Channel 8 veteran actors have mixed reactions to a new acting award created just for them at the upcoming Star Awards next month.
The Best Evergreen Artiste Award honours actors who are older than 50 and have more than 25 years' experience in show business. It is not a lifetime achievement award nor an honorary nod - actors are nominated for their work in shows aired in the past year. The winner will be picked by a panel of judges.
The nominees are Hong Huifang, Xiang Yun, Lin Meijiao, Chen Shucheng and Chen Tianwen.
Speaking to The Straits Times, four of the five nominees up for the inaugural award say they are grateful for the recognition the award gives to seasoned actors.
But they are not quite sure what to make of it: Is it a consolation prize for older actors who might be seen as having fewer chances of winning the major acting awards or is it a way for the veterans to graciously give the younger stars a chance to shine in the Best Actor/Actress and Supporting Actor/Actress categories?
Striking a self-deprecating tone, nominee Chen Shucheng, 66, calls it an "old people award" in jest. The straight-shooter is puzzled about the need to carve out a separate award category for seasoned actors.
Maybe it is because we can't compete against the younger actors. So the older actors have to compete among ourselves.
NOMINEE CHEN SHUCHENG, 66. He calls the Best Evergreen Artiste Award an 'old people award' in jest
His guess is that the new category could be organiser Mediacorp's way of boosting older actors' chances of winning at the annual awards ceremony.
Chen says: "Maybe it is because we can't compete against the younger actors. So the older actors have to compete among ourselves."
His fellow nominee Chen Tianwen, 52, points out the reality that older actors do not have as many opportunities to be cast in meaty roles as their younger counterparts.
He says: "Older actors typically get the smaller roles that complement the leads played by younger actors. It would be harder for seasoned actors to make the cut for the major acting awards."
That said, he has been nominated in both the Best Evergreen Artiste and Best Supporting Actor categories for playing an arrogant failed businessman in the long-form drama 118.
While Mediacorp says that Evergreen award nominees are also eligible for Best Actor and Actress, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress, none of those awards in the last two Star Awards went to an artist aged 50 and older.
At last year's Star Awards, the Best Actress prize went to Rebecca Lim, 29; Best Actor to Shaun Chen, 37; Best Supporting Actress to Joanne Peh, 32; and Best Supporting Actor to Chen Hanwei, 46.
The year before that, the Best Actress prize went to Chen Liping, 50; Best Actor to Pierre Png, 42; Best Supporting Actress to Rebecca Lim, 29; and Best Supporting Actor to Guo Liang, 47.
This year, Chen Tianwen is the only artist aged 50 and older to be nominated for any of the four major acting categories.
For Best Supporting Actor, he is up against Edwin Goh, 20; Zhang Zhenhuan, 31; Andie Chen, 30; and Ian Fang, 26.
Chen Shucheng says that perhaps the TV station is trying to level the playing field by pitting actors of the same experience against one another.
Looking at the matter positively, he says: "By putting the veterans with years of experience together, the company could be getting us to hone our acting skills, so as to reach a higher level of excellence."
With the older actors competing in a separate category, actress Lin Meijiao speculates that it could be a way to help younger actors get a chance to be nominated.
Lin, 52, says: "Maybe because actors who have been in the business for years tend to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor or Actress categories." She won the Best Supporting Actress award in 2013.
The official explanation for the introduction of the Evergreen award does not shed much light.
Mr Paul Chan, Mediacorp's vice- president of marketing communications, Chinese family segment, says that the award is meant to "to honour artists for their outstanding contributions to the local entertainment industry".
Xiang Yun, 54, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress from 2013 to last year, says whatever the motivation behind introducing the Evergreen award, it will still be a tough fight.
"All the nominees are skilled actors. If you have more than 25 years in the business, that means you're no ordinary actor. The competition will be tough."
•The Star Awards 2016 takes place on two Saturdays next month. Show 1 on April 17 hands out the secondary awards. Show 2 is the main event and will be held on April 24. Both shows will air live on Channel 8.