Small-town girl with big heart

Actress Sora Ma (above) in the Channel 8 drama House Of Fortune.
Actress Sora Ma (above) in the Channel 8 drama House Of Fortune.PHOTO: MEDIACORP

Actress Sora Ma wants to use her celebrity status to be a positive influence


Channel 8 actress Sora Ma is a familiar face on TV, but she has yet to reach the upper echelons of the local show business scene.

Though leading roles and awards have eluded her during the past six years, she was a picture of contentment at a recent inteview .

She tells The Straits Times: "I'm grateful for all that I've received over the past year, such as getting my first endorsement. I want to give back to society."

Last year, she was apppointed the spokesman for health and beauty supplement, Zell V Phytogreen.

In 2014, she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Asian Television Awards for her nightclub singer role in police drama C.L.I.F 3.

In fact, the 32-year-old has always been rounding up friends to visit old folks' homes and organises events for needy children.

Three years ago, she set up a "non-profit community" called Heartworks, where like-minded individuals get together to do charity work.

This year, Heartworks will be staging a Chinese musical, titled BlindSpot, to raise funds for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped.

The Malaysia-born Ma will be penning the script, which depicts challenges faced by the blind. She will be roping in singer couple, Alfred Sim and Tay Kewei, to be music producers.

She says: "Our biggest value as celebrities is our influence. I wish to be a good influence."

The small-town girl from Kedah got her break after making it to the finals of the television talent contest Star Search here in 2010.

She went on to act in dramas such as long-form drama 118 (2015) and family drama House Of Fortune (2016).

Having devoted much of her time to her career, she now wants to spend time with her family.

Her parents are divorced. She is close to her 51-year-old mother, who helps out at a teachers' association. She has an older brother.

She says: "I've yet to see my three-year-old niece since she has learnt to call me 'aunt'. I've heard only voice recordings of her calling me 'aunt'. I also hope to take my mother to Japan for a holiday this year."

1 What made you realise the influence that celebrities wield over the public?

I uploaded a post onto Instagram with a cautionary message about how wearing make-up is bad for the skin while exercising.

Because of the post, a make-up artist decided to remove a segment from a beauty programme that dished out tips on what make-up to wear while exercising.

It was then that I realised how much influence celebrities have, even with a simple social media post.

2 How did you become an actress?

I stumbled onto it. It was my dream to be an air stewardess and travel around the world for a few years. Back in Kuala Lumpur, I had gone for an interview to be an air stewardess.

The Star Search auditions were held nearby and my friend suggested that we try it out. I went for the audition without any preparation. I acted from a script and sang Taiwanese singer A-mei's ballad Listen To The Sea. I got in and made it to the finals. It felt like a dream.

3 You also took part in beauty pageants in Malaysia. Was it because you wanted to join show business?

Actually, no. In my hometown, no one really talks about being an actress. People usually want to be lawyers, doctors or teachers.

Back then, my family's financial situation wasn't good. I wanted to do my university studies. My friend told me that the prize for winning the Miss Chinese University Malaysia pageant was a scholarship.

I won the contest in 2003 and got a scholarship. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing and management from Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College.

4 Was there any backstage drama during the pageants?

I didn't encounter any politics backstage during the pageant.

But I once heard of how a girl group member deliberately ruined an outfit prepared by the company. She wanted to wear her own dress so that she could stand out among the group.

5 Who are some of your close friends in show business?

The late actor Huang Wenyong took good care of me. He was one of the first actors I met when I joined the industry. When we were filming, he used to say "I bet you haven't had breakfast." He would buy two sets of breakfast and give me one set.

I got close to actress Hong Huifang when we acted together in Malaysia. We went out for meals. Now she invites me to her gatherings.

6 You have insisted on earning your own keep since you were a teen. What part-time work did you do?

I haven't taken an allowance from my family since I was 15 years old. I studied and worked at the same time. I wanted to depend on myself.

When I was 15 years old, I was a sales promoter for chocolates. The commission was little, but I managed to earn more than RM$1,000 over the month-long school holidays.

You know why? I convinced the department store manager to put together a hamper including snacks, drinks and chocolates. That way, I could sell more chocolates.

7 You'll be returning to Malaysia for Chinese New Year. How are you planning to fend off questions about your love life and marriage from nosy relatives?

I am not attached now. I dare not commit to a realtionship because I am too busy with work. I'm afraid I may not be able to focus on a relationship now.

So far, my mum has been very understanding. Besides, my brother has a daughter, so she is already busy with one grandchild.

She is supportive of my decision. She will sometimes help to answer relatives on my behalf.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I hope to be remembered as someone who has goodwill, someone who always remembers that she has a social responsibility.

•Catch House Of Fortune on Channel 8 on weeknights at 9pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'Small-town girl with big heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe