In a quiet bathroom after a particularly rough day of filming, actress Jasmine Suraya Chin lets the tears fall.
She has just been told for the umpteenth time that her acting isn’t up to par, stemming from a lack of experience, confidence and the inability to control her jitters at the time.
“I told myself, ‘I don’t want to be an actress anymore.’ And I just cried.”
Chin is sharing with StarLifestyle one of the many bumps and bruises she encountered during her early days as an actress.
“I was at my lowest point that day. Because you want something so much, but when you finally get the chance, you feel you’re not good at it. And people are telling you you’re not good at it.”
Fast-forward to today – that’s not what people are saying. At least not the panel of judges who included the 29-year-old as a nominee for the Most Promising Actress award at this year’s Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) – the country’s equivalent to the Oscars – for her role in Paskal: The Movie.
And certainly not the millions who flocked to the cinemas and witnessed her emotional performance in the local navy film, which made a whopping RM30mil in the box office last year.
Chin walks us through her showbiz beginnings, recounts being on the brink of giving up and the opportunities that turned her career around.
Making the switch
Chin, who hails from Kuching, Sarawak, has been working as a business journalist at an English newspaper for a year and a half when an unexpected opportunity showed up.
She received a call from the producers of The Job, a 2012 local business-styled reality series. It turns out a colleague had signed her up for the show earlier without her knowledge.
Chin – who always enjoyed talking in front of the crowd as well as taking part in public-speaking competitions back in school – hesitated at first: “It was so sudden and I only had a day to think about it. If I got it, I had to quit my job.”
She took a leap of faith and Chin found herself landing a spot on the show.
After The Job, Chin participated in another reality competition, Projek 3R, dedicated to finding three new hosts for the popular women’s programme, 3R.
These experiences offered her a glimpse into showbiz, something she had always dreamt for herself, and the political science and economics graduate decided to keep at it. She began searching for a way in.
“I would watch local dramas and wait till the end for the credits to roll to look out for the agency who supplied the extras. Then I’d Google for their contact details and ask if I could send them my profile.”
To hone her acting skills, she enrolled in the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) for six months.
Around the same time, Chin took up a behind the scenes role, coordinating the inaugural Asean International Film Festival And Awards (Aiffa) in 2013, which afforded her the opportunity to connect with film industry bigwigs both in and out of Malaysia.
On the casting front, Chin spent three years knocking on doors but unfortunately, few answered.
“I would go for all kinds of auditions including commercials. But growing up, I was never into grooming. I didn’t know anything about makeup and looking good for the camera. And at that time, my skin was not good as well. So I was passed over for commercials.”
Acting in Malay dramas proved difficult as Chin was not fluent in the language initially.
“I was self-conscious about my command of Malay and acting itself. And I was very nervous. My mind goes, ‘Oh no, what if I screw up this chance? They would never hire me again,’ which only made me more nervous.”
Chin’s nerves got the better of her and affected her performance. She recalls getting scolded by directors and becoming “fearful of acting.”
It got to be too much at one such occasion and Chin, feeling like she had already done all she could, was ready to throw in the towel.
“I decided I was going to take a break and spend the next year reading books. So I went to a book sale and bought all these books.” But her story is far from over. Chin eventually stuck with it but decided to change her approach.
“I still knocked on doors but I did it without the pressure of succeeding. I was more relaxed about it. You reach a certain age and go, ‘if it happens, it happens.’ Whatever opportunity I got, I just took it.”
The game changer
In 2015, Chin landed the chance to be a sports presenter, hosting live coverage of major local football matches. For two years, she devoted herself to reporting on local football and made a name for herself.
“That was how (director) Michael Ang knew me. He then took me in for his drama, Hero Seorang Cinderella.”
Hero Seorang Cinderella, which starred Fattah Amin and Fazura as leads, was a wildly successful drama series, garnering millions of viewers when it aired in 2017.
As the show’s popularity soared, so did Chin’s. The exposure led to more acting opportunities including a role in Alamatnya Cinta, a 2018 Malaysian adaptation of South Korean drama Full House, and of course, her biggest role yet in Paskal.
Chin reveals an interesting titbit about auditioning for Paskal. “Around that time, I was actually going through a break-up. I think it worked in my favour because I nailed the crying scenes,” she recalls with a laugh.
She talks about the significance of Paskal’s success: “Most of the cast, except Hairul Azreen, were not big names. So people were not looking at the actors, people were looking at the characters. This goes to show that you can make a lucrative film without using big names.”
This year, the actress has shot a number of exciting projects include KL Gangster Underworld Season Two and a Malaysian film slated to premiere on Netflix soon.
With more experience, Chin talks about gradually coming into her own as an actress these days. “I think it’s all about practice. And after you’ve paid your dues, you earn people’s respect. That’s when you feel more confident.”
But even after earning a nomination for Most Promising Actress at FFM, Chin says she has a long way to go. “I still feel like I’m not good enough. I’m not where I want to be yet.”
Indeed, she is constantly striving to improve herself.
She spends 30 minutes a day reading Malay novels to improve her command of the language besides taking acting classes from award-winning actors like Nam Ron and Fauziah Nawi, especially when she’s trying to get into a new character.
“I’m currently preparing for my next role which will require me to lose some weight as I’ll be playing a drug addict,” she reveals. “I wanted to do it because it’s such an interesting role and there’s a message there about drug abuse and how it ruins lives.”
The actress, who will be turning 30 in November, talks about what she envisions for the next decade. “In my thirties, I would like to build value. I see myself doing stuff that has more purpose. I have to be more selective with my roles. And I plan to get more involved in behind-the-scenes work, particularly as a producer.”
Chin adds she plans to settle down too but just “haven’t found the guy yet.”
“I’m happy being single and focusing on my work. There’s so many things to do.”
On top of reading Malay novels, Chin sets aside at least 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes at night to learn Mandarin. “My tutor sends me a list of new words to learn every day and no matter how tired I am, I make sure I learn them.”
Picking up Mandarin is in line with her goal to take her acting career abroad. Nevertheless, Chin is focused on growing her career locally in the near future and has no intention of rushing into an international career.
“People have told me that if I’m really serious about acting abroad, I have to be prepared to spend at least three to six months away. That would ruin my momentum here. I think it’s important to build a stronger base here first.”
Instead, she believes in a gradual and steady growth. “For me, things have always worked out a bit slowly. Realisations come a bit later. I bloom a bit later in life.”