The luxe, beautiful cheongsams of Miss S - a new HBO Asia original series about a wealthy socialite who sets up a detective agency set in 1930s Shanghai - were so appealing to leading lady, Chinese actress Ma Yili, that she took three sets home for herself.
The series - a Chinese adaptation of the Australian series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (2012 to 2015) - has over 100 costumes just for Ma.
The 44-year-old actress, who plays the titular Miss S, says in a video call with local press: "I love all the costumes. They are all so beautiful. I was given the chance to pick some pieces to keep for myself and I kept three cheongsams - a red sleeveless one, a green one with transparent lace in the back and a black lace one. To be honest, I regret not keeping more pieces."
And while cheongsams are body-hugging outfits, the mother of two daughters, who stands at 1.64m tall, says she was lucky to be blessed with a svelte figure to do the outfits justice.
"I'm someone who metabolises pretty quickly, and I happened to just be at my slimmest during the filming of this series. I was only around 42kg then," adds Ma, who is known for her roles in series such as My Fair Princess III (2003).
The 1930s Shanghai setting of the show was appealing to her too as she is a native of the city and gets to flaunt her Shanghainese in the show.
She says: "I've always been quite taken with the 1930s as an era. I have yet to see a Shanghai lady of that era portrayed to the image I have in my heart so to be able to play this role was a wonderful opportunity."
In the series, Ma's character - Miss S, also known as Su Wenli - is a wealthy and single heiress who becomes a private detective. She bumps up against a stoic police inspector, played by Vengo Gao, who is reluctant to let a civilian meddle in police work.
Speaking of her onscreen alter ego, the actress says: "She's really great at wheedling and being sweet and adorable to people to get what she wants. She knows when to soften and apologise, she knows exactly what to do in different situations. I'm not as slick in social interactions like that and I'm not as fearless as her either."
In fact, Ma felt her character was almost too perfect to be true.
"In my mind, she's sort of an idealistic heroine. There were more combat scenes planned for me initially but I told the production team that I don't want her to be able to do so many things. Let the Inspector (Gao) protect her a bit."
The strapping Gao (Eternal Love Of Dream, 2020) definitely looks the part of a suave inspector but the newly single Ma, who divorced her husband Chinese actor Wen Zhang last year, says he was "shy and nervous" at first.
She adds: "He warmed up quickly though. There was a scene where my character sprains her leg and he carries her and we flirt. We ad-libbed that scene and didn't even rehearse it, we just bounced lines off each other naturally. That was when I felt like he had truly settled into the role and our scenes went really smoothly."
While she loved the show and her role, her performance was deemed over-the-top by some viewers when the series aired earlier in China this year.
When asked what she thought of the criticisms, Ma is completely unfazed.
She says: "I meant for the performance to be over-the-top and a bit dramatic because to me she's an almost fantastical, very idealised character. The drama is very stylised too and I matched my performance to that stylistic manner." – The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Miss S is available on HBO Go with two-episodes airing every weekday.
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