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Vera Chiang is a sultry femme fatale who sets out to snare the exceedingly rich and very British heir to a rubber business just before the Second WorldWar.And she does it awfully well. “She’s very, very good at sex,” says Elizabeth Tan, who revels in the role. “She’s very beautiful, but she’s definitely got all the sex thing going on.” There are, Tan reveals, plenty of intimate moments involving Vera and young Matthew (played by Luke Treadaway, one of the stars of chilly TV thriller Fortitude).
“We’ve had a lot of passionate scenes, a lot of dramatic ones and a lot of fun ones,” she says. “Vera is very funny when she describes Western lovemaking as a collision between two drunken rickshaw drivers at a foggy crossroads. That’s hilarious. She sees love as an art.”
Tan, 30, is used to making her mark. In a very different world she played Coronation Street’s first Chinese character, Xin Proctor. But it’s Vera, lifted from the pages of Booker Prize winner JG Farrell’s satirical 1978 novel, she describes as a “ground-breaking” Asian character.
Vera has made her money as a dancer after escaping occupied China and the Japanese and is believed to have had affairs with a Japanese general and Chinese leader.
“It was all about patriarchy during this time, but she doesn’t stand for this,” she says. “Vera is a fresh, modern lady who could be a female James Bond, someone who is physically very strong, mentally strong, tough, gets out of life-threatening circumstances and has her own opinions.
“We’re used to Asians being portrayed as very subdued and subservient, especially in the war setting.
“This is a woman running the show, escaping from danger and doing her own thing, like a western woman today. She’s more of a feminist than Joan in some ways.” Joan (Georgia Blizzard) is competing for Matthew’s affections in the show.
Vera has her finger on the area’s pulse, warning the English colonists that Japan is planning an invasion.
“They don’t think the invasion will happen,” says Tan. “Vera says to them, ‘You don’t know the Japanese; I’ve seen them in action’.”
Screenwriter Christopher Hampton is so impressed with Vera, he’s thinking of a spin-off series. “That would be nice, ” says Tan.
Tan has scenes with both “young Mr Webb” – Treadaway – and “old Mr Webb”, played by period drama favourite Charles Dance.
“Charles is a fun person,” she says. “He has a twinkle ANDVERA has a twinkle.Viewers may argue over whether Old Mr Webb and Vera are actually having a thing or not.”
The Singapore Grip, ITV, tonight, 9pm
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