Interview: Elizabeth Tan

Interview: Elizabeth Tan

The Emily in Paris and Top Boy actor on her upcoming film Irish Wish with Lindsay Lohan, the power of comedy, and her favourite local spots…

Image: Elizabeth Tan (c) Kenneth Lam

To say Elizabeth Tan’s career so far has been diverse is an understatement. Her roles have spanned comedy, gritty London based crime drama, soap and historical satire. She’s now turning her hand to a rom-com… as well as training for a forthcoming film in which she plays a champion ice skater.

The rom-com is Irish Wish, which is released on Netflix on 15 March. Elizabeth plays Emma, a stylist in New York’s high-end Bergdorf Goodman department store. She falls in love with an Irish writer and is set to marry him but her friend Maddie (Lindsay Lohan) makes a wish and things take an unexpected turn.

Elizabeth loves getting into her characters and researching the roles. “It is what I enjoy the most about being an actor. It opens your eyes to so many things and there is a real joy in this.”


For her role as Emma, Elizabeth booked an appointment with a personal shopper in a posh London store to experience what a stylist does. “I pretended I was shopping for all these clothes,” she laughs. “I wanted to get a sense of what stylists might be like and what they might say.”

“The character is really passionate about her job. I had to learn about all these luxury things. Emma has these nano eyelashes that you have some magnetic tech to stick them on with. When the eyelash starts to come off, that is my character’s ‘meet-cute’ with the guy she falls in love with.”

It sounds like the background research for Irish Wish was somewhat easier than her role as an ice skater. She has a double but obviously still needs to be convincing on ice. “I’ve been training at the rink in Queensway. If you’ve seen someone skating around all padded up with a helmet on, that was me! I couldn’t risk any injuries as I was also filming for something else.”

For Vera Chiang in The Singapore Grip, she had to learn tai chi. “It was meant to be very sensuous and elegant as a man sees her and falls in love with her. I was originally doing gymnastics on a high beam for the part and it was terrifying! But they changed the script at the last minute and so it was then tai chi. You have to learn very quickly when you are filming. You have to know what you are doing and you must know your lines perfectly as once you are on set the pressure is on.”

She has still continued with tai chi but is particularly interested in martial arts such as Muay Thai boxing. Elizabeth counts Michelle Yeoh among the actors that really inspire her, and Elizabeth would love to emulate her success in action roles.


Elizabeth’s career has taken her all around the world. She had the glamour of the French capital for Emily in Paris and she has loved filming in Ireland for Irish Wish. “Ireland is so beautiful. I think audiences will have their breath taken away.” Filming locations include Lough Tay, the Cliffs of Moher, and Westport.

In contrast, it was the streets of East London for Top Boy where she played Jaq’s girlfriend, Maude. It was an important role in terms of what it signified. “You don’t see many Chinese lesbian characters so that was great. It showed us kissing. It was good representation and that means a lot to people. The more you see it, the more it becomes normal.”

She also thinks it’s important not to label people. Elizabeth will be in a film in which two female friends fall in love with each other. “They are not gay but fall in love. I don’t think you should have to give people a label. You can be what you want to be at any time in your life.”

While she is often away filming for long stretches, home for Elizabeth is London. She loves the green spaces. “We are very lucky here. I love Kew Gardens – you can pick up your camera and know you will capture something stunning. And I like cycling in Richmond Park. The Japanese Garden in Holland Park is also amazing.”

“Another favourite thing of mine is the canals around Little Venice, and I love watching the sun set in London from Putney and Albert Bridges.”

Elizabeth has always known she wanted to be an actor. Her big break was in Coronation Street. “Clever and rational people, including all my extended family, were saying you can’t make a living as an actor. But I believe that if you want to be truly happy, you need to pursue your dreams and your chances of being successful are higher if it is something you are passionate about.”

She was in school plays and loved keeping friends and family entertained. “I’d do impersonations of people who came to our house – not in a mean way – but I liked observing and bringing out the comedy. I also wrote songs with my mum on the piano, which we’d sing together.”

“I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people. When people were sad, I’d think of something funny to do. It is powerful to be able to change how people feel.”

Sounds like her new rom-com is the perfect vehicle for that. “It is a very nuanced role and the arc of it is beautiful. It is that moment when you fall in love and your heart is singing. There’s darkness in it too. I cried when I watched it. There’s a lot about friendship, the truth, and what is meant to be will be. It is also funny. In these troubled times around the world, having some comedy is helpful.”