Had he not listened to a sermon at Friday prayer, Agus Kuncoro would be a sculptor instead of an actor he is now.
Born in Jakarta on Aug. 11, 1972, Agus said he initially did not intend to be an actor. A graduate of the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) in sculpture, he chose to walk a different life path after listening to a sermon about how Islam sees sculpture making.
“I was hesitant. Then, when I was reconsidering my intention [to be a sculptor], a chance to be an actor came,” he told The Jakarta Post after a preview of his recent movie, titled only with a question mark, ?.
His first appearance in the film industry was as the main character in Mahkota Mayangkara (Mayangkara Crown), a soap opera, in the early 1990s. It opened the way to more opportunities in the acting world.
Agus, who has also played in action soap operas such as Tutur Tinular and Angling Dharma, elbowed his way onto the silver screen through Saur Sepuh IV and Saur Sepuh V, action films adapted from a popular radio drama in 1980s.
He played in Panggung Pinggir Kali (A Stage Next to the River) in 2005. In 2008, he played with Desy Ratnasari in a religious movie titled Kun Fayakuun (Be and It Be). Since then, the public has become used to his face in religious movies.
“I don’t know. Somehow, my way to getting parts in religion-themed movies is smooth. When I get a different theme or style, I often find many obstacles, such as the price or location,” he said.
He played in other religious mo-vies titled Di Bawah Langit (Under the Sky) in 2010 and Hanung Bramantyo’s Sang Pencerah (The Enlightener) in the same year.
When Agus was offered a role in Hanung’s latest movie, ?, he surprised the director by pleading for another role — that of Surya, an actor striving for a leading role after years of playing minor parts.
It was the first time for him to refuse a role and ask for another role in his career.
“I read the script and I found that this [Surya] was the role I wanted. I think the character is challenging and amazing,” he said.
Agus said another reason was that he knew the real character in person. Mohammad Ikhsan, a fellow actor who often cameos in various films, became the inspiration for this role. He said he wanted to further explore the character who never had a leading part in his career, but was always limited to trivial, antagonistic roles because of his beard.
In the film, Surya finally gets a leading role — to play as Jesus Christ in an Easter drama in a church — which triggers an internal conflict.
Surya panics, but he eventually consults with an ustadz [religious teacher] and performs an istikharah prayer (a prayer to seek for answers) before finally deciding to take the role as Jesus.
“Such a role is the first time for me and it’s worth the fight,” Agus said.
Hanung admitted that he was surprised and bewildered after hearing Agus’ request for the role of Surya, but he finally approved it, and it turns out he made the right decision.
“Agus delivered a performance beyond my expectation,” he said.
He did indeed. During the film, Surya invites roaring laughter, especially when he rehearses his role of Jesus inside a mosque. Using a broom stick and a small mirror, he recreates the painful expression of Jesus who was whipped while carrying his cross. Agus said he did not intend to make people laugh or cry, because he played every single scene according to his serious interpretation of the character.
“A film is not about how to make people understand, but how to make people feel what I feel as the character,” he said.
When asked about any controversy that may arise concerning his role, Agus said he refused to think negatively about it.
“I took part in this movie with good intentions and so did Hanung. God willing, this movie will get good responses,” he said.
He said he got additional knowledge about the history of Jesus and managed to explore the character of Surya by talking to Ikhsan. Details of a character are everything for Agus, who admits that he often observes people’s daily life to enrich his skill.
The husband of soap opera actress Anggie Jelita and father to Kunkeira Gayla said he likes to observe the habits of people around him, such as a waitress or a taxi driver.
“When I get a role, I have to know the environment where the character lives, information about his parents, his education, his daily food and so on,” he said, adding that such detailed information would help him walk, talk and think like the character.
Agus said he would play a lawyer in his next film, which would be released this year. Determined to dedicate his life to the film industry, Agus said he wanted to try to become a director by the age of 40, which would mean some time around next year.
He felt that by the time he turned 40 he would be ready to handle difficult situations that might pop up during the filming process.
“I think directing a movie is closely related to emotional maturity to deal with any troubles that may occur on the location,” he said.
He said he wants to become a director because a film’s elements, although they are a collective work, reflect the vision inside the mind of a director.
“I want to be able to raise the enthusiasm of actors, actress, staff and cameramen to give their best to the film,” he said.
Agus, who finds amusingly critical jokes and touching scenes in British and Iranian films, said he personally wants to make an action movie once he becomes a film director.
And though he may have some perfectionist values in his professional life, as a father, he is flexible and modern.
“A funny thing about having children is that we have so many concepts to teach them, but when the child is born, all of the concepts are gone. We will finally follow the child and provide some protection,”
he said, smiling.
He agrees with the Kahlil Gibran poem “On Children”, which pointed out that children are like living arrows sent forth.
Agus said small acts of attention from his wife when she opens the door for him late at night or at dawn become a source of strength in his work.
He spends his time reading books and having fun with his mountain bike in Puncak, Bogor, or with his single-gear bike (fixie) in Velodrome in Rawamangun, East Jakarta.
He said he sticks to his childhood habit of spending at least an hour a day reading, a legacy taught by his late parents.
But cycling is not merely a hobby for Agus, who also takes it as a philosophy of life. He said the difficult moment when he cycles on a hill resembles a moment when he has to beat the weakness inside him.
“It’s a mentality problem. You can actually reach the top, but the problem is, sometimes you don’t want to get the crown.”