Sammi Cheng approaches life and work 'like a dragon' after battle with depression

Flora Yeo
Sammi Cheng (right) in “First Night Nerves”.

After going through three years of battling her inner demons in 2005, Hong Kong star Sammi Cheng has emerged stronger and presents a more positive outlook in life. She has always been open and honest about her struggles.

The singer-actress spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore when she was in Singapore last week to promote her latest film, First Night Nerves, which screened at the Singapore International Film Festival on Friday (7 Dec).  She shared her thoughts on the movie, her struggles and her plans for the future.

“When I suffered from depression, those few years felt like I was living in a coffin, said Cheng. “I felt that there’s no hope. I felt like I didn’t have the strength to carry on. There were a few times when I thought I would retire. Luckily, (those thoughts) are gone.”

In First Night Nerves, Cheng plays Yuan Xiuling, a talented actress who returns to the spotlight five years after her retirement to star in a play. The catfight between her biggest rival, He Yuwen (Gigi Leung) starts as the two actresses pit their skills to strive for attention. The film is directed by renowned Hong Kong director, Stanley Kwan in his comeback film after a long hiatus.

“When I first read the script of First Night Nerves, I really loved it! There are a lot of inner struggles that character goes through, which allows for a good character arc and depth of the role. I felt like this character gave me a different perspective and dimension to present myself (to audiences).”

Sammi Cheng at the Singapore International Film Festival. (PHOTO: Flora Yeo for Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

It was said that Cheng’s mental state deteriorated after she filmed Everlasting Regret in 2005 where she played a tragic Shanghainese beauty opposite Tony Leung Ka-fai. In First Night Nerves, although her character required her to portray a rather sorrowful retired performer, Cheng was “fully confident to handle my role”.

“There was a great difference filming this and Everlasting Regret,” she said. “During that time, my mental condition wasn’t that stable and I was always in a constant state of agony. But now, no matter physically or mentally, I am completely and totally healed,” she said.

She added: “Now that I’m older and went through depression, I realised that the way I treated myself was unhealthy. I opened up and I now look at things with an open mindset. I have a different sense of security and I’m a different Sammi.”

As one of Asia’s most prominent female singers, the “Cantopop Queen” has been in the business for three decades, making her mark both in acting and singing, as well as taking time off for community work. When asked about her motivation, Cheng said, “Passion is what keeps me going.”

“When I’m on stage or performing, I see a different me than when I am at home. When I am at home, I am totally another person, but when I’m on stage, I’m like a dragon,” she quipped.

“I tell myself not to set boundaries or limitations no matter your age or your stage (in life). You still have that passion to explore new things do to,” Cheng added.

When it comes to selecting future projects, the actress doesn’t dwell too much, as long as she likes the story. “First of all, the story. And also if the role is challenging and the director too. Well, a lot of times when I choose the scripts, they are based on my intuition and feelings towards it. If I like the story after reading the script, I’ll go for it! It’s that simple.”

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