Though she always wanted to act, God paved the way for Belinda Lee to become an award-winning host. Finally, she got the role that God set aside for her: playing a breast cancer patient in last year’s MediaCorp series BRA. She shares with City News her remarkable experience.
Belinda Lee is a name familiar to most Singaporeans. The 40-year-old TV actress-host is best known for hosting award-winning human-interest travel series such as Find Me A Singaporean and The Place We Live In.
Unlike most travel shows, those hosted by Lee draws in the audience not with the local food or sceneries, but with the personal life stories of the locals. Lee often brings her audiences into a world beyond the walls of their lives and introduce them to people of another culture or people who are less fortunate, people that need the acceptance and love of society.
Her shows, Come Dance With Me and Find Me A Singaporean 3 won her the Best Info-Ed Host at the Star Awards.
So imagine our surprise when halfway through the interview, Lee said she hated hosting.
“Honestly, I hated hosting; I could not understand why God was pushing me in that direction,” she admitted.
Ever since she was a little girl, Lee had wanted to act. For a long time, it vexed her that she never quite got her big break as an actor, but instead gained great popularity as a host.
One day when she was on her knees cleaning a house for RenoAid, a reality show where Lee and her team renovated homes of low-income families, she received a revelation.
“I remember the Lord speaking to me one day on the set,” said Lee. “He said very clearly that He wanted me to be His mouthpiece, a voice for those that had no voice. Through hosting, I am able to go to so many places to witness poverty. I guess He really has His plans and He knows what He is doing. If I had not gone through depression, poverty, and low self-esteem myself, I wouldn’t have been able to empathize with people going through the same things.”
That day, she found new meaning in her job. Hosting was no longer a tiresome thing she did for money; it became her calling in life.
“Now, when I host a program or a dinner-and-dance, I know that it is a gift that God has given me,” said Lee. “This is something that God wants me to do, to bring healing to people. It is not just a job; it is a calling in life. That’s why it’s so real to me.”
THE MAKING OF A DREAM
Only when she started to embrace her calling did God cause her dream to come alive again. Throughout her career, Lee had been involved in her fair share of dramas, but she never felt she really fit into any roles given to her.
“I even had people come up to me telling me how bad my acting was. They told me to go back to hosting,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ve reached another milestone in life. Last year I hit 40, and God decided to give me an acting role. The breakthrough was not in terms of my career, but the fulfillment of my childhood dream to be an actor.”
In 2016, Lee received a great gift: the role of Brenda Low in a local English drama, BRA.
BRA was a 13-episode mini-series inspired by cancer survivors. The tale revolves Alexis (Beatrice Chua) who goes on a road trip to confront her estranged father. She brings along three others, including Lee’s character, Brenda, a model-turned-homemaker who has survived cancer.
“Before they approached me, they tried very hard to find an actor to fit into Brenda’s role,” Lee recounted. “The production was delayed because of various reasons, one of which was that they couldn’t find a fit for my character. They looked around the region for six months, auditioning actors but they could not find the right fit. Even when the station confirmed the actor, the writer felt that she was not the Brenda she envisioned; she had to rewrite a few things for that actor. However, because of the delays, they had to let that actress go because of her other commitments.”
Just before the filming started, Lee received an email asking her to take on the role of Brenda. “They wanted me to video myself doing a monologue as an audition. I didn’t want to do it at first but something in my heart kept bugging me to do it. So one night when I got home, I took out the script, memorized it and did the video. A few days later I was confirmed for the role. After a chat with the producer, he went back to the writer and said, ‘Eh, this Belinda is the one we are looking for, lah!’”
Serendipitously, the character Lee took on was initially named Belinda in the original script.
“In fact, the production team found so much similarity between me and the character that they changed her name to Brenda because they didn’t want to jinx me,” Lee said with a chuckle.
This experience caused Lee, a City Harvest Church member, to realize that if God is for her, no one can be against her. “If God has reserved this role for me, no one in this whole world can take it away from me. I’m now a freelance artist and everything seems so uncertain. How I got the role showed me that I must never doubt the sovereignty of the God we serve. A God who, in His own timing, will bring you a gift or a job opportunity that will make you shine,” she said.
The role of Brenda was a challenging one because of the emotional journey it brought her through. Lee describes it as a breakthrough role that gave her a chance to showcase her acting skills.
“One of the reasons why I was able to portray Brenda was because I had to walk through a very challenging journey with my own mom—she suffered from breast cancer,” Lee shared.
THE FIGHT OF FAITH
“When I was portraying Brenda, I just knew that I had to be that voice for my mom. Despite all the pain and suffering she went through, I saw courage, strength and a lot of faith and love.”
Lee considered her late mother’s fight against breast cancer a victory. “It was not how long she lived, but how well she lived,” she stated.
Mrs Lee became a Christian in 2013. She received Christ at City Harvest’s Chinese Service and later attended New Life Community Church’s Chinese Service.
“She found a love for Chinese Service,” recalled Lee. “She wanted to sign up for Bible study the first day she visited the church. The next week she started Bible study and the following week, she started cooking for the members. She told me that since she can’t do much for the church since she didn’t study, but one thing she can do very well is to cook, so she cooks for the members.”
Mrs Lee was not educated, but she had a love for the Word of God. “She prayed very hard asking God to give her a gift to read because she wanted to understand the Bible and she learned to read on her own,” said Lee. “She would ask around when she didn’t know certain words but most of the time she would do her devotional reading by herself.”
Unfortunately, Mrs Lee had a relapse of breast cancer two and a half months later. “Her lungs were infected and she started to be hospitalized very frequently,” said Lee. “Sometimes I ask God why He did not allow her to enjoy church longer. But I guess I understand now. The week before she passed on, she told my aunt to cook for the church on her behalf, because she wanted to bless the people. Her circumstance did not stop her from loving and serving God and His people.
“My mom’s faith was strengthened as she went through her remaining days,” Lee recalled. “I remember she had no strength to even sit up, but at midnight she would hold the window grill and walk to the wardrobe where there is a mirror. She would look in the mirror and with all her strength say aloud in Mandarin: ‘Jehovah, please bring me home.’ She did this every other night, and I wondered to myself, where does she even get the strength? My mom has left a legacy: because of her, my uncle and Indonesian helper received salvation.”
Lee took all that she learned and saw from her mom and embodied it in her character Brenda. “I remember there was this scene where I had to shave off my hair because of chemotherapy. I let out a smile at the end because I remembered the tenacity and the strength my mother had. Though I’m in pain and I’m suffering, I will still fight the good fight.”
“I am so grateful that God has given me this golden opportunity to portray a beautiful character like Brenda. Because of Brenda, I had the opportunity to be a voice for my mom and other breast cancer warriors,” said Lee. “They don’t have the platform to share with the world their pain, but through Brenda, I hope that people could see that her life can be celebrated. It doesn’t mean that just because her life ended, she was defeated. In fact, it was a victorious life that Brenda led.”