SENI FOKUS: Mad About Maya Karin – An Exclusive With The Best Actress Nominee And Local Cinema Sovereign
With only hours left before Maya Karin has to pack for an overseas trip, The Daily Seni found ourselves in her car for a quick chat. The gracious actress was kind enough to let us accompany her to her 5pm appointment just so we could ask her a few questions.
Amidst the Petaling Jaya traffic rush, we got her to reflect on her most recent nod from Festival Filem Malaysia (FFM) among other things pertaining to her status as a household name when it comes to the Malaysian film industry.
Maya is up again for Best Actress, thanks to her performance in Osman Ali‘s Sejoli. It was one of the bigger box office draws compared to the rest of the films recognised this year – Sejoli pulled in RM1.45 million at the box office by the end of its run.
“I’m really happy because it’s my eighth nomination. I’m super-thrilled that looking back now I can say that I’ve made it. In other words, got a track record lah,” she tells us, shades on, braving the late afternoon heat.
In the presence of cinema royalty
If there’s one thing we can tell you about Maya, it’s that she’s a star.
Emanating an aura of nobility – a constant reminder of our proximity to someone who is at the top of their game – she keeps us on our toes; we’re slightly afraid of taking her time yet we simply needed to know more.
And why wouldn’t we? Maya is in FFM’s record books for earning the most number of nominations and wins in the history of the awards ceremony. Her performance as Malaysia’s top actress has been acknowledged eight times, and she’s won twice.
We asked her if there’s anyone new in the industry at the moment who reminds her of her early days as an actress, and she thinks carefully.
“Every person’s entry into the entertainment industry is different. There are many ways to be accepted, but most of them get in through luck.”
“Just in terms of attitude, maybe there’s a few who, you know, are not just in it for the glamour. I do sense good attitude from Izara [Aishah], Sara Ali, and siapa lagi hari itu…,” Maya trails off, and we bring up recent industry favourite, Nadiya Nisaa.
“Yes of course, but she’s older than the others,” she states, reminding us of our initial question.
You see, Maya makes us lose our train of thought; she’s that charismatic.
In any case, Nadiya Nisaa is also up for an award this year, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Terbaik Dari Langit. Maya begins reminiscing, informing us that she was one of many who lured Nadiya into a full-time profession as an actor.
“Before she was a professional actress, I was really pushing her to quit her job and get into the industry. I was like, babe, you will so be in demand. And so she came into the industry, having matured [as an adult].”
Regal and confident at 1.7 metres, Maya Karin is cool, collected and occasionally coy in answering every question we had, taking her time to form her words eloquently – a heavy contrast to this writer who had no choice but to question her in the confines of her own car.
What is the secret to Maya’s assured demeanour? Perhaps the fact that she’s made wise decisions regarding her career.
“I’m proud of almost all my movies, except for the first few,” she reveals.
“The first three were like an experiment for me and a learning curve, a total learning curve. One of the three also motivated me to never do anything semata-mata for the money – never, ever again, no matter how little money is left in the bank account.”
According to Maya, at one point after her third movie she went a year and a half without any work. It was a difficult time; she watched her savings dip but continued rejecting offers. She insists that she’s not in the industry for the money, but she does expect fair compensation.
She continues, “The thing is, I wouldn’t accept offers in the first place if I didn’t like the story. Then Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam came along and since then, I’m pretty much proud of every movie I’ve made.”
It’s a trait that has only gotten stronger since those early days. In the past two years Maya has turned down at least four to five scripts because they just didn’t satisfy her in terms of quality – it’s a particularly troubling issue also affecting her Nota co-star Hans Isaac, which we brought up last month.
A very notable experience
Maya’s most recent film, Nota, started airing in cinemas since the 13th of August and we bring her back to the filming process.
“When the role first approached me, it was through this agent who was like, Kak Maya, I really recommended you to them you know sebab I tahu you lasak, selalu masuk hutan lah, you selalu backpacking lah apa benda, you mesti suka benda macam ni kan? And I was like, yeah, totally! I’m in!“
The gruelling shoot took her all the way to Bako National Park in Sarawak (“It was damn hot, man!”) and put her under the wing of Japanese-American director Yasu Tanaka. It was her first experience working with a foreign director too.
“First of all, the script came in storyboard form – he storyboarded the entire script,” Maya begins.
“It’s difficult enough to do a 30-saat television commercial, but to do a whole movie… Basically, what it tells you there is that he’s very specific. I really had to know my character and her exact graph way before we started shooting. Even pergerakan I needed to know.”
We asked her to tell us more about the shoot, and she lets us in on some details: things were pretty much the usual until they got to Bako.
“That one week in Bako National Park was quite testing to all of us. The place had a small dingy air-conditioned room, but it was like a really, really old room. Ataupun you get a connected room, which is newer but there’s no air-conditioning, no hot water, and no TV.”
“Even though I backpack and go to the forest a lot, when you’ve been shooting for ten hours or so and you’re sweating and dirty, you do wish for a bit of comfort at the end of the day. Internet pun tak ada, aku nak tweet pun tak boleh,” she states in jest.
“But at the end of the day, me and Hans and the entire team did what we had to do. Tak payah nak merungut-rungut lagi.”
We daresay it’s paid off abundantly; aside from impressing us at The Daily Seni, movie critic Hassan Muthalib has proudly given the film a rare 5-star rating as stated on his social media account. Nota has also been described by many as a film that’s different from the rest, and could very well take next year’s FFM by storm.
But would she go through the pain all over again?
“Absolutely,” Maya exclaims, “It’s one of the things I have hardly explored as an actor!”
“I managed to have a whiff of performing in an action film through Anak Halal. But walaupun my character was lasak, I didn’t get to do any ass-kicking or got to fight.”
She tells us that she would love to play a physically-tough character anytime and would also be up for a turn as a detective.
Playing musical chairs with film directors
Maya connects Yasu’s style of direction to Sharad Sharaan‘s when they last worked together on Lagenda Budak Setan 2: Katerina, but claims that Yasu took things to “the next level”.
“With Yasu, everything was already set. Even before we saw the location we already knew what we had to do: how to walk, where to go, which angle of the face he wants… If I wasn’t an experienced actress, I wouldn’t have been able to deliver in Nota and I know this for sure,” she admits.
As challenging as the process was, it also affirmed her reputation as one of Malaysia’s top performers.
“A lot of the time Yasu would choose to forego master shots. If as an actress I did not know my character thoroughly, I would be so lost, like, what are we doing, why are we shooting the ending first?“
She then reveals that she enjoys working with Shuhaimi Baba (Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam) and Osman Ali (Ombak Rindu) the most, and a quick look at her filmography verifies this.
According to Maya, Osman is a bit more relaxed with his direction, letting actors do some homework to get their job fully done.
“Osman Ali focuses more on characterisation. As long as I’m 70% within his vision he’s OK. He will leave the remaining 30% for actors to flesh out themselves ikut naluri dan jiwa sendiri, while movement work is very loose until we get to the set.”
Maya also enjoyed working with Bernard Chauly greatly and would love to collaborate with him again – she loves his style, describing him as a “very cool” person. Their last venture, Pisau Cukur, made waves when it was released in 2009, earning over RM2.3 million at the box office and garnering her a Best Actress nomination at the 2010 edition of Festival Filem Malaysia.
In terms of who she wants to work with next, she lists Dain Said as “number one”. To date, the renowned Director has only shot three films (Dukun, Bunohan and upcoming thriller Interchange) and has worked with just a handful of Malaysian actresses, namely Umie Aida, Elyana, Avaa Vanja and Nadiya Nisaa.
“Dain, please call me lah. Call me lah, apa ni?” she laughs, also pointing out that she would love to work with U-Wei Haji Saari.
Other directors on her list include Syamsul Yusof (KL Gangster), but she’s just as interested in working with Syamsul’s younger brother, Syafiq Yusof (Villa Nabila), who she thinks shows “quite a bit of creativity as a filmmaker”.
Her aspirations however doesn’t quite extend beyond our shores as yet. After more than a decade in the local scene, Maya is not up for new beginnings in foreign waters.
“Some people have said to me, why don’t you go to Hollywood and try it out there, but I have to say penat lah want to go all the way and start again from the bottom. I’ve also been quite happy with our industry so far.”
“But yes, Clint Eastwood,” she laughs, “I’m waiting for your call, anytime!”
By now, Maya has parked her car and we really didn’t want to keep her waiting, so we shower her with a last flurry of questions.
We asked her if she would like to be a director eventually, but she informs us that it’s not really her forte.
“I’m not so sure about directing. But producing, possibly…” she begins.
“Or co-directing, be some sort of contributing director – I don’t think I have the talent to be a full-on director myself, but there are certain bits and pieces I could contribute. I could give suggestions to the director, you know, I think if you took it from this angle it could give it a more mysterious look, or, let’s try changing it from nighttime to daylight, little things like that.”
Maya believes that good films start with an original story, and though she’s not a writer she would love to come up with a concept for a film one day. She tells us that if she were to dabble in the creation process, she would come up with a story idea (or “the spine of a script”) and then get a professional scriptwriter to finish the story.
As for future plans, there’s nothing on her horizons as of now, but one particular project has piqued her interest. An upcoming Tarantella Pictures production has “potential” states Maya, and even though it’s not a lead role, she would be happy to accept it once the team is ready. Don’t forget to catch her in Osman Ali’s Jwanita however, out next month!
On that note, we thank the beautiful star for her patience, grace and willingness to conduct this interview and swing the car door open, dazed. We’ve just spent twenty minutes in a car talking film with Maya Karin; what have you done today?