Stylist Ibnu Aswan
Photographer Aaron Lee @ Lenswork Studio
Make-up artist Joey Yap
Hair artist Bibian Leong
Styling assistant Rayven Raj
This story was first published in Prestige Malaysia April 2019 issue
The first time I met Che Puan Juliana Evans, we were just kids at the age of 12, enrolled in the same primary school. She was known as the child star with long copper coloured hair, residing in a quiet neighbourhood in Shah Alam, seemingly oblivious to her rising popularity. While the rest of us kids were poring over school textbooks, Juliana had just started out on her career recording television commercials, a familiar face in every Malaysian household. “I remember I was quite active in school sports,” the Shah Alam native reminisces fondly over her youth, lost in reverie for a moment.
It was Juliana’s mother who strongly encouraged her initial foray into the entertainment scene, even going as far as to send her to shoots and casting calls until she turned 18. Unlike the rest, her childhood was not filled with weekend cartoons and art lessons but replaced instead with hosting gigs and commercial recordings. “When it came to my career, my mum always trusted me and gave me the freedom though she often emphasised on my education,” Juliana says, citing that she often had to travel on her own for work without her mother or a manager. “I’m so used to working with adults that I had to grow up really fast.”
As a child star, Juliana’s name in the entertainment scene rose steadily through the ranks, landing her a coveted hosting gig on TV3’s Remaja programme. Her big break as an actress came in 2007 when she played the role of Sofie in the wildly successful television series Kami which was subsequently produced into a movie. Since then, Juliana has gone on to star in numerous local productions, switching seamlessly across multiple genres from horror to comedy to even theatre productions. Her most recent film Pulang released late last year is a period drama directed by award- winning director Kabir Bhatia whom Juliana has openly declared as a director she has always dreamed to work with.
Though Juliana’s repertoire as a flourishing young actress leaves nothing to be desired, she opens up about a time in her life when she had to make several decisions that required her to sacrifice her career. As an adolescent, the constant juggling act between her career and studies did prove to take a toll on her, resulting in her grades faltering. “It was hard for me. Of course I can’t deny that I failed a few times in my studies as it was really hard to concentrate on my studies, so I just needed to take a break and be away for a few years,” says Juliana who made the decision to drop everything behind including her career to pursue her studies abroad at the Western Michigan University in the United States. “It was a decision that I’ve always wanted to make,” she tells me candidly in response to my question on whether it was a difficult choice. “It was more of a difficult sacrifice because I sacrificed the peak of my career, which was just taking off at that point, but it was also my dream to study abroad. I’ve started working so early in my life that my childhood was kind of taken away so I wanted to live this student life as a regular person.”
“I was in this really faraway place in Michigan in a small town called Kalamazoo so I could really focus on my studies. I graduated and made it on to the Dean’s List so I was really proud of myself. It was the hardest thing in my life to finish this degree and it took me six years altogether but I finally did it,” she says without disguising the hint of triumph in her voice.
When she returned to Malaysia with a degree in film, video and media studies no less, Juliana immersed herself in her craft once again, picking up where she left off. Her management secured her a movie deal among many other projects, further propelling her name as a serious actress. “It feels like I’ve been in this industry all my life,” Juliana remarks nonchalantly, a subtle reminder of her seamless transition from child star to flourishing actress for over a decade now.
“I’ve evolved a lot as an actress because I did not start out with acting classes or any formal training. Everything was just entirely based on experiences that I’ve gained from doing commercials,” she says candidly. Then there is also the issue of social media giving rise to a new breed of celebrities turned actresses and models but Juliana takes it all in her stride, embracing social media as an opportunity to connect with her fans on a personal level. “It’s a different upbringing and mindset altogether,” she tells me, referring to the past when social media did not exist and celebrities were actually acknowledged for their hard work as opposed to how many followers one has on Instagram. “Back then, how we got noticed was through doing commercials. Lisa Surihani, Sofia Jane and Julia Rais, all started with commercials just like me before they got into acting. We started from the bottom and worked our way to the top.”
These days, Juliana leads an entirely different path, choosing to focus on her new marriage and family instead. “Now that I’m married, I don’t push myself so much. I don’t take on a lot of jobs because I like to spend time with my husband and family,” she says, referring to her new marital status as wife of YM Tengku Shariffuddin Shah Tengku Sulaiman Shah Al-Hajj. But does her new status confine her to play selected roles only? “I’ve always been selective of my roles from a young age. After I got married, I often seek for advice from my husband on whether I should pursue something. My management would also advise me on which roles to take on. Image to me is very important.”
Recently, Juliana has also added entrepreneurship to her burgeoning repertoire. As the founder of jewellery label Jevans Jewelry, Juliana tells me that she has always wanted to start a business of her own but the question was what kind of business? “My thing has always been jewellery and I always want to be different. From a young age, I’ve always loved making jewellery. I would buy my own accessories and fiddle with them, transforming them into a bracelet. The idea of Jevans Jewelry came about because I had this idea to make state-shaped necklaces which instantly became popular among my fans,” she says.
As the daughter of a teacher and secretary, Juliana professes that she has no prior business background thus she had to learn everything about running a business from scratch. “I like to be the CEO of my own company and coming up with my own ideas. I’m the kind of person who likes to be in control of what I do.” Though Jevans Jewelry is largely sold online, Juliana has also done a few pop-up events where she takes the opportunity to talk to fans about the story behind her jewellery line.
It’s no secret that Juliana harbours big dreams to transition into directing one day. The actress has already started to produce a few shows on her own before she steps into the director’s seat. A scroll through her Instagram feed reveals that she was recently in Los Angeles, a trip that Juliana discloses was all about work and networking thanks to her Hollywood agent who is constantly connecting her with people. “I was in LA recently and I’ve started to produce a pilot show though I can’t say much yet. Hopefully in a few years once I’ve gained more experience, I can direct. I’m very into psychological thriller shows,” says Juliana who is also propagating the idea of a Jevans Jewelry pop-up booth in Los Angeles. A movie is also in the pipeline slated for year-end as Juliana reveals she will be bringing a production in LA to shoot with her in Malaysia.
“I am only 30 years old,” she reminds me once again as I prompt her on what’s next in her career. And that’s when it dawns upon me that the child star who carved a name for herself in the entertainment scene is now a woman in her own right, fully embracing a new phase. “I started really young and now that I’m 30, I’m taking baby steps again to learn something new. I’m really excited to learn.”
But that’s not all Juliana is looking forward to in life. Well ensconced in marital bliss, she is ready to take the next step, fully embracing her new role as wife. “I’m accepting all these phases in my life and that’s when you become happy. I’m ready to enter a new stage that is different from my 20s. What more am I waiting for? I always want to be somewhere and do something. At the end of the day, all you have is yourself. You can’t depend on other people to achieve your dreams so you have to work for it.”