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Action! Shropshire schoolgirl Jane, 18, makes her movie debut

By Mark Andrews | Shrewsbury | Entertainment | Published:

There is a slightly bashful air, shy even, about Yi Jane Cheah, as she poses for photographs in the grounds of Concord College.

She politely hands over her mobile phone to a member of staff, and asks if she can have a picture to keep for herself.

Which is slightly surprising, given that the 18-year-old sixth former at the school in Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury, is the leading lady in a new movie also starring big-name actors Dirk Benedict – Faceman from the A-Team – Brian Narelle and Jon T Benn.

Jane, who hopes to study law at university when she completes her A-levels next year, is one of the hottest young properties in the movie industry. She was just 12 years old when she made her first appearance on the small screen in her native Malaysia, and has already achieved every young girl's dream of becoming a Disney Princess, having appeared in a trailer for the film giant.

Nevertheless, the launch of Space Ninjas, a light-hearted horror movie by British director Scott McQuaid, is a still a huge moment.

"It's very exciting, it's my first full-length film," she says.

The movie will be released at the Horror On Sea film festival in Southend on January 20, and she admits to having a few nerves about it.

"My parents will be coming over to see it," she says.

Yi Jane Cheah on set

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"I think I will be very excited, but in other ways it will be a little weird, looking at myself in the film."

Jane plays the role of Stanlei, a teenager who is in detention when her school is invaded by space ninjas. After the teacher is killed, Stanlei and her friends have to fend for themselves as they attempt to escape the school.

She reveals that the blood – and there is a lot of it in the film – is made from chocolate, which gives just the right texture.

The film was recorded in her home city of Kuala Lumpur, where McQuaid was her drama teacher, during October and November last year.

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Despite having appeared in numerous television adverts and stage musicals in her home country, she has said little about her exciting extracurricular sideline to her fellow pupils at Concord.

"I've never found any need to talk about it," she says modestly. "I've always wanted to be a star, ever since I was little, but at the moment I'm concentrating on my exams."

She says while appearing on the big screen is hugely rewarding, the life is far from glamorous.

"It really just seems glamorous to outsiders," she says.

A poster for the film

"The worst thing is it is very tiring. You might have to stay up until seven in the morning, and you might start filming at 7pm on a Friday, so you're very tired on the Saturday.

"You're on set a lot of the time waiting for the cameras to roll.

"Sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's not right for the camera and has to be shot again."

And, of course, Jane has had to balance this with her school work.

She says it has been a privilege to appear alongside established actors such as Benedict, Narrelle, and Benn, who will sadly not see the film make its debut as he died this week.

"It was filmed in different places, so I actually only worked with Brian," she says.

"He's an older actor, and I learned a lot from him, in terms of the discipline.

"When he's off stage, sitting in make-up, he's fun to be around, you can have a laugh and a joke, but when he's on the set he is totally immersed in his character.

"Even when the camera stops, and he's not being filmed, once he's on set, he stays in character all the time."

Jane's character Stanlei goes into battle

So what sets people like Jane apart from other youngsters, and what skills are needed to make it as a successful actor?

"I think as long as you have confidence and you like acting, you will be all right," she says.

"A lot of it is also about feeling your character, that's for sure. There are definitely a lot of people about who find it difficult to feel their character, and believe in their character.

"That is something you need to practice."

She says being a successful actor also requires a lot of hard work and dedication.

"There's a lot of discipline, you have to read a script and learn it before you are on set.

"You have to make sure you eat healthily, you don't eat a lot of carbs or it will make you look big when you're on set."

Jane says her parents are naturally extremely proud of her achievements, and can't wait to see the film next month.

Yi Jane Cheah on set

Her teachers are also pretty proud. College principal Neil Hawkins says: "Jane is a talented and creative student of whom we are already very proud. "That she is now to be a film star is quite extraordinary. But it is not just her creative and intellectual gifts that make her special, but also her ability to manage time, work with others and to prioritise.

"These are skills that we all need as we journey through life.”

And her hopes for the future?

"I think the ultimate would be to be a success in Hollywood," she says.

"I think I would really like to be like Jennifer Aniston, she can turn her hand to anything, to comedy, to serious films, she's so natural. I think it's part of her character."

That is all for the future though. In the meantime it is back to her A-levels.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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