Finding her identity

ONE could say that the role was tailormade for Diana Danielle.

The 25-year-old actress is portraying the character of Nina in the much-anticipated Hanyut, set to open in cinemas on Nov 24.

Nina is the product of mixed parentage. Her father is a Dutch trader, while her mother is a Malay midwife. In the film, Nina goes through an identity crisis, torn between her Malay and Western roots.

“I could relate to Nina instantly,” says Diana.

Diana herself comes from a mixed heritage. Her father is an American, while her mother is a Malay.

“When I am in America, they see me as a Malay, and when I am in Malaysia, people treat me as a Westerner,” she explained.

She recalled going to her mother’s kampung as a child to visit her distant relatives. They immediately brought a chair for her to sit.

“They felt I was not ‘Malay enough’ to sit comfortably on the floor like they did,” she says with a laugh.

“I believe a lot of kids who come from a mixed parentage can relate to Nina.”

Thankfully these days, Diana no longer has to face such situations.

“I have spent most of my [life] in Malaysia,” says the mother-of-two, who is married to talented actor Farid Kamil.

“There is nothing American about me, except for my blood. I am a Malay at heart and I believe Nina feels the same way too.”

In Hanyut, Nina falls in love with a Malay man, to the disapproval of her Dutch father. But Nina chooses to go against his wishes, for the sake of love.

“I’m a romantic at heart and I [see] that quality in her,” says Diana.

She points out that Nina’s father is not a perfect man, and has done terrible things to her and her mother.

“It is admirable for Nina to forgive her father and love him despite his flaws,” she says.

Yet Nina herself is far from perfect. “She has a lack of control over her life and her destiny,” Diana says.

In one scene, Nina bids goodbye to her father before leaving him.

The scene has special meaning for Diana. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she has not seen her father since.

“I never got to say goodbye to my dad,” Diana says.

“When Nina says goodbye, I [felt] as though I [was] saying goodbye to my dad, too.”

Initially, Diana wanted to be an actress because she thought that once she became famous, it would be easier for her father to find her.

Eventually, she was forced to accept that he was never going to be a part of her life.

“It was at that point that I realised I [had to] become an actress [for my own sake],” she says.

She says she harbours no anger towards her father, and if he comes knocking at her door, she would calmly accept him with open arms.

“I am not going to judge my father,” she says.

“I feel nobody gets into a relationship and has children with the aim of abandoning them.”

Diana adds that she nearly missed her chance to play Nina in Hanyut when director U-Wei Haji Shaari was holding extensive auditions for the role.

“A lot of young actresses were dying to work under U-Wei,” Diana says.

“I was only 18 [then]. I was a struggling actress and a newcomer. I was certain that he would not choose me over a well-known [actress].”

Diana decided not to attend any auditions. She regretted her decision almost immediately.

Fortunately for her, U-Wei did not find a suitable actress and Diana was able to visit him, and succeeded in auditioning for the role then.

Diana admitted feeling intimidated being a part of Hanyut, because the film has many capable regional actors in the cast, from award-winning Malaysian actor Khalid Salleh, to the late Indonesian veteran Alex Komang.

“I have to make sure my performance is not below par,” she said.

Her favourite memories from the film shoot revolve around the poignant scenes she shares with Sofia Jane, an actress she admires greatly. Sofia plays Nina’s mother Mem Putih.

Diana describes Sofia as a wonderful co-star who helped her to deliver her scenes more convincingly.

“Sofia is so beautiful that she looks like my daughter, and I looked like her mother,” she says with a laugh.

Some people have remarked that Diana closely resembles Sofia.

“I have asked U-Wei if he chose me [for the role] solely because I look like Sofia,” Diana says.

“U-Wei is not the kind of man who will give you a straight answer. So, I just stopped asking him [why].”