THE ORIGINAL KILLER. The series of events in Oka Antara’s life seem like fragments that make up the puzzle of a fated life in the limelight. To Olivia Hidajat, he opens up about his beginnings as an actor, getting into the mind of a serial killer and the transition from music to film
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With a warm smile and an open demeanor, Oka Antara appears at first glance to be the regular nice guy. Donning a polo shirt and a pair of cargo shorts, the Balinese actor has none of the red flag-raising indicators of a serial killer. As he stands in front of the camera and fills the studio with a booming crisp laugh while the shutter rapidly clicks, the contrast between Antara and his character in the drama-thriller “Killers” becomes starkly apparent.
Released in February, Antara’s chilling yet human portrayal of a serial killer in “Killers” earned Antara international recognition with the film’s official selection in the Sundance Film Festival. Such credential and achievement might allude to a long-nurtured desire to act, yet acting came to the down-to-earth actor’s life completely serendipitously.
As a young student struggling to find his calling, Antara found himself enrolled in a university as a finance student with neither the desire nor the drive to complete the program. When a friend suggested acting, he admits that the idea did not strike him as an appealing option at the time. “I did it because it paid,” the brown-eyed thespian chuckles. “I just couldn’t imagine a life in the finance world and, although I wasn’t too keen on the idea of acting in soap operas, it was something that paid well.”
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“With this film, I wanted to explore the effect something like killing has on a human being, what the mind went through after committing the act. I’d say that’s where the biggest challenge comes from.”
Antara’s endearing candor could be interpreted as an indication of an innocent and guileless nature, yet as the conversation carries on, it becomes clear that his unflinching honesty is a trait that has led him to success. Frankness is something Antara applies to his daily existence, from embedding truth and honesty into his characters to rapping about the truth of his life as a teen. Having spent some time in New York during his youth, the rapper-turned-actor was exposed to East Coast rap and dabbled for a short time in music. “When I look back on it, rap was the first introduction I had to art,” explains Antara. “But it was something my cronies and I did for fun. We didn’t take it so seriously.”
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The young Oka Antara might not have anticipated his first encounter with art to ignite the creative side of him and open doors of possibilities, but fate had bigger plans in store for him. Although downplaying his initial involvement in the film industry, Antara moved on to bigger things and better roles at a rapid pace. His achievements include bagging the Best Supporting Actor award in the 2009 Bandung Film Festival for a supporting role in the film “Perempuan Berkalung Sorban” (A Girl with a Sorban Around Her Neck) and the Best Actor award in the Indonesian Movie Awards in 2010 for his role in the film “Hari Untuk Amanda” (A Day for Amanda). The performance that first grabbed the audience by the collar, however, was his portrayal of Malik in the horror flick “V/H/S/2,” a film with a diverse, talented cast and a collaborative effort with the American film industry.
His involvement in the thriller resulted in a rapport with director Timo Tjahjanto, half of the explosive film duo, Mo Brothers. With the newfound director-actor chemistry, Tjahjanto enlisted the passionate actor in his film “Killers,” to play a broken man drawn into the dark world of murder through the web. As a murderous protagonist, Antara was placed on the opposite side of the rink to Japanese veteran actor Kazuki Kitamura to battle it out, both plot and performance-wise. “Unlike Kitamura’s character who is a coldblooded, merciless killer with no conscience, my character, Bayu, is very much human with a strong sense of right and wrong,” he energetically elaborates. “That’s where it gets tricky, balancing his dark fascination with killing and his sense of guilt about doing so.”
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“More and more, Indonesian filmmakers are starting to explore the human side of characters. This is where Indonesian films’ strength lies: in the exploration of the characters.”
The intuitive actor lights up with apparent enthusiasm as he expounds his views on his role in “Killers” and the various methods he employed to bring an element of humanism to the character. “I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of these action flicks where a guy shoots a bazooka, looks cool while doing it, and walks away like he just went out to get a sandwich for lunch. It’s so fake!” the humorous thespian exclaims. Making reference to “Jarhead,” a film about American soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, Antara elaborates further, “With this film, I wanted to explore the effect something like killing has on a human being, what the mind went through after committing the act. I’d say that’s where the biggest challenge comes from.”
Tackling a psychological challenge for his role and delving deep into the twisted psyche of a serial killer, Antara’s constant balancing act between a sinister desire to kill and a struggle to uphold moral values was what draws the general audience and critics alike to the thought-provoking film. With an official selection to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival for “Killers” along with the much-anticipated election of blockbuster flick “The Raid 2” for the same category, Antara’s presence in the Indonesian film industry is too big to ignore.
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The dark-haired actor has big dreams for Indonesian cinema and sees a bright future for the filmmakers. “More and more, Indonesian filmmakers are starting to explore the human side of characters and are focusing on bringing something truthful to the film,” he states. “This is where Indonesian films’ strength lies: in the exploration of the characters.”
There is very little Oka Antara is unwilling to discuss. Laid-back with an unbarred directness, the straight-shooting actor jumps from one topic to the next animatedly and with ease. Nothing seems to faze him, and with an unrelenting honesty and dauntlessness in tackling new challenges, it is easy to see his fearlessness is a quality that has fatefully led him to opportunities. “I’ve always done what I felt was right,” the outspoken actor adds as the interview comes to an end. Slipping out of a caramel suede suit and into his own relaxed ensemble, Antara swaggers off with an unearthly poise and confidence, ready to face the next challenge head-on.
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