Off Stage

Standing ovation in Cannes is actor's proudest moment

Fir Rahman will play one of the members of the Group Representation Constituency in GRC.
Fir Rahman will play one of the members of the Group Representation Constituency in GRC.PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

Singaporean actor Fir Rahman first took the stage as the lead actor in a Malay theatre production Selasihku Sayang, held in his former school Temasek Polytechnic.

"I actually wanted to sign up as a crew member, but my friends took my application form and indicated that I was auditioning to be an actor instead," the 35-year-old says.

"Coming out of the audition, I found out that I was cast to be the lead actor."

Since that first performance on stage, he has gone on to win the Best Actor/Presenter award on Suria's talent competition Juara in 2002 and taken on supporting roles in theatre and on television.

His big break came when he was cast to play young correctional officer Aiman in home-grown filmmaker Boo Junfeng's film Apprentice. The movie, which premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, was his first international film event.

"Hopefully, it's not my last," he says. "I hope to tell everyone here in Singapore that local actors and film-makers can go far inter- nationally," he says.

Married with a son and a daughter, he is acting in the play GRC (Geng Rebut Cabinet). The play, written by playwright Alfian Sa'at, is set in a small nation where Malays are in the majority and a five-member Group Representation Constituency grapples with a minority candidate, who happens to be Chinese.

GRC's first run last year was well received and it is being re-staged this year at the Singapore Theatre Festival. The role of Chinese minority candidate Catherine Seah will be played by Serene Chen instead of last year's Neo Swee Lin.

Are you more comfortable acting on television or on stage? Why?

I'm definitely more comfortable on stage, because we go though ample rehearsals. Through rehearsals, we become more confident and better actors.

For TV, we go through only one or two rehearsals before going on set and we don't have enough time to be in character.

I get greater satisfaction from theatre, not television, because you get to see the audience's reactions.

How do you overcome your nerves?

I'm still nervous every time I go on stage, especially for the first few shows; but nervousness is good because that means I'm getting into character. I will also do my own prayers before I go on stage.

What was the biggest mistake you made on stage and how did you react?

In a performance I did for primary school students, there was one scene in which I forgot to go on stage when everyone was waiting for me to do so.

So the actors on stage improvised, and as I was looking from the side, I wondered why the scene was suddenly so different from the script. That was when I realised that I missed my cue to enter. Even though it was a short scene, I felt so bad for the other actors.

What is the harshest criticism or review you have received? How did you respond?

I once played an antagonist. For that role, I had people saying that they didn't like my character.

But I took it positively because that meant I did well, since my character wasn't supposed to be liked.

Some people said I was not meant to play a bad character, that I should stick to goody two-shoes personas, but I felt that it wasn't good to stereotype me. I should explore playing different kinds of characters.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration would be P. Ramlee. He is Singapore's first Malay film-maker and very well known in the Malay community.

I think he's a jack of all trades and it's a shame that he died at a young age because if he were still around, Malay films would be thriving in Singapore today.

Who's your favourite character to play to date?

My favourite character would have to be Aiman from Apprentice. He's intense and there's a lot of emotional drive in him.

In real life, I'm the opposite. But we share the same drive to pursue what we want, so in that sense, I can relate to him. I don't give up easily too.

Apprentice is my first film and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to go to Cannes.

Seeing people from around the world watch the film that I'm in and receiving a standing ovation for the film - this is my proudest achievement to date.

What advice do you have for aspiring actors?

It's possible to do well in this industry with great film-makers such as Boo Junfeng, Eric Khoo and K. Rajagopal.

I know it's a very small local industry, but don't give up. Press on and do your best.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Standing ovation in Cannes is actor's proudest moment'. Print Edition | Subscribe