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Exclusive Feature: Nicholas Saputra

MAN IN MOTION. The golden boy of Indonesian movies is once more under the spotlight for his latest role in a nominated title for the Sundance Movie Festival. Dressed in Louis Vuitton while on his trip at W Retreat Koh Samui, Nicholas Saputra opens up to Reza Idris on what acting actually means, his travel notes on Peru and Cuba, and his growing curiosity over the European motion picture industry.

Nicholas Saputra counts in as one of the few Indonesian thespians that have become household names in the country. Kick-starting his acting career by playing the leading male role in Rudy Soedjarwo’s phenomenal teen flick “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?” (What Happened with Love?) in 2002, he embodied Rangga, an indifferent and aloof high school student who caught up in romance with the “It” girl and fought against terrorism that threatened the safety of his family. Saputra’s performance infectiously swooned thousands of teenagers, largely due to his handsome figure and natural acting knack.

Eleven years later and another fourteen movies under his belt, the German-descent traveler has not lost his charm to mesmerize the present moviegoers. “Postcard from the Zoo,” “Tiga Hari untuk Selamanya” (Three Days for Forever) and “3 Doa 3 Cinta” (3 Prayers 3 Loves) are to name some recent titles in which Saputra successfully secured the covetous leading roles. He even garnered a Citra FFI trophy (Indonesian equivalent to the Oscar Award) for portraying the complex character of title’s namesake in “Gie.”

Saputra has also stepped into the international limelight with few of his movies being shown at international events. “Postcard from the Zoo” had a viewing slot in Berlinale (The Berlin International Film Festival). Another flick he scored, “Janji Joni,” (Joni’s Promise) took part in the Sydney Film Festival and Pusan International Film Festival. His latest work in “What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love” got a lot of attention for being the first Indonesian title that notched a nomination for World Cinematic Drama in the Sundance Film Festival 2013.

Reflecting on how he progresses so far, Saputra beams with excitement, “It feels great! I always enjoy being able to act in a movie that gets appreciated by the locals and beyond. It’s good to travel here and there, too, to see the audience’s response on taking in the cinematic language that they might not easily grasp.” An international career, if any, is not precisely priority for the architecture graduate. “If I can deliver the character so well that it can inspire people and make them think more, I am already satisfied.”

Being humble is one thing, but to not make the most out of all the recognition he is getting at the moment just seems like a missed opportunity. The 1984-born shrugs nonchalantly and smirks before laying down his cards on the table, “Being an actor is never my dream, actually. The offer came when I was in high school, and I was simply testing the water, thinking that I got nothing to lose.” That carefree attitude still partially lingers as Saputra does not really complicate much when it comes to selecting a role or genre. “The most important thing is how the character in the movie develops as the story builds. Story-line and characteristics of the role I am playing are thus two pivotal (and only) considerations.”

In “What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love” the Muay Thai enthusiast captured the role of a differently-abled person for the first time. His character is Edo, a deaf man who falls in love with a blind girl, played by Ayushita Nugroho. The challenging role and the chemistry building urged him to do some research and observation at schools for the special needs, “There I can see how they interact with each other. I can also apprehend how different the school is compared to the regular one.” On top of that, Saputra gets pumped up with the idea of performing as neither a protagonist nor antagonist cast. “The grey personality area is what makes Edo even more special. Protagonists are mundane, but this one has a certain twist and edge to it.”

Not only does the learning pay off for his acting before the camera, Nicholas Saputra has developed a new perspective over a deaf person, too. “I used to show pity whenever I saw differently-abled people, now I perceive it differently. They do not need the pity, but our support for them to be independent instead. As a matter of fact, the differently-abled people even have things that we do not have. They develop better sensitivity in terms of touching and hearing.”

While acting takes much of his time, the “House of Cards” TV series fan spends his leisure time doing one ultimate passion: traveling. Just within the year, Saputra has already ventured into the North and Latin America, Europe, and all around Indonesia, mostly hiking and unwinding at the most stunning beaches. That sense of wanderlust, he admits, is something that he grew up with. “My mother loves to travel and she always took me with her in the past. I have started traveling since my first year in high school. Apparently, my closest friends are also adventurous and love to go out, too. So, whenever we have time together, we will definitely pack our bags and just go.” Year-end holidays are kind of routines when Saputra and his friends depart on a trip. Despite so, Nicholas has no problem going solo. He has recently toured Latin America, mainly Peru and Brazil, on his own. “Well, I initially planned to go there with a friend. But, he couldn’t make it. However, I persisted to proceed with the travel, rather than losing the opportunity and tickets,” he laughs.

Beyond itineraries and gorgeous landscapes, the peripatetic personality deems traveling as an integral part for being an actor. “We have to see other cultures in order to be openminded,” he starts off. “In the future, actors will work with various personalities, so we have to be open to differences from other cultures.” Travelling simultaneously bestows what every actor longs for: privacy. He tells how liberating it feels when out on a trip with almost no one recognizing him (yet).

There are also spills and thrills he finds exhilarating in every trip he goes through. In the latest visit to Peru, he was in a situation where he had to adapt to living on a place 2,000 meters above the sea. In Cuba he encountered a unique ideology where people are not allowed to sell things. “For instance, it is illegal to kill a cow for the sake of selling the meat. Otherwise, they will be punished. What amazes me is that even though the country seems poor – even a doctor only earns US$25 monthly as the highest salary – they still manage to live,” Saputra raves on. That kind of experience is an eye-opener for him. “That inspires me a lot. Not only the culture, but also the people and the nature.”

For the next adventure, he already sets his eyes on Kenya for a safari trip. But asked where his favorite destination was, he needs only a second to figure out the answer: Komodo Island. “It boasts great spots for diving, not to mention that Indonesia has, so far, the best natural views.” After chatting far and wide about traveling, Saputra appears calm as the topic shifts to his life plans. “In the next ten years? I still have no idea, it is all a blur. Even being where I am now is quite an unpredictable journey. Maybe I’ll take some time off, maybe I’ll stick to acting. I have an interest in the European movie industry, and I want to observe how they produce a film.”

Before parting, the sharp-looking actor tells of his life principle: “If you do well in whatever you are doing, you save an investment for the future. Yes, even though you don’t know what you will be next. As for me, I am not the kind of person who sets themselves in a box. I would push myself [outside], and I wouldn’t just say no to any opportunity that arises.”

Photographs: Diego Verges
Styling: Peter Zewet

Shot on location at W Retreat Koh Samui,
4/1 Moo 1 Tambol Maenam, Surat Thani,
Koh Samui 84330, Thailand (+66-7791 5999)

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