Opting to retire from sport to work in showbiz was a life-changing decision for Prisia Nasution.
Prisia was beaming with joy when she was named Best Actress at the 2011 Indonesian Film Festival (FFI), earning her a Piala Citra (Citra Award) for her role as traditional dancer in Sang Penari (The Dancer), ahead of other nominees such as Fanny Fabriana, Gita Novalisa, Salma Paramitha and Dinda Hauw.
It was a pleasant surprise for the 27-year-old, receiving this award for her silver screen debut.
Before starring in Sang Penari, which was also awarded best movie at the festival, she had been known as an actress in television movies.
Acting was not a conscious career choice for Prisia, born in Jakarta on June 1, 1984. She first made a name for herself as an athlete of pencak silat martial art, her childhood dream, and had been a part of the national training camp since she was in junior high school.
“It was unexpected,” Prisia says. When she was a university student, she was offered the chance to become a catwalk model, just after participating in the National Student Games, in 2003.
“I said yes since I could earn money through it. You know, my legs turned black and blue wearing high heels,” she adds.
In the end, Prisia realized that modeling was not her thing. “To be honest, I am not a person with high self-confidence, under the constant glare of many people. As a model you have to be very confident.
“Besides, as an athlete, my figure was not ideal for a modeling career. My thighs were over-sized. In terms of modeling, my body was ‘defective’,” she says.
Her brief stint in modeling opened the way for a career in the entertainment industry and she received an offer to star in a TV movie and as a presenter for a sports program.
“I never thought that I would act. I took information technology as my major in Germany to work at an IT company, but then I ended up actively involved in the film industry, as an actor.
“I’m still young and I have to make the most of my time.” she says.
Prisia revealed that she still regrets no longer being an athlete, saying that she is still in love with the sport.
“I have never given up on being a pencak silat athlete. If I am asked to take part in a competition, I will go for it.
“However as an athlete, you have to be serious and train from dawn till dusk. I cannot be an athlete all my life due to my age and I realize that there is something much better for me,” she explains.
After starring in a number of made-for-TV movies, she finally gained a leading role in Sang Penari, adapted from the critically acclaimed book Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (The Dancer from Paruk Village) by novelist Ahmad Tohari.
It tells the love story of its leading characters, Srintil and Rasus, set in Banyumas, Central Java, in the 1960s.
As a newcomer, she had a wonderful opportunity to work with veteran actors such as Slamet Rahardjo, Dewi Irawan, Tio Pakusadewo and Lukman Sardi.
For this role, she took a short acting course at Teater Popular Studio, organized by prominent actor Slamet Rahardjo.
Prisia also learned to dance, speak Javanese with a Banyumas accent, and stripped off for a topless scene in the movie.
“When I say yes to a certain role, I have to go all out and give it my best shot,” Prisia says.
It was a challenging role playing Srintil, a ronggeng (a dancer occasionally available for sex), requiring extensive preparation and a character very different from her own personality.
She felt that the pre-production process was the toughest thing to do.
“I had to find the exact form of Srintil. I thought, ‘Can I really play this part?’ Because I found no reference material at all about this role,” she says.
“Finding things about Kartini [a national heroine fighting for Indonesian women’s rights], for instance, would be much easier because there are many books and biographies about her. I could even ask her relatives. For the Srintil character, I could not do that.”
Prisia decided to make a “Srintil diary” during the filming to help her delve into the character, from the personality of Srintil and her relationship with Rasus, her childhood best friend-turned-lover.
Prisia also spent time following traditional dancers to learn some of the dancing moves. “I also performed with them for wedding events so I got to know how it felt being thrown money by the guys.
“As for the language, it was no big deal. I just lived in the region for two weeks until I could speak the language,” she says
After struggling to find the core character of Srintil, Prisia finally made it. “She (Srintil) is a very strong woman. She does not choose to be a ronggeng because she was born to be a dancer,” she explains.
Ever since childhood, Prisia says, all Srintil ever wanted was to dance. Srintil was unaware that in the end, she had to sleep with many men.
“In the mean time, she wants to have a family, but she cannot because she is not supposed to be involved in a romance. This is the dilemma for Srintil,” she adds.
Prisia explains that she held nothing back during the love scene with co-star Oka Antara. “No problem. I did it because this is Srintil. When the director said action, I transformed into Srintil so I had nothing to be ashamed of.”
Another challenge was how to match Srintil’s physical condition. Srintil is depicted as a young woman with malnutrition due to poverty, a dark complexion and imperfect skin, while Prisia had a toned physique from years of athletic training.
So, in order to immerse fully into the role, she spent time under the sun and stopped exercising for a while to get the desired effect.
All the hard work finally paid off with a coveted Citra Award in her hands.
Now, Prisia is part of the cast of Laskar Pelangi - The Series (The Rainbow Troops), playing Muslimah the teacher. In the big screen version, this character was played Cut Mini.
It is the TV adaptation of Andrea Hirata’s best selling novel Laskar Pelangi which has also been filmed by Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza. It tells the bitter sweet story of elementary students in Gantong, Belitung Island.
In the future, Prisia wants to work in many more feature films in all genres.
“I’m quite open to any opportunities. I want to do something with all my heart.”