Living out his dream

19 May 2016 / 14:34 H.

VETERAN actor Wan Hanafi Su was the toast of the Malaysian film fraternity when he walked the red carpet at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival on May 16 as one of the stars of Apprentice, directed by Singaporean Boo Junfeng.
Wan Hanafi was in the French city for the premiere of the film under the Un Certain Regard section of the film festival.
This section was first introduced in 1978 to showcase films by young talents and to encourage innovative and ­outstanding works.
theSun managed to catch Wan Hanafi for an interview just hours before he left for Cannes.
“It has always been my dream to have one of my films ­premiered at Cannes, and I’m ­happy this dream is finally coming true,” says the 66-year-old actor, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years.
This made-in-Singapore film centres on a ­young Malay ­correctional officer, 28-year-old Aiman (played by Firdaus Rahman), who is transferred to the country’s main prison.
At his new workplace, Aiman meets an older ­sergeant (Wan Hanafi) who is later revealed to be the charismatic Rahim, the long-serving chief executioner of the prison. In his 30-year career, Rahim has hanged more than 600 criminals.
Rahim also takes notice of the principled and diligent Aiman. When his assistant ­suddenly quits, he asks Aiman to become his apprentice. 
Aiman tells his sister, Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad), of his new job, but she becomes upset as their father was actually ­executed by Rahim. 
Aiman is faced with a dilemma: can he reconcile his conscience and a haunted past to take on the role of the next chief executioner?
Wan Hanafi explains that he was offered the lead role of Rahim because the ­Singapore production team was ­impressed by his performance in Bunohan.
In that 2011 film directed by Dain Said, Wan Hanafi plays an ailing man who is losing his mind and is brutally murdered by his son.
Wan Hanafi says he liked the Apprentice script. “The movie tackles the ­subject of the death penalty. ­Subtly, it ­discusses the issue of whether the death penalty should be ­abolished or not.
“The subject matter is unique and interesting. That could [also] have attracted the attention of the Cannes film festival ­committee.”
Personally, Wan believes that the death penalty should be ­abolished. “If we kill people, then we are no better than the criminals,” he reasons.
He says he was impressed by the amount of research and ­preparation done by director Boo and his team before ­shooting began. Boo had even ­arranged for Wan Hanafi to meet and talk to two Singaporean hangmen.
“I absorbed their ­experiences and their conflicts into my ­character,” Wan Hanafi says.
The trailer of Apprentice looks impressive. Then again, giving impressive ­performances is nothing new for Wan Hanafi. He is known to go to extreme lengths to make his role convincing.
For example, in the 2014 Lelaki ­Harapan Dunia, to portray a ­character masquerading as an Orang Minyak, Wan Hanafi stripped down to his briefs and smeared black oil all over his body.
He says with a smile: “The only role I will not play is lelaki lembut (effeminate man). My wife does not like me to play this kind of role and I do not want to upset her.”
He adds that his biggest challenge as a Malaysian actor is not playing a role but getting good scripts and challenging roles.
“Most producers are only interested in making commercial movies because they want to make profits,” he laments.
“Money should not be their only aim to make movies. Don’t they want to make a film where people will remember them many years later?”
He also points out the lack of good roles for older actors in Malaysia, unlike in ­Hollywood, where older actors like Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep still get challenging and meaty roles.
“Older actors here are often ­sidelined. Most producers want to make commercial films so they hire young actors to draw in the younger audience.
“Of course, I feel disappointed and a little bitter about it. But you cannot remain ­disappointed and bitter forever. Over time, you have no choice but to make the best of your situation.”
Malaysian director Liew Seng Tat, who directed Wan Hanafi in Lelaki Harapan Dunia, calls him “the most talented actor we have in Malaysia”.
Liew adds: “He is like the Robert DeNiro of Malaysia. But he is under-­appreciated here. He deserves any success that comes his way.”
Asked about his chances of winning an award in Cannes, Wan Hanafi laughs. “­Winning the best actor award can be bad for your career if you are a ­Malaysian actor,” he says.
“Producers will stay way from you because they think you will be too expensive for them. That was what happened to me when I won some awards.
“Let me assure local ­producers that my fees will ­remain the same, even after I come back from Cannes.”
When asked if there is any actor he wants to meet at Cannes, he says with a laugh again: “It will be great if I can be in the same frame with Al Pacino and ­Robert DeNiro.” Both are his all-time favourite actors.
Meanwhile, Apprentice has managed to grab the attention of international distributors in Cannes.
The film will be shown in France on June 1, and ­eventually premiere in other countries like Turkey, Mexico, Hong Kong and China.
Watch the trailer here :

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