Constance Song

After two decades on television, the inimitable thespian still sends hearts racing with undeniable smarts and unwavering beauty.

BY Andre Frois | Feb 10, 2016 | Women We Love

Photographs by Ivanho Harlim and Shysilia Novita. Styling by Janie Cai. Photographer assisted by Marie Liang. Stylist assisted by Eugene Lim. Hair and make-up by Dollei Seah using Tom Ford and bed head by Tigi. Assisted by Lydia Thong. Shot on location at The Scarlet Singapore, 33 Erskine Road.

“I’m not a 吃饱就够了 (as long as I eat my fill) kind of person,” bilingual actress and restaurant owner Constance Song tells me in English, with a sprinkling of Mandarin when Chinese idioms better describe the situation or express her sentiments. I cannot help but feel happy for the terrestrial television thespian who has blossomed from an eye-catching greenhorn into a compelling film and television veteran

Song was the object of countless young boys’ desires when she made her acting debut in mediaCorp Channel 8’s The Return of the Condor Heroes 18 years ago. these days, she tackles motherly roles with the precise pauses and the nuanced gestures of a seasoned performer. She now straddles English and Mandarin-speaking roles, with unequalled depth as a trailblazer for other actors who are billed as similarly bilingual.

We broach the topic of our sustenance, not by way of addressing her award-winning restaurant Bam! tapas Sake Bar, but because I feel compelled to ask Song about the uncanny grace and composure that she displays whenever she is on the receiving end of unwarranted attention from the tabloids.

“If I tell you this, you might not believe me, but I don’t like attention,” the entertainer shares with me. “However, I don’t restrict myself. If I want char kway teow or any kind of food from a particular stall that is reportedly good, I will queue up for it at that hawker centre.” She discloses that she carries on with her life despite her celebrity status, a feat that perhaps combines both experience and apathy. “I don’t like attention, but I don’t mind if people come up and say hi.”

Song, who is as mild-mannered as Clark Kent, is hardly deserving of media furore like the one surrounding her photograph with David Beckham that she had shared on social media, where she was accused of “Photoshopping herself into the picture” and fan-girling the football and fashion icon, or the unkind remarks over her risqué Star Awards 2012 dress.

Although she has developed greater poise and perceptiveness when it comes to handling such white noise over the years, Song divulges that her induction into the media spotlight was a well-cushioned one. “I was already doing some modelling,” she says of her activities before her big television break—Star Search 1997.

“So for me to appear in the press again... I kind of grew into it. I had already been modelling for product commercials, so appearing in the newspapers and on television was a slow progression of more people recognising me.”

Today, Song is a ravishing 40-year-old, from whom time has failed to wrest away her supple skin and taut cheekbones. after a while, one takes notice of her uncanny fashion of gliding into rooms, with sophistication but without the rigidity that is telling of someone’s decade of birth.

Beautiful and disarming, she engages those who share her space with warmth and approach-ability. Beyond her affability and eloquence, however, her intellect also often reveals itself through her astuteness in acting and business.

What Song lacks includes a façade. She lacks the front that most celebrities, as well as some unknowns, cling to or fear that others might see them for both their strengths and their shortcomings, for their quirks and their humanity. With Song, the person before you is as comfortable as she looks.

She lacks the front that most celebrities, as well as some unknowns, cling to or fear that others might see them for both their strengths and their shortcomings, for their quirks and their humanity.

Fresh from the set of Tanglin after wrapping its latest season, her face shines with the vivacity of a model in her twenties as she talks about her impending golfing holiday to Vietnam. Perhaps her unblemished good looks made her the obvious choice to be beauty chain Mary Chia’s ambassador? She laughs and blushes. “If you think so!”

“Everything plays a part in looking good. Starting from our health and wellbeing, I believe in going for regular check-ups and blood tests. Some of my friends don’t do that, but with the stress that we face in our daily lives, health check-ups at least once a year are some of the most basic things to do,” vouches the avid sportswoman, whose interests include yoga, wakeboarding, cycling and hitting the gym, besides her burgeoning penchant for golf, which she confesses has become a staple component of all her vacations.

We digress into a lengthy sub-conversation about exercise being a mode of detoxification and flexibility being a fundamental cornerstone of wellbeing, before she laments how her busy schedule keeps her from indulging in her favourite sports at a more competitive level.

“I start work at six or seven every day, so I’ve no time for facials. Fortunately, Mary Chia picked me to endorse their collagen drink and mist spray, which I can use whenever I feel dehydrated indoors.”

After 15 years in showbiz, and while riding the wave of fame as a household name, Song announced her departure from television. “I left acting when it became a bit too stagnant for me. I wanted to learn something else, whether for good or for naught.” She reveals that hitting 38 prompted her to explore new opportunities. that’s when Bam! it hit her.

She elaborates that her consequently titled restaurant Bam! Tapas Sake Bar happened because of an unexpected convergence of several elements.

Chef Santi Santamaria, succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 53 in his new Marina Bay Sands establishment Santi, leading to its closure. A vanguard of Catalan cuisine, a celebrated food writer and a fervent proponent of understand-ing one’s own regional ingredients, he had accumulated seven Michelin stars from his various restaurants—two stars for Santceloni in Madrid, and one star each for Tierra in Toledo and Evo in L’Hospitalet.

He was awarded a coveted three stars for his beloved El Racó de Can Fabes, which was the 250-year-old farmhouse where he was born that he converted into his flagship restaurant. “Santi was crazy about cooking, and he was crazy about the one thing that we all love—great cuisine,” Wolfgang Puck once commented to CNN.

Born Jaume Santamaria i Puig, but given a nickname comparing him to a saint of gastronomy, Santi had a chef named Pepe Moncayo whom Song was an immense fan of.

Through his expertise, she discovered the marvels of pair-ing Spanish food with saké. “Like wine, saké opens the palate and enhances tastes,” she remarks. After Song and Moncayo did some experimenting in his kitchen, they felt confident enough to go into business together.

Bam! Tapas Sake Bar is not only based on her love for modern fusion ideas, but also built on the foundations of the lesser-known cultural exchange agreement that Spain struck with Japan four centuries ago.

Fast-forward to 2013, and the newly liberated 38-year-old is as free as a bird from her television contract. Little did she expect that this new lease of creative freedom would land her a role in a HBO television series. In Grace, Song assumed the mantle of matriarch once more, this time in the context of a thriller, where her character Angela Chan has her trust betrayed by an unfaithful husband, before having to face a slew of supernatural misfortunes. It is a compelling watch.

“The actresses who played my daughters were so talented and beautiful! Some of the male cast members were also natural actors. That’s what good acting is, after all, isn’t it? Conveying a scene and a message in the most natural and seemingly effortless way.”

After I marvel at how post-production transformed Singapore’s Alkaff Mansion from a two-storey old-world restaurant into a four-storey hotel, Song reveals that the hotel’s long, right-angled walkways were actually a modest-sized corridor built within a studio that was elongated by a sprinkling of filmmaking magic.

“It was a very gentle work environment, I’d say, and very encouraging. Whether I did well or didn’t do well, the crew were always so motivating and complimentary,” she elucidates of her observations of western filmmaking culture under the direction of Tony Tilse, before comparing it to her current gig, Tanglin.

Tanglin is like a very big family,” she describes of the local television drama where she plays a mother who rises up to the challenge of reconciling family members who are at odds with one another.

“We’re actually all friends! I see them every day, and because I have to tend to my restaurant after work, I actually see my Tanglin family more often than my own family. Tanglin is a fun environment. We fortunately work fixed schedules and the filmmakers try not to disturb me, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays.

“A few days ago, I was flipping through my old photos. I’m very lucky to have been able to act in China, star in my own film—every television actor wants to be in a film one day—and even in a musical,” Song recounts of her lucky breaks.

“I guess I’ve learned that people will always talk about you, whether you’re doing good for yourself or not,” she shares of what she has learned over her two decades in the public eye.

“Some countries have more positive and encouraging people, but I don’t let negativity bog me down when it’s targeted at me. Maybe it’s our Asian or Singaporean culture to behave like that? No matter, I can’t please everyone—not even Mother Teresa did.

"Actually, talk is good. I used to get very affected, but to be blunt, a person’s remarks reveal how graceful and cultured, or how negative and narrow-minded he or she is. When I meet a negative situation, I think positively. I believe that whatever happens to us in life, be it good or bad, a success or a failure, that thing happened to you because something good is coming up next,” she says exuding an almost unshakeable calm.

I’ve discovered that Song is many things, but complacent is not one of them. At 40, she is far from done. “I’m hoping to give comedy a try in the near future,” the seasoned performer remarks, comparing the crucial importance of comedic timing to horror’s paramount framing component.

Beauty differentiates itself when you look it in the eye and let its wisdom enchant you. Song brims with gratitude as she sips her tea, before reflecting, “State of mind is very important. These days, I’ve found my peace. And I’m staying positive and curious."

First published in Esquire Singapore's February 2016 issue.