What a difference half a year makes. The last we spoke to Fiona Fussi, she was at our cover shoot waxing lyrical about beauty regimes. Then fast forward seven months, we are very happy to report that our favourite Austrian Chinese is still as beguiling as ever.
Today, we sit down and catch up with Fiona, hot on the heels of the success of her latest record breaking drama – The Last Madame on Singaporean digital video on demand service, Toggle's first M18 rated English drama that oscillates between modern day and the 1930s in Singapore – and discover what it is like to shatter glass ceilings and turn the tables around men.
What have you been up to since we last spoke?
This year I've started acting more and when I'm not filming, I travel for work! I've flown to Paris, London and Madrid to shoot for Lancôme, as well as Hong Kong for some upcoming campaigns! I also front the global campaigns for Clarins and other brands like Acuvue, Bifesta and SK Jewellery, in case you see me around!
I had an English and Chinese show come out earlier this year too, which have been very exciting! The first is a web series drama called Girl Band Called Girl Band by the Clicknetwork on YouTube, and the other is a Mandarin short-film for Channel U directed by Joanne Peh.
And my newest series called The Last Madame just came out a few weeks ago on Toggle and that's been crazy exciting! It's an English modern and period drama, and the first M18 show on the streaming service. We've had really overwhelming responses to the show and pushed many boundaries for a local production! I'm really proud of everyone's hard work!
How excited were you when you received the script for The Last Madame?
I was quite intrigued when I first heard about the show and the role of Chi Ling. I only got one or two pages of the script and wasn't sure how it was going to link together since The Last Madame is a show that weaves the past and present together. But I was really excited when I was cast for the role of Chi Ling because as an individual, she is such a strong female character, in a show full of strong female characters!
It really came together when we had our full script read of all the episodes together with our entire cast – some flew in from Hong Kong and Taiwan! Everyone clicked so well and I have very fond memories of that day!
A polar opposite from your role as Tammy in Girl Band Called Girl Band, how did you prepare for the role of Chi-Ling in The Last Madame?
I didn't have to prepare as much for my role of Chi Ling as I did for my role of Tammy. I felt like I had to take longer to stay in character, since Tammy is so dramatic and bitchy. I heard only after the filming of the show that some people thought I was bitchy since I stayed in character in-between takes and people obviously didn't get it!
For Chi Ling, I had to remind myself of what a determined and driven career woman living in Hong Kong would be like and feel like. She has a warmth and feminine touch to her but it is hidden under a few layers of grit and resilience.
How does it feel like to be part of such a strong ensemble cast of women?
I was very happy to be able to act in a show with so many strong female characters! Women are always portrayed as the damsels in distress that need saving – usually by a man – or as side-kicks, or villains. And I feel like this story is very different, it's not black and white.
There are many layered characters, and I think our show highlights the different struggles women have to face, in the current day and also during the 1930s in Singapore.
Women are often villainised for having ambition. How do you humanise a steel-hearted stockbroker like Chi-Ling?
Women are often villainised for wanting the same things as men. There's a huge double standard when it comes to being career-driven or having ambition. I feel like as a female banker in Hong Kong, Chi Ling had to empower herself to fight against many glass ceilings in order to become as successful as she is and that kind of resilience is what moulded her.
Her whole life; she used her career and her fiancé to determine her success and happiness. And it's only when she comes back to Singapore and finally learns about her past, her family and her identity that she finds herself at a crossroad, questioning everything she once valued.
I feel like that stage of self-reflection can be very unsettling or vulnerable but it's important.
Do you see any similarities between yourself and Chi-Ling? What did you take away from your character?
I do see parts of myself in Chi Ling. I am very ambitious and driven and also passionate about female empowerment and gender equality so Chi Ling and I share the same fighting spirit. Not only that, I admire Chi Ling's decision to value herself first in a relationship and to follow her heart even if it gets messy.
Which scene do you find the hardest filming?
This is a tough question, because there were quite a few challenging and emotional scenes! I think I would say my kissing scene into my nude scene with Guo Wen in the House of Phoenix. It was such a challenging scene because my kissing scene was right after my emotional breakdown scene, and then followed up by our nude scene. So all of my intense scenes back to back! And all those scenes relied quite heavily on me to stay in character and keep the mood flowing.
With such an fulfilling 2019, what does 2020 hold for you? Any new projects? Travel plans?
I hope to have more opportunities to act in shows and even films next year! I love acting and challenging myself to portray characters and to be a part of a greater message and movement. I hope to see more inspiring and strong female characters on screen too.
I'm excited about a few international campaigns that are lined up in 2020 and I look forward to travelling more for work and shoots overseas. I hope to also get my scuba diving license next year. So wish me luck!
The complete season of The Last Madame is now streaming on Toggle.