Here’s an interview that was published just last week with another favorite veteran actress of mine: Mary Hon.
Mary Jeh is another one of those actresses who is hugely talented and so versatile in her acting that she can play practically any role convincingly. I’m sure most of us have been ‘seeing’ a lot of Mary Jeh lately, since she seems to be in every series nowadays (not that I’m complaining) – I must say though that after close to 40 years in the industry (working for TVB almost the entire time), Mary Jeh definitely hasn’t lost her touch, as she still does a great job in in all the roles I’ve seen of hers in the last couple years (even though a lot of those roles have been ‘minor’). I loved her performance in SSSS and absolutely felt that she was one of the supporting artists who pretty much ‘held up’ the series (I personally didn’t like the series overall, but still tuned in to watch parts of it mostly because of her, Damian, Elena [Kong], Ben [Wong], and majority of the supporting cast). Of course, another highlight of that series for me was getting to see Damian and Mary Jeh act together again because they were one of those onscreen veteran couples that I grew up watching (gosh, lost count of how many times they’ve collaborated together over the years). I remember the first series that I watched of theirs was Yesterday’s Glitter – even though they technically weren’t the main couple in the series, plus Mary Jeh was the ‘villain’ (she played the role of the 3rd party mistress who comes between Damian and Liza Wang), I still greatly enjoyed their performances in that series.
I actually quite like the below interview that YCWB (Mainland paper) did with Mary Jeh because in the interview, she doesn’t just talk about her career, but also gives us a glimpse into some of her past personal struggles as well as her current marriage with voice actor To Yin Gor (whom I have grown to like after watching his awesome performance in Witness Insecurity..LOL). Reading about Mary Jeh’s struggles with anxiety disorder and how much that had impacted her life was definitely heartwrenching, but seeing how well she was able to come out of that dark period was very encouraging. Oh and I enjoyed reading the part about Mary Jeh’s relationship with her husband To Sir and how they are still such a sweet couple even after 23 years of marriage – I love hearing about these long-lasting relationships in the entertainment industry!
Anyway, the interview pretty much speaks for itself, so not going to comment too much right now. Hope you guys enjoy reading the interview as much as I did!
YCWB Interview with veteran actress Mary Hon: “Marriage needs to be safeguarded”
Source: YangCheng Wan Bao (Yang Cheng Evening Paper)
Article originally published January 18th, 2013
From ‘eldest wife’ in Silver Spoons Sterling Shackles (名媛望族) to a wretched, sickly mother in Missing You (幸福摩天輪) to an honorable judge in Friendly Fire (法網狙擊), veteran actress Mary Hon (韓馬利) has been a ‘common fixture’ in many of TVB’s recently aired TV series.
During a recent interview with Yang Cheng Evening Paper, Mary Hon not only chats with our reporter about the lessons she learned in her 37 year acting career, she also shares with us her advice on maintaining a happy marriage.
YC = YCWB reporter
MH = Mary Hon
Mary Hon started in the industry working for Rediffusion Television [ATV’s predecessor] back in 1972. Even though she had graduated from RTV’s acting class at the time [TN: one of her classmates that same year was veteran actor Damian Lau (劉松仁)], she actually did not go into acting right away – rather, she joined the dance department and worked as a background dancer for 2 years. It wasn’t until Mary joined TVB a few years later that her acting career actually started to take flight. In 1975, Mary participated in her very first TV series: famed producer Wong Tin Lam (王天林)’s wuxia classic Luk Siu Fung (陸小鳳) – despite this being her first foray into acting, Mary was already cast in the lead female role in the series opposite none other than her acting class ‘partner’ Damian Lau. Around the same time, she was also chosen to co-host TVB’s popular, highly-rated entertainment news program K-100 alongside ‘golden host’ Ivan Ho (何守信).
Several decades later, Mary Hon is still active in the HK television industry, participating in one series after another, and sometimes even appearing on HK audiences’ TV screens in multiple series at the same time! Her performance as Damian Lau’s eldest wife in last year’s anniversary series Silver Spoons Sterling Shackles was well-received by audiences and her cameo roles as 2 distinctly different mothers in this year’s recently aired series Missing You and Friendly Fire both received good feedback from audiences.
YC: In both Missing You and Friendly Fire, you played a mother who reunites with her long lost son. When filming both series, did you feel the story idea sounded similar?
MH: I just thought ‘oh, what a coincidence!’ It originally wasn’t much of a problem, it’s just that both series ended up airing at the same time and therefore the reunion scenes in each occurred only 1-2 days apart – that’s why a lot of audiences felt it was a bit odd. But hey, no big deal – after all, [veteran actor] Law Lok Lam (羅樂林) also ‘died’ 5 times in the same day, right? (Laughs).
YC: With the many characters you’ve portrayed over the years, there are bound to be some that are similar in nature. Is it tiring to portray similar characters like that?
MH: Being with the company so many years, I’ve portrayed every character imaginable: drug addict, street vendor, rich classy lady, evil villain, etc….of course there was a bottleneck period when I would ask myself why I’m playing the same types of characters over and over again. Is it because I’m only capable of playing these types of characters? But even if the characters and story concept are similar, there will still be distinct differences – for instance, with the ‘mother reuniting with long lost son’ character, one of the mothers is a respected judge while the other is an ordinary woman suffering from Alzheimer’s – therefore, the method of portraying these 2 characters will definitely be different. To make each character come across different to audiences, that is not the scriptwriter’s issue -- it’s the responsibility of the actor portraying the character(s).
YC: Recently, there have been many TVB artists who left to join rival stations – have you thought about changing your work environment?
MH: Back during my younger days, I also went through that ‘poaching’ period – there were TV stations in Malaysia and Singapore that had approached me in the past trying to get me to join, but back then, I felt that my love relationships were more important – since I didn’t want to leave my other half behind, I rejected the offers. Now that I’m older, I feel that affinity with the company is very important – after all, I’ve worked for TVB so many years already and the company treats me relatively well. In this area, Damian Lau had a huge influence on me – he once told me that he ‘grew up’ at TVB, so when the company is facing a crisis, he should stay and help them fight the battle. I feel that what he said makes a lot of sense.
YC: Back in the day, when you were at the peak of your career, you chose to get married. Looking back now, do you feel any regrets?
MH: I’m not the type of person who proactively fights for things – filming series, becoming a host, etc., all of that was arranged for me by others. Popularity would have come easily back then, but yet I didn’t put much effort into grasping it and because of that, a lot of opportunities were lost – looking back now, it was a bit regrettable. That’s why nowadays, I always tell the younger generation that they need to constantly enrich themselves and when an opportunity comes along, grasp on to it – every character you get is a good opportunity to express yourself, so don’t slack off just because you feel the role is insignificant or there’s little screen time. You never know – maybe a producer happens to watch that performance and it leaves an impression on them so they decide to seek you out next time.
YC: In the past few years, you’ve been getting heavier roles and the feedback from audiences has been pretty good. Any hopes of getting an award?
MH: Of course I would want to grasp the opportunity if it were to present itself, however as actors, we’re very passive and things often aren’t within our control – you need to have a good script, good director, good actors to collaborate with, etc….otherwise, even if you’re hugely talented, things still might not work out. Sure, awards are a source of encouragement, but shouldn’t be the main reason for doing our jobs. Do your job well first, then the awards will come later – you shouldn’t wait until you get an award to start doing your job well.
In the series Silver Spoons Sterling Shackles, Mary Hon played the role of ‘eldest wife’, but in real life, she has always played the role of ‘Big Sister’. Two years ago, the pressures of work and life caused Mary to develop anxiety disorder – luckily, through the support and encouragement of friends and family, she was able to overcome this difficult period.
YC: Is it true that you once developed anxiety disorder because of too much stress?
MH: That happened 2 years ago – perhaps the stress that had accumulated over the years became too great and so it just broke out all at once. When I was busy with work, I didn’t realize I had such an illness – that time, it happened to be my rest period from filming and that’s when the problems surfaced. Each time the anxiety attacks occurred, my whole body would shake and break out in a sweat.. at times I would even have difficulty breathing and couldn’t sit down – I would have to stand up and take deep breaths repeatedly. I was afraid to stay home alone and had to go walk around outside to take in fresh air; even something as simple as taking a shower was difficult because each time I closed the shower door I felt like I was going to suffocate. Sometimes, I would even hallucinate and hear voices whispering in my ear: ‘Mary Hon, you are so useless, you should just go die!’ or ‘Mary Hon, you’re so crazy, no one is going to care about you!’
YC: How long did it take for you to overcome this suffering?
MH: Luckily, I discovered this illness early and was able to seek proper treatment. At first, I went to the hospital to get it checked out, but the doctors there were very irresponsible – they said that I was healthy physically so probably just imagining things. Later on, I was talking to a friend of mine who happened to be a psychologist and she told me all those things were symptoms of anxiety disorder – she taught me how to treat it and a few months later, I was well again. I’m very grateful for the group of friends that kept me company during that time and helped me get through it. Even though the doctor prescribed medication for me to take, I don’t want to constantly rely on medicine – now, whenever I’m unhappy, I pray.
YC: After this experience, did it help you better understand how to balance work and personal life?
MH: All along, I’ve always had high standards for myself – if I didn’t meet those standards, I would get upset at myself. Plus at home, I’m the big sister, so I’m used to always being the one who takes care of others – whenever someone had a problem, I would take it upon myself to help them resolve it, so over time, it caused the burdens on my shoulder to get heavier. After this experience [anxiety disorder], I realized that good health is just too important. What’s the use of earning so much money if it’s at the expense of your health?
Mary Hon has been married 3 times: at 21 years old, she married a high school classmate of hers who also worked as a director at TVB – unfortunately, a ‘rumor’ ended the marriage a few years later. In 1981, she married veteran actress Fung Bo Bo (馮寶寶)’s elder brother Fung Kat Lung, however the marriage only lasted 6 years – the unhappiness and pain of that marriage almost brought Mary to the point of suicide. It wasn’t until 1989 that Mary finally met her life companion – her current husband, TVB voice actor To Yin Gor (杜燕歌) with whom she has been together for the past 23 years.
YC: Your husband To Yin Gor recently switched from working behind-the-scenes [as a voice / dubbing actor] to acting in front of the cameras – were you the one who sparked his interest in acting?
MH: Actually, all along, a lot of people have been telling him to try acting in TV series, but because he is used to speaking Mandarin and filming series requires speaking in Cantonese, he was afraid to try it. It wasn’t until producer Lau Ka Ho (劉家豪) invited him to play a Mandarin-speaking triad leader in last year’s Witness Insecurity (護花危情) that he got a chance to try acting in front of the camera. Then later on, producer Jonathan Chik (戚其義) gave him a role as a storyteller in his series Beauty at War (金枝欲孽2) – after both those experiences, he started to develop an interest in acting, so the company signed a new contract with him – hopefully he will be able to balance his work as an actor and voice dubbing artist simultaneously. I’m very happy that he is able to find a sense of satisfaction in acting because I feel that as a man, it’s important for him to find his own position and confidence – I support him completely!
YC: Do you usually give him pointers and advice on acting?
MH: Definitely not! Unless he specifically asks me for my advice on acting, otherwise I don’t want to place any unnecessary burden on him. Since I’ve been acting for so long, he of course already feels that he has less experience than me in this area – if I try to ‘teach’ him too, it will hurt his confidence!
YC: Outside, you are the ‘big sister’, but when you’re at home with your husband, do you go back to being the ‘little woman’?
MH: For me, family is the most important and my husband is the number one priority in my life. Of course, as with any marriage, certain things that are a matter of principle can’t be compromised, but if it’s a harmless matter, I let him make the decision.
YC: After so many years of marriage, you two still have a very sweet relationship – can you share your ‘secret’ to maintaining such a happy marriage?
MH: My husband is from Beijing and immigrated to Australia in his teens, whereas I was born and raised entirely in Hong Kong – growing up in different environments, our backgrounds and personalities were very different, so of course it took a long period of time for us to assimilate. The first few years of our marriage, there were a lot of conflicts and when we were unhappy, we wouldn’t speak to each other – this is actually very unhealthy for the relationship because if there’s ‘trash’ in your heart and you don’t clean it out, it will fester over time and eventually cause irreparable damage. Later on, I felt that our paths were starting to stray further and further apart, so we sat down and talked through it – we realized that we couldn’t continue like this and had to figure out a way to resolve the problems. Eventually, we learned to communicate better with each other – now whenever we encounter differences in opinion, we talk it over calmly and try not to say things that we’ll regret later. And if we happen to say things out of anger that we don’t actually mean, we always make sure to apologize to each other afterwards.
YC: Having been married before, did it help you cherish each other even more?
MH: When I was young, I thought that as long as the person had the right qualifications, I just had to marry him, but then after we married, we realized it wasn’t a good fit, so ‘divorce’ was the only way to resolve the issue. In my second marriage, I was too passive and basically let him make the decisions on everything, to the point that I lost all sense of self and couldn’t even think on my own – this actually put a lot of pressure on him and caused problems in the marriage.
Now with my current marriage, I approach it more rationally. We met at a Christian Artistes Fellowship gathering and actually took some time getting to know each other before we started dating – it’s different from the youth nowadays who start dating almost right after they meet and then start becoming intimate after knowing each other for only a few days. All marriages will encounter problems, but the important thing is to be willing to communicate and not use divorce as an excuse to resolve the issues -- if things go bad and you just ‘throw’ the marriage away, how many times are you able to do that? I’ve seen some couples where when they get married, their partner is worth 120%, but then when it gets to the point of divorce, they suddenly become ‘enemies’. I feel that if you make the decision to go down the path of marriage, then you absolutely have to learn to safeguard and nurture it.