In a country where the film industry only favors the young and the beautiful, actor Tio Pakusadewo has already earned his own special place.
Born in Jakarta 46 years ago, Irwan Susetyo “Tio” Pakusadewo started his movie career and received national recognition when he acted in Catatan Si Boy II (Boy’s Diary) released in 1988. He rose to superstar status when he played opposite Cut Rizki Theo in Cinta Dalam Sepotong Roti (Love in a Slice of Bread), 1990, which was directed by art-house director Garin Nugroho.
Tio has been cast to play challenging roles in a number of films but he gained long-overdue recognition for his acting chops when he was awarded his first Citra award—the country’s equivalent of the Oscars — for his portrayal of Aria, an eccentric composer in Lagu Untuk Seruni (Song For Seruni), 1991.
Tio’s acting career ground to a screeching halt in the early 1990s when the country’s film industry suffered a setback due to the intrusion of foreign movies. And as Indonesia’s film industry went down the drain, so did Tio’s personal life. He went through a divorce with his wife, saw his production house company hit financial problems and he spiraled into drug addiction problems.
When the film industry experienced a new lease of life at the beginning of the new millennium, Tio returned to the industry, and did so in style. He took mostly left-field roles in almost all of his movie projects, such as when he played a sugar daddy in the 2004 film Virgin, a polygamist who is afraid of his wives in the 2006 Berbagi Suami (Sharing a Husband), a mortician in the 2009 film Identitas (Identity, 2009) and a leader of a pickpocket gang in the 2001 film Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini (How Funny this Country Is).
He won his second Citra Award for his role in Identitas.
When The Jakarta Post met Tio last week, he was taking a break from the production of Tebus (Redeem), a thriller in which he plays a role that seems to fit him, that of a maniacal person who has delusions about his ancestors.
“I’m already used to getting extreme roles like this one. Directors usually come to me with such characters, I don’t know why. But this time I will use my true face because the character in the movie is very strong,” he said.
Known as a method actor, Tio usually goes the extra mile to immerse himself in his roles. He has changed his appearance several times for several roles.
For example, he wore false teeth and thick glasses when he played Adam, the mortician in Identitas. In Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini he deemed it appropriate to portray the pickpocket gang leader with a twisted arm, one eye and unkempt hair.
It is safe to say that in Tebus, Tio will likely carry the film single-handedly. The story of the film revolves around a simple family. However, the suspense is brought by Tio’s character, who becomes maniacal whenever he talks about his ancestors’ past glories.
To get in touch with the character, Tio read thriller novels, including several by American writers Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King because there are similarities between his character in the film and characters in the books penned by the authors.
“I read those books because it’s difficult to find such a character in real life. I hope this film can contest overseas film festivals because it has a unique storyline that we rarely find here in Indonesia,”
The film is directed by young director Andi Bachtiar Yusuf, whose previous work includes soccer-themed film Romeo dan Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Jinx.
Tio said he felt comfortable working with Andi because he believed Andi knew what it took to direct a
While most actors in the industry must go through multiple auditions to play a main role in a feature movie, directors come straight to Tio for difficult roles.
“I never ask for a specific role. I simply take whatever comes my way. But one thing is for sure, I never do two roles at the same time. I have to finish one film before moving onto another. This is something that I’m grateful for because I can still lead a normal life, where I can get days off and relax at home,” he said.
Tio has little interest in trading in his down time for acting in Indonesian soap operas, locally known as sinetron, which he said had unappealing storylines.
“Before I agree to play a role, I always think about what I can contribute to society through film. For instance, in this movie that I’m working on I play a diabolical character, something that I hope viewers could learn from. In the entertainment industry, it is still possible to set an example through bad characters,” he said.
Most of the time, Tio said, all he needed to gain inspiration for a role was to observe everyday life and the actions of real people, but recently he has begun looking for inspiration from some of the country’s biggest screen legends, including the late actor Bing Slamet and comedian Benyamin Syueb.
Tio, who knows Benyamin personally, has learned a lot from the legend about improvization and how to develop his characters.
“I never got the chance to meet Bing Slamet in person. But I have learned a lot by watching his work,” said the fan of American directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
A fan of Coppola, it is not surprising that Tio’s favorite movie of all time is The Outsiders, a film directed by Coppola in 1983 starring Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon and Patrick Swazye.
“I like it because it’s about a group of young men trying to escape their circumstances. It’s about friendship and brotherhood,” he said.
His involvement in the film industry is not limited to acting. He has produced, directed and written scripts during his stint working for local television station ANTV from 1993 to 1997. The period was a golden age for Tio and his production house, a time when the company could still compete with powerhouses like Multivision Plus in rolling out made-for-television films. His company was one of the 10 most productive studios during the period. “Today, I only consider making movies about history or other popular themes. But it is still a plan, though,” he said.
Given the uneven quality of movies made by Indonesia’s film industry, it is no surprise that he is one of its biggest critics. Technical aspects have improved, he said, but no progress has been made in the script-writing department.
“For example, in the description of a family feud, we often see children contradicting their parents. It may seem like a small thing but it has a tremendous effect. Parents can make mistakes, but there are better ways to tell the parents that they are wrong,” he said.
Besides working for the entertainment industry, he has long been involved in the efforts to preserve the Yogyakarta Pakualaman Court. Tio is after all a member of the Javanese royal family. Earlier this year, he received the title Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung, a respected titles in the court.
“Pakualaman (was scheduled to) hold a seminar on education in the nation’s character on May 29.
The seminar aims to promote basic education as a foundation for the nation’s character. Recently, we have seen the nation’s character being damaged by bad influences. Now, most of us have forgotten our culture and civility,” he said.
Tio has immersed himself in local cultures since early childhood. When he was at elementary school, he started taking classes in traditional dance and etiquette.
“We hope the seminar would bring back such subjects into the curriculum.” he said.
In spite of his former wild life, Tio is now a family man. When he is not working on movies, he plays futsal with his 16-year-old son Nagra.
At home, he paints, plays music — he is a fan of British prog-rock band Pink Floyd -- and writes screenplays or does anything creative that comes to mind. He also finds time to teach in an acting workshop on Saturdays.
“Artists do not need to follow a tight and rigid schedule. They can work anytime even during their free time. But I never feel tired. I really enjoy staying at home,” he said.
His home in Kemang also serves as a hangout place for friends and family. When the Post visited, a number of Nagra’s friends were there playing music together. Tio built a music studio in the house.
“These kids may look tough, but they are very polite. I taught my son to be respectful to old people, and now his friends follow his lead. He knows that there are consequences if they violate the house rules,” he said. The good manner indeed seemed to have rubbed off on Nagra’s friends. They all politely said their goodbyes when they left the house.
Tio may be a strict father when it comes to manners but he has developed a strong bond of friendship with his son. Proof? Nagra has his father’s face tattooed on his left arm.
“They are boys in a band, so tattoos are not alien to them. I know that my boy wanted one, but I told him to ask my permission. A tattoo is not something to be afraid of - not just because I have tattoos myself,” he said.
Tio initially forbade his son from getting a tattoo, but later conceded, realizing that it was a way for his son to express his affection for his father.
At 46, many experiences have come Tio’s way, but one thing he still hasn’t done is to go on a haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
He said this was still on hold. “I am waiting for the call,” he said, adding that he was concerned he would have to put off many other things in order to undertake the Islamic right of passage.
“I take everything seriously, I don’t like doing things half a —ed. If I want to be a bad man, then I can be really bad. But if I want to be good, I will work at it intensely. Such intensity makes me feel that I’m worthy as a man,” Tio said.