BOY WONDER. It is 6:30 in the morning when DA MAN catches up with Edward Gunawan at a beach resort in northern Jakarta. The Indonesian entertainment industry’s whiz kid informs us that he woke up just an hour before.
Trench coat, shirt and pants by Canali
But if he feels drowsy at all, he is very good at hiding it. There isn’t a hint of early morning blues as he greets us with a genuine “good morning” and a candid smile. Then again, as we discover later on, he’s just a good sport through and through.
Edward doesn’t even so much as flinch when DA MAN asks him to tread the seemingly treacherous and slippery rocks on the beach. Not even when we make him stand still under the scorching Jakarta sun in full clothing. Or when we send him off to brave the infamous water of the said beach, even though it gives his legs an itching fit at the end.
“This is nothing,” he says between his signature laugh (his manager had told us that it reminded him of Goofy’s). “I’ve had some experiences. In modeling,” he continues, mumbling and grinning sheepishly all the while; Edward is evidently shy about his modeling past. “I mean, I’ve done everything. I’ve been asked to jump around, plunge into water… The weirdest thing is probably when they made me pose with a snake. I hate snakes. But it was my job, so I had to do it.”
He says, then, “Besides, I’ve been behind the scenes. I understand what is expected of me. As someone who is in front of the camera—whether I’m acting as an actor or posing as a model—I know that it is my responsibility to fulfill what the person behind the camera wants… It’s like a painting; I am the brush that the artist uses.”
Outfit by Ermenegildo Zegna
If Edward sounds way beyond his years, it’s probably because—despite his 29 years of age—he’s a showbiz veteran.
For him, it all started in Los Angeles, where he studied law and communications, while doing a part-time modeling job. “I began getting offers to do TV commercials,” he says. “I realized that it was more beneficial if I actually knew how to act, so I decided to learn acting.”
Afterward, a series of acting lessons began. One of them was a 3-month, 5-times-a-week summer course—which he describes as “intense”—that trained him in classical, contemporary and musical theatre, among other things. Having been exposed to different kinds of things earned him the courage to audition as a stage actor.
But Edward also had another interest in mind, and that is to write. “There are people, who have known since they were little that they wanted to make movies,” he says. “For me, it was a total coincidence. A friend asked me to join a short movie project and, because I lived in L.A., I made some filmmaker acquaintances.”
This comradeship led him to writing and producing other people’s works. He even enrolled himself in an intensive filmmaking workshop, a 1-year L.A.-based program called Project: Involve, which, he says, gave him the confidence to finally direct his first short film.
In 2006, he started his own production company, aptly named Add Word; a clever pun on his own name. “It started out as a bit of fun. Well, I’m still doing it for fun until today, actually,” he says. “[Building Add Word Productions], for me, feels like a natural transition from being a stage actor.”
Add Word started the ball rolling by forming stage plays, before moving on to short films; Edward swung back and forth between being the director, producer or screenwriter to acting as the lead actor of the projects.
“Maybe my life just isn’t stressful enough,” he jokes. “I think each profession serves me different ways to express myself, giving me different kinds of challenges and satisfaction. I don’t know, I guess I’m just very passionate about art. To me, everything is an outlet for my artistic expression.”
New Kid on the Block
When he returned to Jakarta three years ago, Edward was determined to continue channeling that artistic expression of his, so he established Add Word Productions in his hometown. It proved to be a difficult adjustment at times, however.
“During my first year back here, I thought, ‘I want to go back, I can’t stand this!’” he says, commenting on the different, not-necessarily-great atmosphere he got the first time he set his foot back in Jakarta. “I think I was just too used to L.A.”
Edward has since changed his mind. “I got back to Jakarta because I want to highlight stories from here. It’s one of the big reasons why I came home,” he says, explaining his decision to focus on making Indonesian movies for now. “I figure, in U.S., they have their own people working on their own stories. I’m not needed there. I just feel irrelevant, you know what I mean? I’d rather make my own story here and bring it to them, offering them with something unique.”
Until today, Add Word has produced a number of prestigious festival-worthy short movies; the most popular of them all is a supernatural thriller released in 2010, Payung Merah (Red Umbrella). Featuring two of Indonesia’s most talented young actors, Rio Dewanto and Atiqah Hasiholan, Payung Merah was chosen by a jury led by Oliver Stone to win a Screen Singapore Best Asian Short Film Award in 2011. Edward has been planning a feature film version of the short movie, Red Umbrella: The Movie, which he hopes he can finish by the end of this year.
At the same time, his acting skill has caught the eye of leading Indonesian filmmaker Nia Dinata. She first met Edward at the Cannes Film Festival when she was promoting her production Perempuan Punya Cerita (Chants of Lotus, 2007). When Nia was working on the sequel to her hit 2003 movie, Arisan! (The Gathering), she contacted Edward to play Tom, an oncologist. His appearance instantly charmed the viewers and entertainment journalists alike. Soon, his face and name could be found everywhere.
In spite of a myriad of filming experiences, Edward seems to find this newfound stardom shocking. He even admits of being a wreck at his audition, something he certainly has gone through multiple times during his time as a stage actor. “[During the first reading], I was very nervous. I was being very awkward,” he says. “Cut Mini (who plays Meimei, his patient, in the movie) was very supportive. I mean, I was a new kid, but she didn’t ask: ‘Who is this guy?’ She was very helpful.”
Jacket, scarf and pants by Salvatore Ferragamo
Life in the Slow Lane
For someone so driven—he couldn’t have done everything he’s done in such a young age if he’s not ambitious—Edward is surprisingly very laid-back. When asked about his most-prized achievement of all the things he’s accomplished, he casually refers to a hot yoga pose. “The first time I could touch the floor with my palms; I think it was a great accomplishment for me,” he says. “People didn’t see it, couldn’t judge it. But to achieve that, I had to practice every day.”
Edward doesn’t seem to sweat the big stuff much. “I don’t know. I mean,” he says, when asked about his long-term ambition. After a moment of silence, followed by a snicker, he continues, “I just want to challenge myself in a lot of areas and professions. Keep making things that are terrifying and exciting at the same time.”
If there’s one thing that inspires him, it’s got to be Red Umbrella – The Movie. “I need to finish my feature film first,” he says. “After that, who knows? How should I know what will happen to me in the next five years?”
Behind the Scenes – Edward Gunawan for DA MAN
Photographs: Hakim Satriyo
Styling: Gabriela Batti