What does the ocean mean to actor Remy Ishak?
In his latest film Pulang, Remy takes on the role of Othman, a fisherman who looks to the sea as a source of income for his family. One day, he makes the difficult decision to leave his wife Thom (Puteri Aishah) and son behind to take on a job as a sailor. His new life is set to help him earn more money. But of course, it comes with the painful price of separation from his family.
“Othman is a man who has a love-hate relationship with the ocean. All he knows is that he has to work to earn money in an environment he knows nothing about. So anything can happen,” Remy said during an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Remy, 36, also finds himself being drawn to the ocean despite not knowing much about it.
“The ocean is a weird thing to me. It’s majestic, unique and mysterious at the same time. There are thousands of stories about the ocean and you will never know if any of them are true. But when you venture deep into the ocean, you get this sense of freedom,” he said.
In some ways, Othman’s journey into the unknown mirrors Remy’s own deep dive into the entertainment business.
On choppy waters
1 bulan sebelum penggambaran bermula, aku abadikan hidup aku bersama jala, laut, bahang panas tengah hari & kesejukkan yang menusuk hingga ke tulang pada waktu tengah malam. Iye.. bukan senang. Aku buang cara hidup kota, aku masuk dalam kehidupan dan rutin harian yang sebenar sebagai seorang nelayan, iye.. tak lama.. cuma 1 bulan. Mujur aku masih lagi ada bapa saudara yg hidupnya masih lagi mahir tentang laut dan juga ikan, peribadi beliau juga adalah orang2 nelayan, iye… memang keturunan. Bersama dia, aku asah semula bakat mendayung sampan, menebar jala hingga bulatannya kelihatan tampan, membaca kiraan pasang surutnya air pantai & gelombang ombak di laut dalam. Sengaja aku berkongsi tentang susun atur dan persiapan. sengaja aku nak bagitau korang yang semua itu aku lakukan demi watak bernama Othman & sebuah filem berjudul ‘Pulang….’ #pulangthemovie #pulang #comingsoon
The Melaka-born actor admitted that he had decided to become an actor without knowing much about acting or how the industry works. He remembered one of his early auditions back in the early 2000s: “I attended this casting call for a production company. They rejected me saying that I didn’t have ‘the look’.”
A disappointed Remy moved on and focused on getting a job elsewhere. The second child of four siblings had arrived in Kuala Lumpur when he was only 18 with the goal to make money for his family back home. He has done it all, from washing plates at a mamak shop and selling fish at the market to performing menial labour work.
“I grew up in a kampung and I don’t come from a rich family. So I knew that my family would depend on me when I got older,” he added.
Leading a tough life, Remy found himself getting lost in his own imagination to escape harsh realities. The thought of being an actor appealed to him because he would get to experience a different life even if it were only make believe.
“I wanted to go to film school. But you know, due to financial difficulties, I decided takpe lah (it doesnt matter).”
As luck would have it, Remy had a chance encounter with director Osman Ali at a restaurant in 2005.
“He just looked at me and said ‘You should be an actor’. I got his contact number and that was it,” Remy said about his start in the entertainment industry.
At that time, Osman was an independent film director known for his documentary Bukak Api. He cast Remy to star alongside Umie Aida and Raja Farah in the romantic film Aquariam Cinta. Though the shoot was completed, for some unknown reason, Aquariam Cinta was never released.
Remy went back to one of his many odd jobs.
Rough seas ahead
Osman did not give up on Remy and cast him in a minor role in the action film Anak Halal (2007).
“I was lucky because at that time, I had friends who went to film school. So I tried to pick up as much as I could from them about acting,” Remy explained on how he learned to act.
After a few more acting opportunities, Remy eventually landed a breakthrough role in Nur Kasih. Directed by Kabir Bhatia, Remy played Adam, an arrogant architecture student whose bad decisions drive the narrative in the TV drama. The show was a hit and Remy earned an Anugerah Bintang Popular award for Most Popular Actor in 2010.
Remy was hit by a sudden wave of popularity and there was no stopping him. The success of films like Cun (2011), Nur Kasih The Movie (2011) and Hantu Kapcai (2012) helped to seal his status as a bonafide leading man.
“Takut (scared),” Remy said when he looked back at the time he realised that he had become famous.
He wasn’t ready for the downside of fame, like when he was accused of being arrogant with the press or when rumours of romance with co-stars began to spread.
“Yes, I didn’t know how to handle fame. I wasn’t aware that being an actor also meant managing people’s perceptions of you. I was unprepared,” he admitted.
He said that his family was shocked by some of the nasty headlines. Remy was also told by some quarters that he needed to behave in a certain way.
“I feel like a regular person. But I’ve met people who told me I should behave differently because now I’m apparently on a different level (in society). I don’t know how. I just want to be myself,” he lamented.
Remy replaced his initial fears with experience. He learned to foster a better relationship with the media and handled public attention with gratefulness.
“It’s normal in this line that you have to face some sort of controversy. I’ve adapted to become more understanding,” Remy said.
Change of tide
This year, Remy has starred in two hit TV shows – romantic drama Kekasih Paksa Rela and the action-packed Dosa. Remy is also known for going the extra mile for his roles such as overcoming the fear of water for Redha (2016) and training in an army camp in Bravo 5 (2015) to learning to sing for 29 Februari (2012). For Pulang, he lost 7kg to achieve the gaunt struggling fisherman and sailor’s look.
“My dad is a former military man who believes in making us face our fears. If I’m scared of something, I have to overcome it,” he said.
Previously, Remy said he wanted to take a break and focus on wedding preparations after the release of Pulang. (The actor got engaged to Ezza Yusof last year). But Remy (“I’ve been working since I was 15! I don’t know how to take a break”) now says he still has a lot to do before settling down.
“I have to reach a level where, financially, I feel that I have enough. Then I can think about resting and taking it easy. After that, I foresee myself continuing to act. The story doesn’t just end there,” he said.
Remy has recently completed work on three films – Proksi, The Legend Of Pontianak and Sangkar. For the last movie, directed by Kabir, Remy plays a mixed martial arts fighter. In preparation for his role, he put on 10kg of muscles and took up Brazilian jiujitsu.
He’s also in talks with director Saw Teong Hin for an upcoming production tentatively called Ini Kali Lah.
“It’s a story inspired by events in the recent Malaysian general election.”
He also has a long-term goal to help the local film business improve.
“I don’t want to be like those people who are always criticising every aspect of the industry. I can offer to help with my acting. I’m not saying I’m a great actor and that it would make a big difference. But I just believe in trying my best instead of complaining about what is lacking. If we want something to change, then we have to be a part of the wave of change.”