Clad in Lacroix suit, Louisa Chong displays her trademark brilliant smile which has enough voltage to assist Tenaga in the next blackout. Like a cliche scene from '2 Campur 1' (2 Plus 1), the hit TV series which shot her to fame seven years ago, she waited for me in the private dining room while I lingered in the main hall. But when I mentioned my dining partner, the staff jumped to attention and reunited us instantly.

Bright-eyed and perky, Louisa Chong is a tonic to be with, full of wisecracks, jokes and the occasional sound advice. Despite being a famous, she is approachable and friendly, usually ready with a courteous word for everyone and some sharp repartee for the pseudo-sophisticate. "I don't know why we have to meet up as you know everything about me already," said Louisa, her eyes sparkling mischievously. "I bet it is just to get a free meal from me."

"Quite correct, as I am getting quite bored stiff with Maggie mee," I replied truthfully. Incidently, Maggie was the name of her character in the sitcom that sky-rocketed her to fame but we would be digressing. Born in Ipoh, Louisa Chong "grew up eating Ipoh's famous pomelos, Ipoh kuay teow, taufu-fah and drinking gallons of Ipoh's mineral-rich water! Which is how I got my looks!"

At a young age, her tin-mine business father sent her to school in England, first in Brighton and then in swinging London. She graduated as an accountant but has hardly made a living from it despite Daddy's investment in her education. "Oh, but I did work as a junior auditor in a medium-sized firm in London. In fact, I was the only female auditor. It was rather exciting as I audited the accounts of 'Star Wars'. I got to meet some of the cast, the director and producer at parties and meetings," remembered Louisa Chong. "That was an extremely useful period as I learned a lot in practical application though I never practised accounting. My passport still says 'Accountant' but I can hardly wait to change 'Accountant' to 'Housewife' -- and that'll be when I next change my passport!"

After 5 years in the British capital, she returned in 1982 to Singapore. Poring over other people's financial conumdrums did not appeal to her so she put her accounting skills on the backburner and applied to Hagemeyer which put her in their Christian Dior division. For one year she worked as a retail manager while being groomed to handle both the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur boutiques. Despite the prestige of handling such as internationally acclaimed label and the high profile, she decided to try her hands at, of all things, reading the news on television!

"It was something that attracted me. I never thought about becoming an actress!" She shook her head as if still puzzled at how things had worked out. "When I met all those film people in 'Star Wars', little did I realise one day I would be in the same industry! Did you know I was actually going to read the news on SBC, then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation and now TCS, Television Corporation of Singapore. As fate would have it, I had to return home to Malaysia. I also decided here was where I wanted to set up my career as newsreader. So I applied to the newly-formed TV3 to be a part-time newsreader, not a full-time as I had other plans. I very much wanted to be a newsreader like Caryn Lim so I was thrilled when TV3 rang me up with an offer. Instead of giving me the job I had applied for, they asked me to be an actress! I was bemused but saw no harm in it. I treated it as a new challenge. The only snag was that I could not read the news as the rule then was that no actress appearing in TV3 shows could read the news at the same time. It seems they think that the audience might find it odd to watch an actress in a dramatic role and half an hour later, see her reading the news as well. Some people might assume I was still acting -- who knows! The same applied to models appearing in commercials. I was not particularly ecstatic as I knew the hours were long, the scripts had to be memorised and the money was a trifling sum! I thought, OK, maybe this is something new in my life. I was young and keen to take up the challenge of being an actress, a learning process I am still involved in."

As luck would have it, her first role brought her instant stardom. Most Malaysians today still recognise her as Dr Maggie Ong, the character she played in '2 Plus 1', the runaway hit that revolutionised Malaysian television comedy series. This sitcom revolved around the activities of Sarah, Nani and Dr Maggie Ong, Ph.D. "It was loosely based on 'Three's Company' but of course we couldn't have an unmarried guy living with unmarried girls in Malaysian Society so Sam, the erthswhile fashion designer had to come on visits," explained Louisa. "I was with '2 Plus 1' from day one to the last season. The series lasted nearly three years. My character Maggie was a caricature of the serious, highly-educated academician who knew plenty about intellectual stuff but was not at all streetwise!"

Louisa played the role to such perfection that, not surprisingly, the image has stuck to this very day. She grinned, "People see me on the street and call out 'Hey, Mag!' as I was called Mag in the series. Sometimes I have to tell them I am not Mag any more and that I am not a flustered floozy. I also appeared in TV3's Jangan Ketawa (Don't Laugh), another comedy with no fixed characters, just short sketches. At one stage I was appearing on TV on two consecutive nights -- in Jangan Ketawa on Tuesday and '2 Plus 1' on Wednesday! The audience had difficulty in identifying my roles so finally I was asked to concentrate on '2 Plus 1'!"

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