choose power over love.
Are you looking forward to finding your true love?
Of course I am. I'm not desperate any more but I look forward to it. For the longest time, I thought I was the only one who needed to be loved, so whenever a problem cropped up with boyfriends in the past, I would run away from it or end the relationship immediately instead of solving the problem. Having reconciled with my mother, I have learned how to love someone unconditionally. I think I am more ready to be married now than ever.