11 things to know about Huang Biren

Are you ready to see 46-year-old veteran actress back on TV screens after a seven-year break as the glamazon that she is?

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Huang Biren strides through the door of the three-storey shophouse which is the location of today’s shoot, apologising for being five minutes late. She carries herself with a confident, almost haughty air; self-assured and attractive despite the complete lack of make-up on her face. Even without the accoutrements of glamour, there’s no denying that the 46-year-old looks nothing like a frumpy housewife.

It seems that even after three Best Actress trophies at the Star Awards and being hailed as the "Goddess of Drama Serials”, Huang Biren still gets all excited about being dolled up and treated like a superstar. Perhaps it’s because unlike her peers Zoe and Fann, she was never quite seen as a glamour icon, gracing the covers of magazines every other month and fronting endless ad campaigns. Maybe she was so good at playing the dowdy mother and the downtrodden wife that people forgot that, with her statuesque build and aristocratic cheekbones, she was also pretty hawt. Inspired by her latest role as a prison warden stepmother in Tiger Mum, we ask her to channel a sort of femme fatale glamour for our shoot, and boy, does she nail it.
Tiger Mum marks Biren’s second drama after seven years away from TV screens, during which she saw her son Justin, now 15, through his PSLE and her daughters Janessa and Janelle, 7 and 5, through their early years. It’s no small feat that her comeback drama, last year’s Three Wishes, where she played a mother of three and wife to Thomas Ong’s character, saw more than a million people tuning in to its first episode and was the top-rated serial of 2014. It’s testament to how much people miss and enjoy Biren’s performances.

Can we say that Huang Biren is making a big comeback? Is 2015 your year?

I don’t have that “Okay, now I’m back” thinking. It was a matter of timing that there were a few dramas in a row. I want to strike a balance between work and family life, so I’m going to do a maximum of two dramas a year. Three is too tiring. I’d be happy to do just one too! So I had Three Wishes last year, and Tiger Mum from November last year to this year, and a break before I start filming The Dream Makers 2 in June. That is the year-end blockbuster and we will film for four to five months till the end of the year. That’s as good as making two dramas already!

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You left Mediacorp in 2008. At which point did you think, okay, I’m ready to come back?

Actually, I was ready to take on projects right after my boy’s PSLE in 2012, but it’s not like I was in a rush. If I take on a project, I really have to like the role and the story. And I have to do all the preparation work to ensure my family is well taken care of, so that I have the peace of mind to do my best at work. Whatever was my ‘department’ at home, someone must be able to take over, and take over well. I’m lucky to have enough help. I have two helpers, because my kids have to take home-cooked food for all their meals — it’s healthier. Once in a while, if my boy wants to join his friends for a meal, it’s okay. He’s already 15 years old. I had my mother-in-law come on weekdays to look after the children, and my aunt-in-law to chauffeur them around, and they took the school bus as well while I was busy with work. But now that I’ve wrapped Tiger Mum, they tell me they don’t want to be on the school bus anymore — they want private transport. It’s reasonable, ’cos they want my time and attention.

You must have received requests to return to acting many times over the years.

Yes, but the timing or direction were never quite right. I was approached once right before my son’s PSLE, and I told them, ‘No, no no! I’ve been by his side for so many years — I can’t leave him at that critical moment! In 2013, I was supposed to act in The Journey: A Voyage [in a role that eventually went to Carole Lin], but I discovered a cyst near my kidney. I went for a massage and the masseuse actually told me something was not right, and after a scan, they found a benign 10cm-long cyst. I was at a loss, because I had verbally agreed to do the drama, but it involved travel to Malaysia and China, and I didn’t want to take the risk of anything happening while I was there. It was a tough decision to give up the role. But I had an operation to remove the cyst and I’m fine now.