Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh “almost died’ when she went without sleep for five days while filming a TVB drama. She may be one of the most popular actresses in Hong Kong and China but it has never been easy.

The 45-year-old got candid about her early years as an actress and difficult working conditions in TVB during an interview with Shining Talks. Sheh joined the showbiz industry after coming in third in the 1997 Miss Hong Kong pageant.

Although she did not know anything about acting when she  first started, TVB had high hopes for her and the actress landed her first lead role in the 1999 period drama The Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain. 

Unfortunately, producers were concerned that she may not be able to handle the pressure of being a leading lady so they arranged for her to play Mark Kwok’s wife in drama Time Off first to familiarise herself with acting. The then-rookie actress could not immerse herself in the role and could not cry when the scene demanded it.

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For the role of Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain, Sheh faced difficulty as well. She was criticised for her poor acting and soft, squeaky voice. “[The crew] said my voice was very soft and light, and the sound man said ‘Can you speak louder’. I replied ‘Okay’, but I was still very soft,” she recalled. She  has been acting for 14 years in TVB and has appeared in numerous dramas. She is one of the few actresses to win Best Actress twice, in 2006 for rom-com Maiden’s Vow and in 2014 for Line Walker. But looking back, she admitted that filming wasn’t easy.

Charmaine Sheh ‘almost died’ when she did not sleep for 5 days due to filming. Picture: Instagram

“We shoot the outdoor scenes in the day and in the studio at night. If you are the lead actor, you will have both studio and outdoor scenes, [so you can be filming] for 16 to 18 hours [a day]. This is why they say that those from TVB are all made of iron,” she shared.

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“I feel it’s very good training. After going through that, when you go out into the world, nothing fazes you.”

In fact, TVB’s ‘training’ was so good, she once went without sleep for five days when filming the 2003 period drama The Voyage of Emperor Qian Long to Jiangnan.

“I almost died, I was close to dying, really,” she said, adding that after that incident, she “just could not put on weight” regardless of how much she ate. In 2011, Charmaine left TVB and started furthering her career in China.

Even though she’s now regarded as an A-list actress there, she says that it doesn’t mean she’s guaranteed the best roles. “I may be in the top tier in China, but I don’t always get the good dramas ‘cos it is very competitive [there] and I can’t speak Mandarin [well],” she said.

Charmaine landed a role in the hugely popular Story of Yanxi Palace, which catapulted her career to a new peak.