If you haven't already heard of Nikki Muller, you've been living under a rock. The Swiss-Filipina actress has been working in the media industry since she was just 15 years old — you might remember her as a VJ for MTV Asia. These days, Muller can be seen not only bringing us the latest court side, track side and on the pitch for Fox Sports Asia, but also getting up close and personal with haggis and fish sperm in the food for thought series The Food Detectives. Hosting aside, she's also a keen thespian, previously starring in local productions High Class, Hotpants and Circle Mirror Transformation. The latest feather in her cap? Acting in the Pangdemonium play The Effect which starts at the end of this month. Also starring Tan Kheng Hua and Adrian Pang, it tells the story of two clinical trial volunteers who find themselves falling in love after being drugged. I was lucky enough to catch this busy bee pre-rehearsal for some Americanos.
You manage to squeeze in one play a year — is theatre somewhat of a passion project for you?
I always say that theater feeds my spirit so I am hoping to be able to perform on stage once a year. It's exciting but very intense and completely different from my TV and MC life! Theatre has become my classroom, really, and I enjoy the challenge.
In The Effect, your character Connie undergoes a clinical trial testing a new form of anti-depressant. The side effect seems to feel like falling for someone! Like Connie, you seem like someone who's up for any challenge...
I've been told that real life happens when you go from the comfortable to the thrilling! So yes, I enjoy a good challenge as that's the only way to grow, isn't it? Connie's character is incredibly challenging and complex so I've had a lot of sleepless nights trying to wrap my head around her. Plus, she's on a drug so that certainly makes playing her much more complicated and fascinating!
Do you think love is chemical or emotional?
I've never taken anything that has made me fall for anyone! But scientifically, love is a chemical reaction with the release of endorphins and dopamine. But perhaps that refers to the process of falling in love. Staying in love, as many of us know, is the real challenge. Perhaps that's when love becomes more of a conscious emotional choice.
This play is also quite racy! Is it going to throw you off having your dad in the front row?
My friends and colleagues certainly giggle about that, but let's remember this is a job and it's professional. So I'm not worried about this. My dad has always been super supportive of the work that I do and I'm actually quite excited for him to see me take on a very different piece of work. But I'm certainly not having him sit in the front row. This is for the good of both of us.
Although you started in front of the camera at a young age, you pulled away from the industry and ended up working at the United Nations. That's quite a career change.
To use a TV/film term, it was certainly a "jump cut," but I was looking for work in New York City in 2008 when the financial crisis was at its apex — so the big TV networks were no longer hiring foreigners. I had always wanted to work at the UN so I found this to be a perfect opportunity. I learned a lot and met some fascinating world leaders and took on some interesting challenges there. However, it wasn't creative enough for me. My boss at the time, was very supportive of my career change and we are still in touch today! I email him about the latest projects I'm working on and he keeps me up to date with the ins and outs of the office back at Headquarters.
What lessons did you learn during that time in New York?
1. Nobody is irreplaceable.
2. Hold yourself accountable for everything.
3. Stay disciplined and focussed.
4. Always be honest with yourself. If you're not happy (even if it means leaving a good paying job in the middle of a financial crisis), do something about it.
5. Do what you love and the money will follow.
You've had many interesting gigs over the years — anything in particular that stands out to you?
Covering Wimbledon for Fox Sports was the toughest and most rewarding experience, thus far. But I like being thrown in the deep end. And it was the deep end! I still can't believe I got to hang out with my heroine, Martina Hingis and of course, to be able to speak with Roger Federer in Swiss German was quite surreal!
I also remember how touching it was to sing Our Father at a 6am mass with nine million Filipinos on the Feast of the Black Nazarene. CNA's production of One in a Million allowed to travel the world attending some of the largest festivals.
And your tattoo — you live by that mantra, right?
I have two tattoos. The first reads 'Amimetobios' which means 'the inimitable life' in Latin. I got that in my last year of college in Boston. In fact, when I would look at that tattoo whilst at the UN, it really made me think: Am I doing everything that I want and feel is meant for me? That was a catalyst that triggered me to return to Asia and pursue the creative field again.
My second tattoo is very apt considering the themes of The Effect. It reads 'Amore Dolore' which means 'love hurts' in Italian. It was something that was personal and meaningful to my late Grandmother whom I very much considered to be a best friend. It reminds me of her. But I wish she could have watched this play as it asks so many burning questions: If love is drug-induced, does it make it any less authentic? The play also discusses our pill-popping culture and whether or not depression is a chemical imbalance or caused by difficult life events.
Work aside, what are your other passions?
I love music so I'm slowly trying to grow a record/vinyl collection. My record player is my little sanctuary and I love that it teaches you to appreciate things slowly. I still have to flip the record half way through the album so that's something I actually enjoy.
I also enjoy swimming and going for long walks on my own after dinner. I'm constantly surrounded by people at work so alone time is very important and necessary for me.
You've said there is an old Englishwoman resting inside of you — care to elaborate?
I just visited Agatha Christie's Greenway Estate on Christmas Day and felt like a kid in a candy store. Need I say more? I love jazz and went nuts when I was allowed to play on Agatha Christie's piano which was in the same room where she would read drafts of her murder manuscripts! The early 20th century enthralls me and I do love the British countryside.
You used to laugh at five year plans, but do you have one now?
Life's what happens when you're busy making other plans, right?
Nikki Muller stars in The Effect, from 25 February to 13 March. Tickets from Sistic.