NEXT ACTION HERO. Joe Taslim was a model before he became an actor, and before that, he was a medal-winning athlete. Despite that variety, one thing never changes. Taslim is, and always will be, a fighter as evidenced by his award-winning role in one of the hottest Indonesian movies in year, THE RAID. By M. Berlian
Above picture: Jacket and pants by Dolce & Gabbana
Google “Joe Taslim” and you will find his name on many global websites.
Taslim owes this level of recognition to The Raid (the Indonesian title is Serbuan Maut). Although it is set to be released in Indonesia on March 23, 2012 (and globally, shortly thereafter), The Raid has been screened in some renowned festivals, such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.
It was at the former where The Raid first got noticed by movie aficionados around the world. Taslim recalls: “In our hotel in Toronto, we looked at the rave reviews from Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and saw a comment from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World director, Edgar Wright, saying what a good movie The Raid was. We thought, ‘Is this for real?’ Because it’s a low-budget film and all, I didn’t expect the response to be so crazy!”
TIFF also bestowed on them the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, one of very few awards given at the mostly non-competitive festival. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. No Indonesian movie has ever entered that festival, let alone chosen as the opening movie … and then win an award!” comments Taslim, originally from Palembang. He adds that many other other festivals wanted to screen it.
The Raid is a massively violent action movie about an Indonesian SWAT-like team on a mission to take control of a building occupied by a drug lord and his well-armed cronies.
In the middle of this good-versus-evil battle is the SWAT leader, Jaka, played by Taslim. To act the part, he—as well as the rest of the actors involved—were required to perform the combat scenes with utmost reality. They fighting was inspired by pencak silat and tarung derajat. Fight choreographers and Taslim’s co-stars, Iko Uwais (Merantau) and Yayan Ruhian (Merantau), also add elements of grappling to Taslim’s scenes. Fortunately, this isn’t something the 30-year-old Taslim had to learn from scratch, as he has been an accomplished fighter for many years. “I was on the Indonesia national team for 12 years,” he says. “I did judo from 1997 to 2009; I took part in the Southeast Asian Games more than five times. Before judo, I did wushu for a year and taekwondo for some months.”
He won a silver medal at the 2007 SEA Games and several national gold medals, but an injury in 2009 forced him to withdraw from judo competitions altogether. Nonetheless, he doesn’t seem to mind a bruise or two these days. “Gareth [Evans, the director of The Raid] is so detailed,” says Taslim. “He wanted this movie to be real. So all defensive moves and all punches were 100 percent performed. I got hit or elbowed for real several times.” He shrugs casually, “It’s part of the job.”
For Taslim, whose other film credits include roles in Karma (2008) and Rasa (2009), the fighting didn’t just start on the screen, or even during the pre-movie training sessions. He also had to fight his way into the role. “I was training for the 2009 SEA Games when my friends and I went to see Merantau [Gareth Evans’ first movie made in Indonesia]. After I saw it, I thought, ‘This is what Indonesian moviemakers must do if they want their work to be accepted internationally.’ Because Merantau was so very well made, I thought, ‘I have to meet the director. If I make an action movie one day, I want him to direct me,’” Taslim continues. “So I googled, I asked around, and finally I contacted him—via Facebook,” he chuckles. “When Gareth told the people at TIFF about this, they thought it was so funny.”
Taslim recalls the Facebook exchange. “So I messaged him, told him I was an athlete and an actor, told him I loved Merantau and asked him to give me a chance if he had another project.” As luck would have it, Evans did happen to have an unnamed project, which would later be developed as The Raid. “I edited videos of me doing fights. Nothing fancy, I used Windows Movie Maker,” Taslim laughs. “I sent them with some pictures from magazine photo shoots, as well as clips of my on-screen appearances in commercials and other projects. Gareth replied and wrote ‘Let’s have a meeting!’”
And meet, they did. Iko and Yayan, both with martial arts backgrounds, were there as well to test Taslim’s fighting prowess. He, of course, nailed the test. Evans thought he was an impressive fighter, but still needed assurance of Taslim’s acting skills, and asked him to do a screen test. Whatever it was they told him to do or however it was he acted, Taslim must have blown everyone out of the water, because there he was, driving his car one day, when suddenly he got a phone call, telling him they wanted him in the movie.
Earning Evans’ trust is one thing, but fighting for his co-stars’ respect was another. For one week, the cast had to train with Kopaska (The Indonesian Navy’s special forces unit) and Evans gave him homework: playing the SWAT leader, Taslim had to build genuine chemistry with his on-screen subordinates. “Gareth said to me, ‘I don’t care how you do it, but after one week, you have to get them!’” Taslim remembers. “Luckily, thanks to my time at Pelatnas [the national sports training center], I kind of know how to be a leader. I could just tell them I was supposed to be their leader and send them to do errands for me. I knew I could do that, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted them to believe in me.”
Taslim began leading by serving. “I’m an athlete; I know I’m physically stronger. So I would always try to encourage the ones that weren’t as strong when they were lagging,” he says. When the week was over, Evans came over to tell him, “Yeah, you got them all.”
‘We were shaking’
Taslim took the entire project personally. Spending most of his life doing martial arts, Taslim treats his co-stars and director as respectfully as he does his fellow judokas and trainers. “I think of Gareth as my sensei. I trust him 100 percent. Even if I’d collapsed from exhaustion trying to do the scenes he wanted, I would have been okay with it. Just take me to the hospital, but I would not give up, no,” he says. “And it’s not just me, everyone believes in Gareth 100 percent … so it’s no wonder this project has been such a success.”
A natural-born warrior presumably accustomed to cheering crowds, Taslim, nevertheless still blushes when asked about his sudden upsurge in popularity. “We got to the theater and there were 1,500 people there. We were shaking. We were wondering why people wanted to see the movie,” he says about his experience during The Raid’s screening at TIFF. “When it was over, people lined up to ask for our pictures and they asked us to sign their movie tickets. We stayed in a nearby Hilton and, after the first screening, we would walk down the street to get something to eat and people would stop us to say that they just saw The Raid and told us how much they enjoyed it. We would eat in a restaurant and overhear someone behind us talking about The Raid and I was, like,” he pauses, hiding his face behind his shirt, “so they wouldn’t notice me,” he explains with a chuckle.
He also admits to getting cold feet when he spotted some of his favorite celebrities. “After The Raid’s screening, we were invited to a dinner with clients. I saw some famous people; it was pretty crazy because I didn’t expect to see these people that I usually see on TV or in movies. We saw Keira Knightley, Ryan Gosling, Kiefer Sutherland, Jimmy Kimmel, Russell Peters, and I partied together with Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D),” he says. “I was trying to not be embarrassing, because I came as a guest, as a fellow actor. I didn’t want to ask them for an autograph or for a picture together. Not even when I saw my favorite director, Guillermo del Toro. I got so starstruck, and now I really regret not taking a picture with him.”
After The Raid is screened, Taslim is set to appear in a movie called Dead Mine. Featuring Indonesian and international actors and crew, and shot at the largest film studio in Southeast Asia, Infinite Studios on Batam Island, the movie will likely be as explosive as its title. In that case, Taslim better learn to fight his way through shyness, because there’s a chance he’ll be seeing his favorite Hollywood director again. And when he does? His wish is simple. “I just want to take a picture with him and put it on Facebook, or Tweet it. That’ll be cool!”
Photographs: Shadtoto Prasetio
Styling: Gabriela Batti
Grooming: Denny Lutfiandi (62-856/9376-0777)
Joe Taslim represented by Icon Talent Management