Fresh from treading the boards at the Esplanade in a Cantonese version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, veteran Hong Kong actress Candice Yu is looking forward to doing more theatre and turning her back on television.
"In the past few years, I've taken on fewer roles and haven't done television projects because filming for TV is too tiring. I find the long hours with not much rest not very healthy," says Yu, 57, glamorous in a sleek grey cropped hairdo, and sporting a white blouse and tiny black skirt for this interview.
She played the dual roles of Titania, the Fairy Queen, and Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, in Shakespeare's tale of love and mischief in a magical forest this past weekend. She visits Singapore at least once in two years and enjoys hawker food such as chicken rice and laksa.
Yu shot to stardom as a teenager after her debut in the film Let's Rock (1975) and is perhaps best known from her heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when she starred in numerous movies, especially romance and martial arts flicks, and television serials. She also released a solo album of the theme songs she sang for many films and TV series.
She cites artistic integrity as another reason why she is staying away from the Hong Kong television industry that helped propel her fame.
"There's room for improvement. It's like a factory. You could be filming every day, like a robot. It is very rushed with no time to research roles. I don't enjoy it," says Yu, who adds that she is also selective about her film roles, weighing factors such as the type of script and the director involved.
Briefly married to Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat in the 1980s, she later married businessman Henry Lee Junior, effectively bowing out of show business and taking a hiatus of more than 10 years while raising their two daughters, now in their 20s.
The couple divorced in the early 2000s after being married for about 16 years.
Although Yu seems to keep a low profile these days, having also scaled back in recent years from a much-photographed presence on the Hong Kong socialite scene, she has been quietly gaining critical acclaim in the comparatively few movie and theatre roles she takes on.
After occasional forays into theatre in her 40s, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the Hong Kong Drama Awards for her role in Hong Kong Repertory Theatre's 2011 production, Boundless Movement.
Last year, she won the Hong Kong Drama Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Sin Family, another theatre production by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, which explored the dynamics of a dysfunctional wealthy family.
An admirer of Hollywood thespians such as Cate Blanchett, Yu says she prefers to work in theatre because there are "no tricks" in live performance, whereas factors such as lighting, sets and camera angles can convey some of the mood and take some of the pressure off acting in film and TV.
"Theatre is the most challenging (of the three). I give myself a lot of pressure (to perform well)," says Yu, who adds that she wants to take on one theatre role a year.
She worked on A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was produced by Hong Kong's Dionysus Contemporary Theatre, for more than a year and feels that performing in Cantonese showed the "poetic" quality of both the Shakespearean work and the Chinese dialect.
Yu's research into roles sometimes involves "going to eateries on my own and people-watching for two hours or so", she says.
Traditionally offered roles playing beautiful, elegant women, Yu is now drawn to more challenging fare.
She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards for her 2010 role in Once A Gangster, where she describes her character as "a bad mother and a Big Sister of the underground world".
"I want to be challenged in ugly, weird roles," she says.