Cover Crisel Consunji at the 40th Hong Kong Film Awards. Gown by St. John, jewellery by De Beers, shoes and clutch by Jimmy Choo (Image: Crisel Consunji)

After giving birth to a daughter, the award-winning actress prepares for her return to the stage with a new production with Broadway and pop singers

Crisel Consunji has donned many hats: a Disneyland vocalist, an early years teacher, a singer, a Hong Kong Film Award winner, an entrepreneur and, most recently, a mother. Ahead of her new August production The Magic of Musicals, in which she will share the stage with Hong Kong heartthrob Jonathan Wong Chee-hynn , Consunji tells Tatler how she went from a studying political science to becoming an actress, and why, despite her career-oriented image and new role as a mother, it’s not her goal to be a “superwoman”.

Last week, you presented an award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. How do you feel about the winners and nominations this year?

Consunji: I have a lot of admiration for them—this is two years’ worth of movies. For you to be recognised by your peers that you’ve done excellent work in spite of the pandemic, you’re already a winner. It’s also a testament to the resilience of the industry’s artists, and how we can still tell stories through the film medium as a form of human connection, which is ever more relevant these days.

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Three years ago, you stood on the same stage for winning best new performer for your role in Still Human. Why did you choose to take part in this film?

Still Human was a labour of love. When the film was proposed to me after the audition, the team told me it was a low-budget film. So my primary motivation for joining the film was to tell stories of migrant women who were more often missed out in society in a way that was respectful, sensitive and empowering to their narrative.

I hadn’t an inkling that it would be so successful and hit mainstream. All I thought of was: we were going to tell stories that mattered. It would be a chance for an intercultural dialogue, and I would love to be in the forefront of that discussion.

To do the story justice, what research process did you undergo? Did you feel that the story was close to your heart?

I was doing my research even before the movie happened. My bachelor’s and first master’s degrees were in political science in the Philippines. In my classes, we discussed global citizenship and migration. My internship was in the social development sector of the national economic thinktank. At the time, I was moved by the emerging issues of how migration and sending workers abroad was affecting the very fabric of our Filipino society.

After I came to Hong Kong in 2008, I spent my weekends doing volunteer work within the Filipino community. That’s when I discovered that there were so many stories that women were sharing that were different from common misconceptions.

After years of collecting their stories, I felt like it was time to bring them together. Even if the stories in Still Human weren’t my own, I felt a responsibility to let the women be heard, especially when they trusted me with their stories.

At what point did you decide to join the arts and film industries?

I started performing professionally as a resident musical theatre [child] actress for Repertory Philippines when I was ten. I learned [singing and acting] on the job by being with professional performers who were decades older than I was. I discovered that singing was my passion, and I did it for 13 years.

Eventually, I was thinking, what could I do for a career? Back then, there was a misconception that the arts aren’ta viable career. I was equally passionate about law and I would love to do social work to develop ways to make society better. That’s why I studied political science.

I was about to say goodbye to the theatre, but before that, I inadvertently submitted my audition to Hong Kong Disneyland. They called and said, ‘Hey, we have a contract for you as a as a vocalist. Do you want to head over to Hong Kong for eight months?’ I thought that was going to be my last hurrah before I left performing behind. I came to Hong Kong and I enjoyed my stay so much that I ended up staying for three contracts.

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How did your current position as an early years teacher come about?

After Disney, it was difficult to go back into political science in a different place where I don’t have my roots. When I was thinking of the next step, I realised that there should be a lot of creativity in education and that this is something that the arts could provide. For example, can we make education more engaging and interesting to children? At the same time, if we’re going to promote the arts in society and to children, shouldn’t we, as art teachers, equip ourselves with an understanding of early childhood pedagogy? So I retrained as an early childhood educator, and set the goal to merge my passion for connecting with people and children with my arts experiences.


On the topic of performing arts, you have a new show coming up in August. Tell us about it.

The Magic of Musicals is a montage of different musical genres, which is challenging. But I’m up for the challenge of singing jazz and classical songs or belting out a pop song in one show. This production puts together an eclectic line-up of singers with different backgrounds: Sean Oliver and Roy Rolands are seasoned musical theatre performers with a very Broadway kind of resonance; Jonathan Wong is very creative singer with a pop background; and William Hu’s performances are very heartfelt. It’s exciting not just for the [musical] material, but because I get to meet people. Who knows what other things we can create?

Do you feel that Hong Kong’s film and theatre industries have evolved in subject matter and representation since you first joined?

Definitely. This is where the symbiotic relationship between arts and society really shows. For the past decade or so, you have more voices coming from the margins. Nowadays, casting is very open to people of different races and ethnicities in the theatre. There is also a sense of multiculturalism, not just in terms of stories that are being told, but in the set design, music and actors. The industry people bring this richness of their cultural backgrounds into their pieces, which become a collaborative initiative rather than a stale piece of art. A good example is Once on This Island [a coming-of-age one-act stage musical by Lynn Ahrens] in New York.

Have your lifestyle or work life changed in any way since becoming a mother?

It’s no joke to wake up every two to three hours for a newborn. It’s hard to function the next day. My muscles for singing are fine, but its difficult to remember lyrics when I’m sleep-deprived.

How do you take care of your mental and physical health?

I’m starting to get back to exercising. It’s been a few months since my caesarean section, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt like I have my body back. I do belly binding, meditation and regular massages, which help me get to sleep.

Knowing that I need to take care of my baby, which requires mental, emotional and physical strength, I’ve learnt to compartmentalise my schedule. The most important thing that I keep telling new mothers is to be kind to yourself. You can’t be a super woman. Accept support when people hand it to you. You will not be less of a mother.


“Up-close with Stars” is a new monthly cultural series where Tatler spotlights top performing arts talents on their latest achievements and get to the heart of subjects that matter to culture and society.


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