KUALA LUMPUR: To ordinary people, life in the limelight may appear to be one that is glamorous and luxurious, with the fame and wealth it brings.
But for actress and model, Emily Lim, her decision to venture into modelling stemmed for the dire need to help dig her family out of financial distress.
Born in 1982, Emily was raised in Melaka, living with her family close to the Portuguese Settlement.
Her childhood was less than idyllic however, as her father constantly imperilled their family.
“My dad believed in ‘high risks, high returns’,” says Emily. “So, he invested in high-risk businesses. He was also into gambling.”
Unsurprisingly enough, he soon borrowed money from loan sharks to shore up his finances; money which he could never return.
It led to a terrifying experience during which incensed thugs barged into the Lim household and attempted to abduct a terrified Emily. She was only 15 year old at the time.
They relented only when her mother tossed a gold necklace at them. The experience however, has traumatised her ever since.
“Whenever acting a scene like that, I can act it very well as the experience is real.”
Whilst studying at Universiti Putra Malaysia for a business degree, she decided to help her mother pay off the family’s debts by participating in a beauty pageant.
It was her first time in the limelight and she made first runner-up.
“I sold all the presents that they gave me. And I paid the loan sharks to ensure that they wouldn’t disturb my family anymore.”
Her time in the entertainment industry seemed to be brief at first, and she entered the corporate world after graduating.
However, while out for lunch one day, she was spotted by a talent scout and offered a part in an advertisement.
At the time, her father had once again dragged the family into bankruptcy, and Emily knew that she had to help her mother somehow.
So, she took up the job and flew to Bangkok to shoot the commercial, despite her mother’s concerns. “My Mum was like, ‘Are they going to sell you away? Or am I not going to see you anymore?’”
Taking up the challenge ultimately did pay off, as it opened many doors for her.
Soon a Singaporean offered her a role in a Mediacorp drama series and thus began her acting career.
Even then though, she felt at odds with her role on the set, and without proper training in acting, she sometimes felt a little out of place.
“I didn’t dare tell anyone that I was an actress. To me, an actress is a professional. I had not been to any training. I was just thrown into that situation and just started acting.”
Lectured on set by directors, her early days of acting were difficult and comparing herself to other cast members, made her feel “lousy”.
“They were naturals at acting, and I was so unnatural. I didn’t even know how to walk properly in front of the camera. I would just feel so nervous and so not me.”
In 2012, while in the United States, Emily took up an acting course in Los Angeles which finally gave her the confidence she needed to believe in her own skills.
Throughout this period, her family remained apprehensive about her career change, as most of them held white-collared jobs with stable incomes.
“They were like, ‘Why are you doing this? You have no future at all!’” says Emily.
While those views have not changed much, her mother does watch her films and TV series, and excitedly tells everyone about them.
Emily is married to Alan Yun, a fellow actor whom she first met while acting in a TV series back in 2009.
By chance, during the filming of a scene, Alan was told to look longingly at a photograph of a woman. That woman was Emily.
They acted in several other TV series afterwards and a friendship blossomed between them.
When her health took a beating because of hormonal imbalances, he proved to be a supportive friend.
“At the time, he stood by me. Although we weren’t seeing each other yet, as a friend, he really helped me out as much as he could.”
Despite her fondness for him, when he first proposed marriage to her, Emily turned him down.
“I come from a broken family, so I’m not confident about marriage,” she explained. “It was difficult to say, ‘Yes’, because I was so worried that I would repeat my mum’s experience.”
It took three more proposals and a year of premarital counselling before Emily finally accepted. She tied the knot with Alan on Jan 19 last year.
While her work sometimes leaves her with literally sleepless nights on set, she has grown to appreciate what she does and the experiences that come with it.
From riding a Super Duke Bike to being suspended from wires, there is never a boring day on set.
“There is still a lot of room for growth in the Malaysian film industry because we are very young. Compared to China, Korea, Hong Kong, we are babies. What’s good about being a baby is you get to explore a lot of things, a lot of possibilities.”
She particularly looks up to local actors, naming Bront Palarae, also known as Nasrul Suhaimin, as her favourite.
After acting mostly in dramas, she now yearns to throw herself into different genres of film. Her latest outing, “Two Sisters”, released last year, was a psychological-horror film.
“I love to let the audience have some space to have their own imagination,” she said.
“Living someone else’s life on set is interesting. To get to study all kinds of characters is interesting.”
“To me, humans are interesting. Everyone has their own story. And I love stories.”