On A Mission
BY HIRANMAYII MOHANAN
Photographer: Barathan Amuthan
Venue: Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara
Makeup Artist: Harshini Sukumaran @ Hadi.Co
Hair Stylist: TWC Salon
Wardrobe: Syomirizwa Gupta
Affable and ever equipped with a smile, wonder woman Sarah Lian has successfully engineered the life she envisioned for herself through introspection, hard work and resilience. Content with the season of life she is currently in, the actress and entrepreneur recalls her debut in acting, reflecting on her career thus far and shares an important message to young women thinking about their careers.
1. Firstly, what has the last two years of the pandemic taught you?
The last two years of the pandemic have taught me about personal growth. I think a lot of us being at home have had to sit with being alone with your thoughts and self- introspection. That has been a really beautiful period for myself — I have grown a lot as a person and have a deeper understanding of myself and those around me. It has also taught me to look at life with a more compassionate lens and I think that’s because a lot of self compassion came in and I’m able to project that to others.
2. Tell us something your fans would be surprised to learn about you.
Honestly, I’m a crybaby, if my fans don’t already know that. I cry about everything. I would say I’m someone who doesn’t mind emoting — I have access to my emotions and I’m not afraid to feel them and express them.
3. You were raised and pursued a degree in Toronto, Canada. What sparked the move back to Malaysia?
I think it’s sparked from the urge to find my roots. I was born in Malaysia and my family migrated to Canada when I was eight years old. I used to spend summers (I know it’s perpetually summer in Malaysia) here and I felt like I wanted to try something different. So, I had an internship in university where I worked for a tv station here in Malaysia and I was so happy to create a different relationship with Malaysia — one that wasn’t only family. After I graduated, in 2008, I wanted to explore what this side of the world offered and I gave it a shot.
4. Do you have plans to return to Canada or the US to pursue greater opportunities in the entertainment industry?
I did actually return to Canada between 2011 to 2014 to focus on getting back into the movie and television industry, when I undertook a couple of projects and did some movies in Hong Kong. It was interesting, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t what I wanted per se. Maybe I wasn’t as successful as I thought I would be going back, but I felt like I could do more in the Asian region. So, if I were to return to Canada or the States, it would have to be an invitation for a movie or tv series maybe. Various production companies have gotten in touch with me to do cross cultural stuff but nothing has come to fruition. I’m definitely open to do more acting, which I haven’t recently because I’ve been so focussed on my company Suppagood and Supparetreat. I used to be someone who was specific on how things should play out, and now I have realised that things can turn out greater than you can imagine if you stay open.
5. Based on your experience in the entertainment industry, is there a stark difference between the international and local spheres?
Absolutely. I think in Malaysia, you’re working with tight budgets and the market is so segregated, and the audience is also segregated and that factors into the success of a show. Whereas in Canada, because everybody speaks English and it’s an English production, there’s much more cohesiveness to it. Also, being part of the Union means that they protect you in every sense of the word so if you work an extra hour, you inform your union rep and they would make sure you would get compensated. Till today, I still get cheques for my movies and tv shows. So, I’m very grateful for a system that protects you and there’s transparency. That’s something I love about having a more developed structure in film and television. In contrast, in Malaysia, it is yet to be developed. There’s a lot of talk about it but because it’s not a really regulated industry, people can charge what they want and you have to depend on your star power or desirability as a brand. But I would say the similarities both the local and international spheres share is the passion of people you work with — from the makeup artist to the writer and director. They just need a platform for them to grow.
6. Are there any exciting projects you’re currently working on?
Yes, I think I feel most drawn to the Supparetreat project. It’s been a new dimension in my life, one that I didn’t expect to hone or harness.
7. You’re the co-founder of Suppagood PR & Talent Management Agency. What fuelled the birth of
Supparetreat and what is its mission?
Supparetreat was initially my company, Suppagood’s retreat. We had such a great time and wondered what would it be like if we took a bunch of people on a retreat and so we explored that and went deeper into questioning what experience do we want to create, what journey do we want people to go on and how do we want them to feel when they leave. Then, we started structuring and crafting the Supparetreat for the public. As that happened, I felt like my personal growth was moving in tandem with that — a lot of discoveries, unlearning and relearning and it is one of those things that is powerful. When I started to meet attendees of these Supparetreat gatherings, and started to see them change and shift from where they were to where they are now, it’s amazing! I share this quote on the Supparetreat website, that goes, when you start to recognise your own light, you start to see it in other people, and bring this light to your home, communities, work and if you’re able to do more of that, people would be more compassionate to others.
8. Where do you see Supparetreat in the next five years?
I see it expanding — adding more coaches, more programmes and people feeling that there’s something for them, whether it’s online or face-to-face. I feel like there’s an opportunity for Supparetreat to grow in various places and make it regional. Our last Supparetreat was in Bali, right before the world shut down. So, we’re planning another retreat this year and I’m excited about that because it’s really coming together. At first, we focussed on women and recently I have been doing a lot more integrated stuff with both men and women. Supparetreat is a really great way to introduce more men to look under their
hood and introspect.
9. You’ve hosted a myriad of events for renowned clients. What goes into your prep-work before an event?
I would say it’s working in the industry for 10 years and envisioning what the event is going to look like —what you want the audience to feel and the flow of the show. I think having experience feeds into the prep work. It’s getting the essence of the show across and I think being an emcee is like being a conductor. You’re not the star or the main event so understanding your role in a big event is important. I’m highly extroverted so I love interacting with the audience and I love this aspect of my life. I feel like I have engineered everything in my life to what I want and it has taken a long time to be comfortable with where I’m at, whether it’s business, acting, hosting, ideations or retreats, I’m really happy. That’s where I’m at right now.
10. As an entrepreneur, what are the three most important habits to be successful like you?
As an entrepreneur, I would say resilience — to be able to shift and change when need be, passion, because that’s how you get people who love you to trust in you, and humility, to be able to listen, learn and grow. You need all these three qualities to become a successful entrepreneur.
11. What is the proudest moment of your career thus far?
I think my proudest moment is when I get letters from the Supparetreat attendees showing gratitude. That’s when I feel so proud, not just because I created it, but because they decided to walk that journey and allowed us to support them. Being a part of that makes me so happy.
12. What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
I think honouring yourselves. When you’re connected to yourself, that’s when everything is aligned — what you think, what you feel and do, how you support people and are of service falls into place. It’s then so clear for you to see what is right and what is wrong, whether it’s a job, relationship or situation that you find yourself questioning. I think when you’re not in alignment, that’s when you’re in this mode where you’re trying to please your parents, or partner or boss and that to me, is not something I encourage. I want people to be able to live their truth and not feel embarrassed about what they love.
13. Lastly, what does a day in the life of Sarah Lian look like?
It involves a lot of my dog, Jessie. It also involves a lot of phone calls, planning, connecting with people and these differs day to day. For example, today (Aug 25), I have three meetings after the photo shoot and an interview. Most importantly, as long as I have my rest days for me to recharge and get centred, then everything can happen the way it needs to happen. I feel like I haven’t had a true weekend off since May since I’ve been working on weekends.