Actor Wan Hanafi Su achieved a career high when he walked the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival in France in May as a cast member of Apprentice, a movie that was competing for an Un Certain Regard award.
Directed by Boo Junfeng, Apprentice is also Singapore’s entry for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category.
As it happens, this isn’t the first time a film starring Wan Hanafi has been sent for an Oscar consideration. The 66-year-old actor was also in Bunohan and Lelaki Harapan Dunia, Malaysia’s previous entries for the Oscars.
Word must have gotten around that he is some sort of lucky charm.
During an interview in Kuala Lumpur, Wan Hanafi shared what a casting manager told Apprentice producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon: “One of the casting managers said, ‘If you really want to go to Cannes, cast this old man (in the film)’.”
Wan Hanafi also recalled that he felt like a star when asked to be photographed by the press at the hotel he was staying in Cannes.
“I thought they were mistaken. Robert De Niro was staying at the same hotel so maybe they meant to photograph him. But, no, they really wanted to take my photo!”
In Apprentice, Wan Hanafi plays the role of Rahim, the chief executioner of a prison, who takes it upon himself to train rookie prison guard Aiman (Fir Rahman) for the same job.
To ensure he fleshes out the character properly, Wan Hanafi spoke to two former executioners. The actor initially thought he was going to meet serious-looking men with distinctive moustaches.
“I was wrong,” said Wan Hanafi. “They were jovial people! I think that’s how they get through the grim job.”
Wan Hanafi adapted the persona of the men he interviewed. “I took parts of their souls for my character. They are not bad people, just men doing their job.”
Even after so many years in the entertainment industry, Wan Hanafi is still looking to be challenged. He lamented how some directors seemed to be satisfied with his acting effort with just one take. When he offered to do another take, they would brush him off by saying “tidak apa” (doesn’t matter).
“Boo may seem like the sentimental type. But he is really firm as a director and I like that about him. I always tell him, ‘Tell me what you want and I will work until you get it’. I like having challenges,” he said.
Wan Hanafi never thought he’d be involved in show business. Born in Besut, Terengganu, Wan Hanafi said his interest in arts probably came from his late father, Wan Su Othman, a respected carver who received the National Arts Award in 1997.
“I started acting in a theatre group in 1972. Then in 1978, I heard RTM was looking for extras to audition for its first colour TV drama. I got my first role then, and it was a small one.”
It would take him almost 10 years to finally land a leading role, in RTM drama Dalam Perjalanan. When he didn’t have an acting gig, Wan Hanafi held a government job and focused on theatre.
“Acting in front of the camera was just an interest. I didn’t think about pursuing it full time. Then, I realised that the audience seemed to like what I do, so I thought why not?”
Wan Hanafi has won Best TV Actor at Anugerah Skrin in 2013 for his emotional performance in Hari-Hari Terakhir Seorang Seniman.
In 2006, his role in Anak Penarek Becha earned him the Best TV Actor award at Anugerah Seri Angkasa.
Last year, he received a Malaysia Film Festival nomination for Best Actor for his turn in Lelaki Harapan Dunia.
While he is not ready to call it quits, Wan Hanafi admitted that good acting opportunities are hard to come by.
Sadly, he said, he does not feel appreciated as an actor in Malaysia.
“Just yesterday, I met actor Hamid Gurkha. He’s 84 and healthy. I asked him if he has been acting lately and he said nobody wants to offer him roles. Even Fauziah Nawi said the same thing. These days, producers will just cast a younger actor and put makeup on them to make them look older.”
He added: “I’m disappointed. If the producers don’t value us, then who else is going to?”
But Wan Hanafi is defiant. When he’s not acting, he makes music with his six children, making sure there is always an outlet for creative expression.
“I have a band. Perhaps, people can’t imagine me as a musician. When I’m older and can no longer act, I’ll always have something new to try.”