Photo: Edward Wong
Up-and-coming actor/singer Corinna Chamberlain feels and speaks like a true Hongkonger
By Chris Lau
Corinna Chamberlain is not your typical blond girl next door. The Hong Kong-born New Zealander speaks Cantonese better than even many Hongkongers do. She also embraces her Chinese name, Ming-ya. There's one more thing: if there were to be a Hong Kong version of Glee, she would definitely be in a lead role.
Chamberlain, who was born to a Kiwi father and Australian mother, has always loved singing and dancing. She attended the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), specialising in musicals.
She recently shot to fame after playing an aspiring singer in TVB's night-time drama Inbound Troubles. "People did not recognise me until I began speaking in Cantonese," she says.
Even before Inbound Troubles, Chamberlain worked as a guest singer for Canto-pop stars William So Wing-hong and Jade Kwan Sum-yin at their concerts, and appeared as a Cantonese-speaking gwei mui - a Caucasian girl - in TVB's sitcom Best Selling Secrets.
Her singing career is also taking flight. She recently released her first single and her debut album is due out at the end of this summer.
"My favourite job would be to do three things together," she notes, referring to acting, singing and dancing. "I really hope to take part in a musical TV drama like Glee. I'd get to act, dance and sing at the same time. It'd be awesome."
But there is the obvious question: does her ethnicity pose a challenge to her career? Local television channels produce dramas that mainly cater to local audiences. Actors are mostly ethnic Chinese, with black hair and brown eyes. She might look out of place in a Chinese period drama as a foreign-looking Hongkonger. She admits that's a valid concern. "It's the glass-half-full-or-half-empty scenario," the blue-eyed teen says. "Obviously I can't play a [typical] Hongkonger, but there is always one thing I'm better at playing than other actors: a foreigner."
The city has often been criticised for its lack of arts and cultural development. According to recent news reports, the graduates of the city's only performing arts school, HKAPA, often cannot get jobs as performers; they have to start work as coaches and tutors.
So Chamberlain says she is grateful for performing opportunities she gets in Hong Kong. Recalling a trip to Los Angeles, in the US, for dance classes and music festivals, she says: "I met a lot of super-talented people there. But during the day, they would have to wait at tables in restaurants while waiting for a casting chance to take part in Broadway shows."
That experience helped put things in perspective, she adds.
"A lot of people may think it's hard to get your foot in the industry in Hong Kong, but it is tough everywhere. Hong Kong certainly has a lot of chances, and you can learn a lot from teaching others," she says.
After graduating from HKAPA, she, too, set out on a series of school tours to teach students about acting and drama. She has also choreographed dances for several local singers.
Chamberlain says she sees every one of her classes and performances as preparation for something more substantial one day once her career takes off.
The budding artist stresses her heart is in Asia. She says she would love to perform on the mainland and in places such as Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.
Her main target is to perform in a musical, she admits.
"I'd really love to take part in a musical TV series or films like Les Miserables and Hairspray," Chamberlain says.
You can now catch Corinna Chamberlain on TVB's Bullet Brain every weekday at 8.30pm