This year, Christina Tam could be seen in two new TV series – Zero Chill in the role of Holly Tyler, the mother of Sky (played by Jade Ma), which was released on Netflix in the UK in March, and she also played Rosalie in the CBBC show My Mum Tracy Beaker across all three episodes. Since starting her acting career, Christina has had many roles which has seen her perform at the Almeida Theatre in Oil, and her screen work has included a recurring role in Hollyoaks, episodes of All at Sea and Last Tango in Halifax, with her feature films consisting of Automata, The Limehouse Golem and Transformers: The Last Night. Christina has been cast in upcoming CBBC comedy drama Lagging, which is due to be released later this month. We chatted to Christina about playing Holly Tyler in Zero Chill, appearing in My Mum Tracy Beaker and working on feature films.
What drew you to the role of Holly Tyler in the Netflix series Zero Chill and can you say more about her?
When this came up, I was very excited by the opportunity. This is not the first mother role that I have taken on. So not too much of a shock to be playing a parent of a teenager, no matter how hard I try to kid myself (if nobody else) that I am still in my early thirties. I could see that there was room for humour, which is what I try to strive to add. Even if my resting face doesn’t instantly really portray. My character was quite serious though but had the element of humour in the delivery I’d like to think.
How was it working with Jade Ma who plays your on-screen daughter Sky?
Jade was great to work with. We got on well. We had first met during the recalls in London. The recall is a memory I will never forget. What happened at the recall? I was early, or so I thought. I got there one hour ahead of my scheduled time. To sit in a corner, chill and go through my lines again. I was very thankful that I was not the disciplined actor that day and was indeed a phone checker. I noticed my agents miscalls asking “Are you ok? You’ve missed your recall” I couldn’t get online to check my emails or Tagmin. Panic set in. I went to the reception who had no schedule, they sent me upstairs and I was looking intently through the door to see and find anyone. Thankfully, I caught Peter’s eye (Casting Director). Managed to be the last of the day. The adrenaline was pumping, so my arm started shaking during the scene. I tried to style it as part of the action. Tip of the day, if you know your hands are shaking, don’t try to keep it still, move it with purpose.
Do you have any stand-out moments from your time on set?
It was the last shot of the day; we only had a few minutes before we had to get off the street. Pressure was on to get it completed. What do I do? I use Jade’s real name in the scene, didn’t I? First time ever I have done that. It haunts me all the time now. Whatever scene, whatever production. Sometimes I feel like not learning people’s names to avoid this happening again. Is that rude? I should say it’s part of my process, like a mannerism or accent.
Who do you think the show will appeal to and why would you recommend watching it?
I thought it would appeal to young teens. But it seems that the audience range is wide. Children, teens, and whole families watching together. I actually had a call from a friend who is in his late fifties saying his wife (also of the same age) had caught me again on screen and really enjoyed it. I asked him why she was watching a teen series. His response was “I wondered the same”.
You played Rosalie in the recent release of My Mum Tracy Beaker, what was the show like to be part of?
This was a very enjoyable show. Shooting during a pandemic is difficult, you don’t get the physical closeness. I am not talking about hugs and chats in our trailers. But we don’t travel to set together as a group. We sit far apart. Masks up so we don’t feel as free to talk as you often have to repeat yourself over and over or get misheard. On Tracy Beaker, it was great. Crew made that extra effort. The rest of the cast that I got to meet and work with were very friendly and talented. It was a fun shoot.
What did you enjoy most about playing the character?
I really like the idea that I was the eyes and ears of the house and sometimes popped up when unexpected.
Can you tell us about your episode of Life and about your character Jan?
This was the first job after I got married, so such a relief to get back to work after a stressful time of planning and doing. My life on Life was short but memorable all the same. In my episode, I was very calm, somewhat friendly executive of the company but she didn’t really give Belle a chance, but Belle didn’t help herself either.
You had a recurring role in Hollyoaks playing Doctor Yang, can you say more about this?
I’ve had a few doctor parts. I am flattered because it means at least I look and sound intellectual but give me those medical terms and I am all teeth and lips. Every word comes tripping out incorrectly. I get them eventually, of course, otherwise I would still be on set now. Hollyoaks is a well-oiled machine. So, you must be also.
What are some of your highlights from working on previous feature films Transformers: The Last Knight, The Limehouse Golem and Automata?
Transformers: The Last Knight was nerve-racking to say the least. Our scene was in front of over 300 supporting artists and crew. Parts changed and so did some of the script. On the day of the shoot, on set. When the director (Michael Bay) asked if I could do an American accent, I didn’t waste a second to say NO. I wasn’t going to give him my unprepared accent. He’s an American. I think he was a little taken back by my quick response, but I think he appreciated my honesty. Very glad I did say no. Ask me now, I will say yes. The shoot was great though, I worked with a great group of actors and some I am still friends with now.
I have always wanted to do a period piece and I got that with The Limehouse Golem. The sets were amazing. Walking onto them was breathtaking as you did feel you had gone back in time to old London Town. Bill (Nighy) was wonderful to work with, as was director Juan Carlos Medina, lovely person, really focused and friendly. I didn’t get to work on set with Olivia (Cooke) but was great to meet her. She introduced herself immediately as we both sat in our makeup chairs. Highlight? Bill singing to me as we waited for action.
Automata was my first film. It was a great experience working with Antonio (Banderas). He is a great colleague to work with. I remember the first time I met him, I was on set and the makeup lady was still finishing off my makeup and hair. I looked around and thought, oh of course we are all waiting for the big star. Then this man with a cleanly shaved head stood up from beside me and introduced himself. It was Antonio, he was waiting for me. I didn’t recognise him. I will always remember he asked if we could run lines. I was so nervous as the scene was mostly my lines and just kept running them in my head by myself, so for him to offer when he really didn’t need to was great. There was a moment during filming, during a take when it went silent, no one was speaking. I thought oh no, I can’t remember what to say next. What did I say before? I couldn’t remember, I was blank. I was tinkering with a robot so continued to do that until it came back to my head. The director, Gabe Ibanez, shouted cut. At that point Antonio said, “sorry, Christina”. I said, “I thought it was me”, Antonio said, “yes, I thought it was you. Well done for continuing with the scene”. Another tip of the day. Don’t stop until director shouts “Cut”.
Can you tell us about some of the other screen shows you’ve been involved with which have included In the Club, Scott & Bailey, All at Sea and Last Tango in Halifax?
All at Sea was the first job I did as a mother, Dylan (Cheung), who played my son Roy, also happened to have the exact birthday as me (of course different year), so we formed an instant bond, even though that doesn’t quite come across in our scenes. I was such a horrible mother to him, poor Roy. Wonderful working with Sir Derek (Jacobi) on Last Tango in Halifax. What a gent.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch, and have you seen any recently you would recommend?
I must confess I have been watching Housewives of Beverly Hills lately, got through all four series. It was my guilty pleasure. Not recommending it. Well… no. No, not recommending it. That is not on my ‘You must watch’ list. I just finished The Kominsky Method and Bridgerton both are great series. I can really see myself working on Bridgerton. The use of a diverse cast works.
We understand you’ll be part of the upcoming CBBC show Lagging, what do you enjoy most about working with CBBC?
I do enjoy working on CBBC. Children are so fearless and the talented are talented. I don’t think I could have acted when I was a child. I never thought I was children’s TV material but obviously I am. It does make me nervous working with children. I am a swearer, always have been. Always will be. But I really do need to hold my tongue sometimes. I think some of the other actors and crew must think I have a stutter.
In 2016, you were in the cast of Oil at Almeida Theatre, what was this show like to do and how was it performing at the Almeida?
It was nerve-racking, every day I got nervous. Never got used to it. I had a crystal in my costume pocket which I used to hold just before I came up onto the stage from a door below. It was a new thing for me, crystals. Don’t really know much about them but gave me something to focus my nerves on. The rest of the cast are wonderful. We had so much fun before the shows to get warmed up. The Almeida was the first theatre show I had really done. I had performed a show at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, but it was much shorter. So, this was an eight-week run if I recall correctly, with weeks of rehearsal before. I felt like a proper theatre actor for a while. My friends came from everywhere to watch – Manchester, Liverpool, London, Birmingham and even Chicago. I felt very blessed to be part of it and to have such great support. One of my friends had a few jokes about coming to see me, as my characters, in Oil. Fanny Singer and Fan Wang. You can probably imagine. I gave the Fan Wang character her life with sarcasm and humour, on one occasion. I corpsed and it was both terrifying and hilarious. I didn’t know how to stop. Seeing my colleagues’ faces on stage made it worse. Then, after a deep breath and telling myself off in that hot minute, I brought her back. I had a friend in the audience and she didn’t realise. On stage it’s great when you have private jokes, and the audience don’t know.
I was in Islington not so long ago and went past the theatre with my husband. Pointing to where I performed, where we had the readthrough, where we rehearsed. Where I used to get off the tube, where I had my lunch, where I cut my hair. I have lots of very fond memories of my time at the Almeida.
Had you always wanted to be an actor and how did you start?
I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I remember watching them all on TV as a child. Not sure now if they were appropriate for children to view. Anyway, one day, during my lunch break when I was at primary school, we were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to be a comedian. Then this boy, I won’t name him, was walking past at the time and said, “yeah but you’re not funny”. That was the end of that ambition. I don’t think I could be a stand-up though, not even now. I have been asked if I would ever consider it. But as soon as you ask me to be funny, it’s gone. I can’t say anything funny. And I lose focus, I will go off on a tangent and never come back. My acting career started late, after university. For my parents and I, I needed to get my degree. I did that. Then I went to study drama and musical theatre. I think my first TV job was in 2005. My ambition is to be in a Hollywood style screen musical. I love films like Holiday Inn, The Wizard of Oz and High Society. Films with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Grace Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds to name but a few. When La La Land was produced, I thought ooh maybe the genre will be popular again. A girl can dream.
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