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Oka Antara's lifelong quest for perfection

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, March 1, 2019  /  05:02 pm
Oka Antara's lifelong quest for perfection

Mastering his art: For actor Oka Antara, acting is his path to living an extraordinary life. (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama)

A star of the Indonesian film world, critically acclaimed actor Oka Antara revealed the lengths he has gone to in the name of his craft and to continue honing his skills.

Acting, for him, is his path to living an extraordinary life.

Oka’s interest in the film industry started at a very young age, when he refused to become part of the “real world”.

“I was obsessed with wanting an escape route from reality when I was young,” he told The Jakarta Post in an interview.

“I used to have 9 to 5 jobs, doing stuff I didn’t like. I know what the real world feels like, and it’s tough, man. Constantly begging for jobs, making ends meet on minimum wage, etc. I felt like I was subconsciously degrading myself and I couldn’t take that anymore.”

He then tried several paths of escape. He unsuccessfully tried out for the national basketball team and dabbled in the music industry, embarking on a very short-lived rap career.

It was from this experience in the music industry he felt he had found a passion and sheer determination for acting – even if his intention was to live a life that transcended the real world.

“The music industry is a different beast to tame. You have to operate like your own business. But in film, all you need is that one big break, no matter how small you are, to be elevated to the top. In music also, people tend to have a shorter attention span, as one artist is quickly replaced by another,” he said.

“When I was performing music and making music videos, I found the confidence in myself to act and decided that was what I wanted to do from then on”.

It was through his music video director’s connections that he met directors like Anto Sinaga and Lasja Fauzia, which began his slow but steady ascent to the top of the Indonesian film world.

He started out as an extra in several films, purely driven by the fun of learning.

After getting his first major film role in 2005’s Gue Kapok Jatuh Cinta (I’ve Had Enough of Love), the soundtrack for which he also contributed music during his musical years, he has since risen up the ranks of the industry.

He has appeared in major films such as Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love); Hari Untuk Amanda (Day for Amanda), for which he won an Indonesian Film Award for Best Actor; and Sang Penari (The Dancer) as well as English-language films such as V/H/S/2, The Raid 2 and Killers.

Each role he took contributed to the growth of his skills and becoming the acclaimed actor he is today. His performances in Ismail Basbeth’s film Mencari Hilal (The Crescent Moon) and 2018’s quirky drama Aruna & Lidahnya (Aruna and Her Palate) are among the best performances by any Indonesian actor working today.

Oka is also a presence on television, starring in several soap operas in the 2000s as well currently being the lead actor in the 2018 HOOQ-based action thriller series Brata, the second season of which is set for release this year.

When deconstructing Oka’s performances, one need look no further than the influence that lauded American actor Michael Keaton has had on him.

Oka noted that Keaton exuded a staggering meticulousness and versatility in his craft as well as a mastery in translating every single word of a script into subtle facial expressions.

“Every time I watch his films, I always get the sense that I need to read the script for the movie and compare it with his facial expressions. He keeps it very low key, but pulls it off spectacularly,” Oka said of Keaton.

In his performance in Mencari Hilal, Oka tried out the Keaton method by focusing more on his facial expressions to convey the headstrong character he played.

This method, he claimed, did not undermine the audience’s ability to follow the film, as he gave them the chance to understand the plot without being told what was going on. This approach made Mencari Hilal an intriguing watch.

As someone who prefers not to spoon feed the audience with information about the plot, Oka relies on the strength of his facial expressions and his raw acting ability to convey his character in the same manner as Michael Keaton.

He also holds a high level of respect for actors such as Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio, who mainly make box office films, as doing so is also an exercise in versatility.

His acting style, which he said was a constant learning process, strays closer to Hollywood-style acting than the absurdist arthouse styles, which he said he did not grow up watching anyway.

One of his favorite films is Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which also had a profound impact on him as an actor. However, he said that as Indonesian directors tended to be more influenced by European cinema than Hollywood, he felt he needed to adapt according to each director’s style.

The directors he has worked with include Hanung Bramantyo, Edwin and Randy Korompis, who each have different approaches.

Oka’s versatile filmography ranges from the darkest of dramas (Killers), to arthouse-influenced light dramas (Aruna & Lidahnya), to more traditional dramas (Mencari Hilal) and action flicks (The Raid 2 and Foxtrot Six)

He feels there is no particular genre of film he is best at, and will sometimes just take a certain role not out of a desire to be in the film, but to take advantage of the perks that are offered. Although, he said he does have a greater interest in making dark dramas.

“If you do a film like Killers or Foxtrot Six, you get the opportunity to go through acting workshops to adjust yourself for those kinds of performances, and I want to be taught by different acting coaches and really hone my craft,” Oka explained.

“Because most actors in Indonesia are required to do their own stunts, they need the training.” 

Priceless experience: For his latest film, 'Foxtrot Six', Oka and the rest of the cast spent one week at an actual military boot camp to prepare themselves for their roles and immerse themselves in militaristic methods.Priceless experience: For his latest film, 'Foxtrot Six', Oka and the rest of the cast spent one week at an actual military boot camp to prepare themselves for their roles and immerse themselves in militaristic methods. (Courtesy of MD Pictures/-)

For his most recent film, Foxtrot Six, Oka and the rest of the cast spent one week at an actual military boot camp at the National Police Mobile Brigade (Mako Brimob) detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java, to prepare themselves for their roles and immerse themselves in militaristic methods.

For Oka, this was a priceless “once in a lifetime” experience – not only because it increased his acting abilities, but also because it allowed him to connect with real soldiers to understand their points of view on the world.

 “I mean, being an actor is mentally tough, but one thing that separates the mental strength of soldiers and the rest of us is the isolation. They are rarely let out of their HQ, and they long for the families they leave behind. This is the kind of preparation you don’t get daily. To actually immerse yourself in the reality of your role,” he recalled.

“The stories I heard from the soldiers go beyond what you see in the movies and I guess I’ve found a greater appreciation for them, as they have given so much of themselves for the sake of their country.

“But am I interested in becoming a soldier? I don’t know, I’m good with where I am now,” he laughed. (ste)