Taking Things in Stride
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 7:23 PM |
Henidar Amroe is one of that rare breed: a model who makes a successful transition to acting. She talks to Bruce Emond about changes in the modeling world, choosing her film roles (and the one that got away) and her political aspirations.
Henidar Amroe’s angular Eurasian looks made her one of the top local models in the late 1980s. They also helped her corner the market as the queen of mean in TV soap operas for many years, she of the pursed lips and arched eyebrows plotting yet more intrigue.
Eventually, she says, she grew tired of the typecasting.
“I stopped for three years because I wanted to be the protagonist, not the antagonist,” says Henidar, who continued to take the occasional made-for-TV movie. “They [producers] told me, ‘the soap will be a booming success if you’re the antagonist, but nobody wants to see you as the protagonist’. I didn’t like that, but nobody wanted to do it.”
She also had a few roles in a couple of big-screen movies, including Petualangan Sherina (Sherina’s Adventure, released in 2000) and the critically acclaimed Eliana Eliana (2002). She decided to end her hiatus with a role in a feature film, the controversial Virgin, in 2004.
It was an uneasy return, she says, but it had nothing to do with the subject matter of three precocious teenage girls and their sexual awakening, or her role as the emotionally disconnected mother of one of them. But it was a turning point in her career.
“At first it was like driving again and being caught in a traffic jam, that feeling of confusion. I felt like, what do I really want to do in the Indonesian film industry?”
She says she has found the answer today in carefully choosing parts that work for her. Last year was a breakout year for her with her role as the grotesquely overbearing mother figure in Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet (They Call Me Monkey). In one very “Mommie Dearest” moment she forces her prepubescent daughter to eat the dregs of food she has just vomited into the toilet.
Henidar received the best supporting actress award at the Indonesian Movie Awards for her performance, with the movie named among the year’s best by both Tempo and The Jakarta Post.
On the night of the interview, she is carefully coiffed and stunning in readiness for the wrap party for her new movie, Terowongan Rumah Sakit (Hospital Corridor), filmed in the darkly evocative corridors of the Bank Mandiri Museum in Kota, West Jakarta.
“The story is as with most horror movies, but then it’s different, too, because the director can make a horror movie on a low budget without it looking cheap.”
Now in her mid-40s, Henidar was one of 10 children of a Padang father and a mother who is mixed Javanese-Sundanese (there also is English ancestry in her family). Raised in Bogor, she moved in her teens to Jakarta and was encouraged by an older sibling to model (she also made a couple of teen flicks in the early 1980s). Although her father initially disapproved of her career choice, by the 1990s she was known for her cool, almost patrician demeanor on the catwalk, literally able to take anything in stride.
Designer Edward Hutabarat remembers Henidar preparing to walk down the runway during a show at a hotel, when suddenly scaffolding started falling down around her. “She waited until it had all stopped, and then she stepped over it and continued on,” he says with a chuckle.
Henidar would do up to four shows in a day, sometimes shuttling between gigs in a very unglamorous motorized pedicab. It was a simpler time, but not necessarily better.
“Oh, I’d choose today,” she says when asked which period she would rather have modeled in. “I used to get paid Rp 25,000 a show. And I think it’s more open, I think [to different types of looks]. Somebody like Kate Moss, who is only 172 cm, a little bit taller than me, can be a top model. A friend used to say to me that I could have gone international if only I were taller.”
Acting provided another extension in her career. She says her acting is based on feeling, on trying to understand the depths of her character, and she admits to being a perfectionist – “I always feel I can do 1,000 times better.”
She is also someone who never wants to let others down.
“I don’t want them to say, ‘Ah, that Henidar ...’ If someone has shown trust in me, then I want to do the very best for them.”
Henidar was conflicted about taking the role in Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet. “I knew it was the script I had been waiting for so long,” she says. “It was sinting [crazy], that’s one of my favorite words. It read like a foreign movie.”
But there was the sometimes shocking sexual content to consider, as well as the pressure that would come with performing for writer-director Djenar Maesa Ayu in a very personal and powerful project.
“Djenar told me that she couldn’t force me to do something I didn’t want to do ... But Djenar is such a unique talent that I wanted to be a part of it,” says Henidar, who adds that she watched several Hollywood movies to capture the emotional turmoil of her character.
“I had her in mind when I wrote the screenplay,” says Djenar. “As an actor, she contributes a lot, she is serious about her craft and takes direction easily.”
Hesitation cost Henidar another prime role in 2007. She was offered the part of Tante Mona, the lonely and lustful older woman in Quickie Express – a Mrs. Robinson character transplanted to the Jakarta suburbs. The notorious piano scene, where Tante Mona slides under the piano to tickle more than gigolo Tora Sudiro’s keys, made her have her second thoughts.
Eventually, as Henidar took her time, the role went to Ira Maya Sopha.
“At first I was upset, but Dimas [director Dimas Djayadiningrat] told me that people said I was too beautiful for the role, that I wasn’t matronly enough. At least that was something.”
Henidar has never married and has shunned the glare of the infotainment media. So it seems out of character for her to enter the political sphere, which she is doing as a candidate for the National Mandate Party in Central Java (some wags have dubbed the political party, known by its Indonesian initials PAN, as the “National Artists Party” for its several legislative candidates from the entertainment world).
“When I received the offer from PAN, I thought perhaps this is where I can do something for the people,” she says. “As an artist, I entertain and that is the limit of what I do. In politics I can be a representative of the people ... Sometimes I don’t want to read the papers or watch TV because of the things that are happening. As a representative of the people I can do something to make people’s lives better.”