A FORMER RESIDENT of Longridge has been featuring in some high profile TV dramas and mixing with the Hollywood A list.
Christina Chong, has recently been seen in the ITV1’s hospital drama Monroe playing Sarah Witney alongside James Nesbitt, and an episode of Dr Who, as well as making a film with Madonna and working with Brad Pitt.
Although born in Enfield, London, Christina, one of six children, attended Longridge CE Primary School - where she was encouraged by former headteacher Michael Collins - Longridge High, and the Sutcliffe School of Dance.
“I started dancing at the age of four, and was bored of it by the time I was 10 years old.
“I wanted to give it up but my mum encouraged me not to. We moved to Longridge, where I was enrolled into the Sutcliffe School of Dance and it was studying under Janet Sutcliffe that inspired me to pursue dance as a career.’’
She remembers all the shows she did with Janet, but especially the last one, when she was given her first solo to the song ‘I am what I am’.
“I felt so grown up doing it, and it was probably the first time I felt like a real dancer, as the pressure was on to deliver! Although I loved ballet and dreamt of being the next Darcey Bussell, my flat feet meant I was definitely a tap and modern girl.’’
Her youngest sister Lizzi, who also studied with Janet, is a dancer and appeared on last year’s X Factor with Oli Murs, and has recently been cast as Liat in the South Pacific UK tour.
Christina got a place at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatrical Arts when she was 14, and after graduating at 19 went straight into the musical Aida written by Elton John and Tim Rice in Germany.
Injuries turned Christina’s attention to acting, and she flew out to the Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute in New York, to begin training as an actress. Former famous students include the legendary Marilyn Monroe, Robert De Niro and Angelina Jolie.
“Mr Collins gave me my first taste of acting when he cast me as Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’.
“His dedication and enthusiasm in directing the play inspired me and since then acting has become my passion and my career. I remember Mr Collins as being a very charismatic headteacher with an energy which would encourage you to want to do your best.
“Attending the Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute and being in New York was one of the happiest times of my life.
“I was only supposed to do a three month course but I loved it so much I stayed for 18 months. Knowing that the Institute had taught acting legends such as Robert De Niro and Marilyn Monroe was so inspiring, and being in NY City and seeing the iconic sights featured in many Hollywood movies, fuelled my passion for acting.’’
Following the course in New York Christina returned to London, and found it quite hard to begin with, feeling that she was back to square one. She found an agent, got bit parts and a few commercials, which led her to be cast in her first movie role Freakdog.
“There have been so many people who have helped me along the way, casting directors, directors and producers who believed in me enough to give the roles.
“My agent Piers Nimmo believed in me when no one else did, and Madonna cast me in her new movie W.E. last year which we shot in London and New York. I believe it will be released later this year. Madonna wrote and directed the movie and with such a name on my CV the parts began to roll in.’’
W.E. is a romantic movie about two love stories, that of Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward, and Wally and William a couple in New York in the 1990s. The film switches between the two stories, which are connected by the Wallis Collection auctioned off by Sotherbys New York in 1997.
Christina plays Ten Ten, a Sotherby staffer and friend and confidente to Wally (played by Abbie Cornish). Orignally the role was to be for five or six scenes but as filming went on the part grew.
“Whilst filming W.E., I got a call late one night from my agent saying I’d got Monroe, I was ecstatic! I flew from NY straight to Leeds to start work on the series which included a lot of research and shadowing real surgeons and trainees.
“Sarah Parish is one of the loveliest people I have ever worked with and a great laugh, as is Jimmy Nesbitt. Near the end of the shoot I had an audition for the role of Lorna Bucket in Dr Who, and as I was filming that day it was going to be very tight getting to the audition which was back in London.
“The train was majorly delayed due to the snow and I turned up an hour late. Luckily they were still there waiting for me but I thought I’d lost the job there and then. A week later I found out I’d got the part and getting to work with Matt Smith and Karen was brilliant.
“It can be very daunting meeting and working with big names for the first time, but after a while you realise they’re just people and it’s strange, you’re sort of left with two images of them - the Madonna who is the queen of pop and Madonna the person who is very driven and works incredibly hard.
“Most recently I worked with Brad Pitt who was lovely and extremely down to earth.’’’
Christina is unable to tell us more about this at present but we’ll hopefully hear more of this project in the future. She said that being an actress can be tough at times.
“When it’s busy it’s ridiculously busy and when it’s quiet, it’s dead. You have to find ways of staying sane when the work isn’t there and ways of staying calm and relaxed when it is.’’
She says that she does a lot of yoga to help with the stress of the job, and as staying fit is a big part of being an actress, she dances regularly and takes kung fu classes.
“When I’m not acting I teach private dance lessons and I have recently gone into business with my family. We have the opening of our new Chinese restaurant ‘Charlie’s’ in Harpenden on 19th July.
“Apart from meeting and working with famous people every now and then, my life is very much still the same, which I love, and my friends and family help to keep me grounded. It’s lovely being able to fly here and there for work, and be able to earn a living by doing something you love, but I try not to let myself get carried away with it. It’s very important to have a support network in this career and my family and friends have been there for me throughout.’’
Christina’s boyfriend Toby Spigel also works in the industry although not as an actor.
“It’s great to have someone who understands what you do, and that you may have to leave the country, and drop any plans at a moment’s notice. He’s very supportive and probably my biggest fan.’’
Christina has fond memories of Longridge - among them climbing Parlick, and long country walks along Beacon Fell, and ‘good old hotpot from the bakery on Berry Lane’.
“I do miss my friend Karen Bartholomew although her visits to London are becoming quite frequent!
“Just recently I’ve been missing the Longridge car boot. My Granny will love me for saying this! I’ve got into buying vintage bits and pieces and odd bits of furniture which the car boot is great for.’’
Although she and most of her brothers and sisters live in and around London, Christina tries to come up to Longridge as often as she can to visit her Grandma Ruth Hall and her aunty and cousins, Susan, Rachel and Rebecca.
“I was up there back in March, when along with my brother James and sister Lizzy we went up to surprise her, almost giving her a heart attack!”
• Madonna’s W.E will open in US Theatres on December 9 and this country next year.