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(Left) Turtleneck top and dress by Hermes. (Right) Jacket and dress by Celine by Hedi Slimane. Boots by Hermes.

A time for reinvention

As 2020 comes to a close, Singapore personalities reflect on this challenging year and how it’s changed their outlook on life.
04/12/2020 - 05:50

Jeanette Aw - actress, director, entrepreneur

IT MAY BE SOMEWHAT IMPOLITIC to say it. But if there's one public figure who's having a good 2020, it's actress Jeanette Aw. Forced to stay home in Singapore longer than she's ever had to in her entire working life, she's used the time to reflect on her priorities and personal life. She started shooting baking videos for Instagram, generated ideas for her second illustration book, and planned for her third directorial effort.

Yes, 2020 has been an oddly good year for Jeanette Aw - even if her film schedules have been variously upended. The self-professed introvert says: "I know a lot of people are going through difficult times. And with Christmas approaching, it feels like it's not the time to celebrate or rejoice... But I think that, in moments like these, we need to think about what else we can do to improve ourselves, what skills we can learn that can benefit us in future.

"Rather than dwell on the fact that it's really tough now, perhaps we can try something else, something that we've always wanted to do, but couldn't because of our jobs, or because we didn't have the time. Maybe we need to focus our energies on something that could empower us instead."

For nearly two decades, her stratospheric acting success meant rarely spending Christmas at home. She was usually in production in another country or celebrating at an event. Home had become "more like a hotel", she says.

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So this year, she feels lucky to be able to give her family her full festive attention. She says: "When my godmother died of Alzheimer's in 2007 (while she was in the midst of filming), I decided that family would always rank higher than my career. If, at any moment, I had to make a choice, I would drop my career. I put family at the top of my priorities."

Aw has never been one to give up easily under any circumstance. As a young girl, she earned spots in good schools where she was a prefect and model student. She started ballet at 13 and trained daily before signing an acting contract at 21. While pursuing theatre at the National University of Singapore, she presided over the university dance group.

It seems only natural for her to stay active and productive, even in the confines of her chic condo apartment. Like her iconic characters on TV - from the tenacious orphan girl in The Little Nyonya, to the ragstoriches actress in The Dream Makers - Aw always looks for ways to beat the odds: "I'm very hard on myself... I have high expectations and I beat myself up if I don't meet them,"

When she left Mediacorp in 2017, many speculated that that was the end of her celebrated TV career, which saw her nominated eight times for Best Actress at the Star Awards and winning once. But Aw defied expectations by enrolling in the Diplôme de Pâtisserie course at the Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School, where she was such a good student, she was appointed ambassador of the school. She has plans to open a dessert shop, selling her best bites such as her Instagram-famous What The Fudge brownies and cinnamon sugar crumble cake.

She also went behind the camera to write and direct her own films. Her first short film beat over 10,000 global entries to earn a spot in Tokyo's Short Shorts Film Festival 2018. She then directed a short film in the Japanese city of Takasaki, which made her a PR ambassador of the city. While she pursues these varied interests, her acting career has taken something of a backseat. But that's not to say she isn't constantly off ered roles: "Ever since I've gone solo, I've been able to take the time to pick the roles and the characters and the dramas that I want to do. Stories that speak to me and things that I'm interested in."

This Christmas, Aw is taking the time to be thankful for everything life has given her - even the challenges of 2020. Besides family, her friends rank high on her list of people she cares about. She hopes to gather a "small, cosy group" of them for a gift exchange session. She's thinking small hardcover books filled with inspirational quotes might just be the thing to gift: "They're motivational and easy to read."

2020 has been a year of reflection - but also reinvention. In a sense, reinvention is routine for an actress who has to study the characters she plays and slip into their emotional and physical states. But Aw has proven she's adaptable off -camera too, taking on roles (film director, chef, city ambassador) she never thought possible.

With the pandemic still surging around the world this Christmas, she feels herself morphing once again. She says: "I'm not like how I used to be. I've gotten used to this slower pace where I'm able to deliberate on something, and then do it... Now I can plan my time. I can do what makes me happy."