SIDE A: WHERE WE TALK ABOUT IDENTITY, CHILDHOOD AND CHINESE SWEAR WORDS
(Adrianne Ho glides out from the lobby of the hotel where she’s staying. She’s slightly late due to a mix-up in timing. She’s wearing a Supreme basketball jersey, an outfit that we sort of knew she’d be in, having followed her on her Instagram (@adrianneho). With a light dusting of make-up, high cheekbones and a million-watt smile, Ho apologises. All’s forgiven, water under the bridge. Our cab arrives and we enter it.)
It’s your second time in Singapore. Have you done a lot of sightseeing this time round?
Not as much because I stayed so long the first time, so it felt like I saw everything. But yesterday, I did a shoot for Highsnobiety and we went to Merlion Park, Parliament Building, Raffles Place, Arab Street... so I got to see those [places of interest] again. And I’ve a really good friend whom I went to school with, who lives here, so we’ve been hanging out almost every day, so it’s kinda cool.
We understand you moved to LA?
About three years ago. Before that, I’d been going to LA a lot. My sister [actress Sandrine Holt] lives there. One summer, I stayed there for two months, and when I returned to New York, it was really cold, and I was like, “You know what? I don’t have to put up with this anymore. I’ll move to LA.”
LA is great to have as a home base; I go to New York for work. Living in LA fits me because of the lifestyle. I do go back and forth a little bit.
Trench coat by Craig Green
Does all this travelling take a toll on you?
It gets a little exhausting, especially when I’m going overseas. I gotta make sure I get enough sleep, drink a lot of water, and eat as healthy as I can, but it’s difficult because you want to try all the local cuisine when you’re in a new place.
I balance out trying everything so I won’t lose out on the experience, but also to eat healthy and fit in workouts as much as I can when on the road. Before I leave, I prepare myself with a strict regimen of working out, eating healthy, making sure I take all my supplements, so I’ll be super on point before flying off.
Do you cook?
I can cook but I don’t like to spend too much time on it because I’m usually busy.
What’s your favourite meal?
Thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving meal where you have fried chicken, mashed potato, gravy, roast turkey… I like the stuffing, but also the company that comes with a Thanksgiving dinner.
I love eating at different restaurants. Jon & Vinny’s is my favourite. It’s Italian-American food with a Californian twist. You get your pizza, chicken parm, classics made from fresh ingredients.
Tell me about growing up.
My dad moved from Hong Kong to Toronto where I was born. It was great growing up there; Toronto is such a multicultural city that I was exposed to different cultures. I was open-minded and it kinda prepared me for life: travelling, moving to different cities and having an international point of view.
Were you aware that you were mixed growing up?
I didn’t really know. It’s funny. People would ask me: what are you? And I’d reply, “Canadian?” [Laughs] I don’t even know what age I realised I was mixed. I remember friends coming over, looking at my father and saying, “Oh, your dad’s Chinese.”
Do you speak Cantonese?
No. I’m working on learning Mandarin, but back home, we always spoke English. I can speak some French though.
Turtleneck Pullover by Berluti
Are your Hong Kong relatives disappointed that you can’t speak Cantonese?
I always get that. I feel that it’d be great if I could speak Cantonese, but they know my upbringing, so they don’t hold it against me. I’ve been travelling so much to Asia and it’s always the first thing that people ask: “You’re Chinese. Can you speak Mandarin? Cantonese?” At that point, I feel like I let them down because they want to communicate with me, but I can’t. I’m working on it now, hoping to be able to use it to get around or to know what people are talking about.
How’s the Mandarin?
It’s pretty basic. It depends. I have regular classes but if I don’t attend a class or two, I tend to forget everything.
Do you, at least, try to learn the swear words first?
I think I know of one swear word, but if I say it to you now, I’ll get it wrong. [Laughs]
What is it?
他妈的 (Mandarin for “damn it”).
(And we arrive at the studio. This is the end of SIDE A. Please turn over to SIDE B.)
INTERMISSION: WHERE WE TALK ABOUT EYEBROWS, FAN INTERACTIONS AND STREET FIGHTER 2
(Ho lounges in the makeup chair. She pendulums between checking her phone and entertaining stupid questions.)
Were you comfortable with how you looked growing up?
I was. I never really thought about my appearance until I started modelling. That’s when I had to be aware of how I look.
Your eyebrows are striking.
Oh, thank you! I had a unibrow when I was in elementary school, and I really wanted “proper” eyebrows because all the other girls had thin eyebrows. People would tell me, “Don’t worry you’ll be so happy to have them when you get older”, and I was like, “Yeah right.” Now, I’m like, “Thank God.” I do trim them. My eyebrows are recognisable.
Bra by La Perla
How are your fan interactions?
Yeah, it’s funny because it’s pretty nice—people see me daily on Instagram or the Internet and feel like they already know me.
Isn’t that weird though?
Sometimes. It’s a little bit shocking because someone could call out to me and I’ll be trying to recall where I know them from. Then, I find out that they follow me on Instagram. Once, I met a fan and, near the end, he wanted me to sign something and it was my baby picture.
Like an actual photo?
Like a reproduction. But still, it wasn’t what I had expected. I thought it would be like a photo of me now.
For the most part, my fans are nice so it’s great to meet them in person. It’s one thing to read a comment or have someone like your photo, but it’s another to meet them in person.
What about hate on the Internet? How do you handle that?
I kinda ignore it. If someone is hating on me or someone else, whatever. It’s more to do with them than it is with me. I don’t really care that much. They need me to troll on so that they can feel better about themselves.
Do you try to demarcate your private life from your public one?
For the most part, if I’m doing something, I’ll share it on Instagram, but I like to keep my personal life private.
Do you play an instrument?
I used to play the piano. And it’s not that I hated it—in fact, I wish I could play the piano now—but it was more like I hated the process back then, having to sit down for an hour to focus on something. My piano instructor would have to bribe me with video games.
Do you still play video games?
I don’t have the time but I used to play Street Fighter 2.
Chun Li. Obviously. [Laughs]
(This is the end of the intermission. We’ll return you to your regular programming.)
SIDE B: WHERE WE TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE, ALLERGIES AND BOARDING SCHOOL
(We’re in the cab, en route to her hotel. Ho looks tired, which is understandable seeing as she’s just finished a four-hour photo shoot. The roads are filled with cars making their way home from work.)
Do you see yourself doing this for the long haul?
Not so much modelling. But I feel I can continue building my brand, and working in fitness, wellness and fashion.
No plan B?
None. [Laughs] This is my only plan, and it might change depending on my circumstances, but that is the path that I’m on.
Double breasted coat by Berluti
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people talk about a subject, but they have no idea what they’re talking about. It happens all the time, people just run their mouths.
Do you call them out on it?
I usually don’t say anything. Personally, calling them out won’t get me anywhere. I don’t mind a confrontation if it means we can discuss things, but I don’t like one where it gets aggressive.
I don’t have any pets. I had a cat growing up, a tortoiseshell called Minnie. After Minnie Mouse. One side of her face was orange, and the other black. My parents got her before I was born and I think she got pretty sick so we had to put her down. They got two more cats after that.
Around that time, I went to boarding school and my dad got a job in Hong Kong so he and my mum moved back there and part of the agreement was that the company would pay for my boarding school.
Was it your choice to go to boarding school at 16?
My parents offered me the choice of going to Hong Kong or staying in a boarding school in Canada. At the time, they were living in central Hong Kong, Tai Po. I didn’t want to live so far out from the city, especially when I didn’t know Cantonese so I stayed in Canada.
It’s funny, though, that my friend whom I hang out with in Singapore is from that boarding school.
Anyway, I moved out when I was 16 and, when I returned to visit, I developed a crazy allergy to cats. It sucks. I love cats, but now, I’m allergic to them.
You’re in a special time where people can be famous on social media.
I’ve been able to put out what I’m into and curate that on social media. From modelling to Instagram, to filming Sweat the City (out later this year), to working on a clothing line and my website... I’ve be rather synergistic. It has inspired people to do that for themselves. You don’t have to go through the traditional mediums and you can do anything if you work hard at it.
Was being a presence on social media always on the cards?
It was something that I always wanted to do. I had these interests and goals even when I was modelling, before social media hit. Even before I started modelling, I wanted my career to go a certain way, but I didn’t have the tools. Social media gave me the tools to project what I wanted to the world.
So, it’s not impossible to see you in the movies...
No, no, no… I’d love to film something beyond hosting. Especially if it’s action, I’d love to do that.
I think it was a natural progression for my sister to go into acting when she started modelling. She was cast as a lead for a movie almost immediately so she went in that direction. For me, I want to do many different things. I’m afraid to miss out on opportunities and not reach my full potential. It’s just something that I’ve grown up with. So, I felt the traditional route of being an actor never appealed to me.
My sister helped me with an audition for a specific role and coached me for it. She’s superbly talented so I read [the sides], thinking it went one way. But when I read it with her, she’d be like, “No, you gotta do it like this. Think about this and this.” It’s a different way of approaching things.
Do your parents understand what you do?
Not necessarily. My dad told me that he doesn’t really get it because it’s such a new thing to him. But they have faith in me.
Do you feel that you can do more with what you have?
There’s always more that I could do. As time goes on, I feel like I can achieve all that I can at this moment, but every day is a new day. Generally, I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t be sure of the specifics.
What do you like and what do you hate about what you do?
That’s an interesting question. What I like about it is also what I hate about it. I can blaze my own path and I like that I can control the direction of my career but, sometimes, I hate it because it’s difficult to make decisions. Do I do this, or do I do that? There are only so many hours in the day. You’re always making choices and you never know what the outcome is going to be; whether this is a waste of time or if it will be beneficial to you, you just have to make a decision. Sometimes, I wish I knew what the right steps are supposed to be.
(The car finally reaches her destination. This is the end of SIDE B.)
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, September 2017.