Harris Baba always failed his Malay-language classes back in his school years in Singapore.

The up-and-coming actor and singer recalls in an interview: “I used to get As for my English all the time, but I got Fs for my Malay subject. There would be times when I got 19 out of 100 (marks) or 13 out of 100.”

Fast forward years later, 25-year-old Harris finds himself brushing up on his Malay as he is now based in Malaysia and pursuing acting in Bahasa Malaysia dramas and singing in BM.

He got his start in showbiz when he entered The Final One, a reality singing competition in Singapore, in 2013. “I was scared and nervous, I wasn’t able to perform well. I hadn’t discovered my voice yet. I couldn’t follow the tempo. I couldn’t synchronise with music. I didn’t make it far,” Harris recounts the experience.

He only made it through to the Top 40 rounds before getting eliminated, but the end of his stint in the competition was only the beginning of his journey.

In late 2014, Harris, who is of Pakistani, Iranian and Chinese descent and frequently gets mistaken for former One Directioner Zayn Malik, began getting offers in Malaysia.

“I was booked for fashion shows and product launches. I did a lot of modelling and acting as well. Surprisingly, the first acting stint I got was a lead role with Elfira Loy in the telemovie, Cinta Viral,” he shares.

Since then, he has been keeping busy. “When I first stepped into KL, there are two people I wanted to meet and work with – Faizal Tahir and Aaron Aziz,” he says. And boy did those dreams come true. He signed a recording contract with Faizal’s label Faithful Music and is now promoting his debut single Katakan. Harris is also currently filming his first drama series, Tuan Isteri Ihsan, which he stars opposite, you’ve guessed it, Aaron.

1. Do you get people stopping you on the streets for looking like Zayn Malik? 

So many times. You won’t believe it. There was one incident when One Direction came to Singapore and after finishing their concert a few days later, they were making their way back. At the same time, I was at the airport to travel to KL.

This girl from far away shouted, “Zayn!”. She came running to me and asked, “What are you doing here? You just finished your concert.” I was like, “Huh?” I’m not Zayn, I’m Harris”. In the end, she just took a selfie. I was thinking this is so awkward, she probably doesn’t even know that I’m Harris.

It’s a good thing that people compare me to him, but I would like to be known as Harris Baba and not a Zayn look-alike. After a while, it’s not a good thing anymore plus I don’t think we look alike.

2. Has it been difficult improving your command of Bahasa Malaysia for your upcoming drama?

I can read, I can speak and I can understand (the language) very well. But sometimes when I speak, I don’t have the full Malay accent. I can work on that. When I get the script, first, I have to understand it, then I have to memorise (the lines) and then work on my accent. It’s been the biggest challenge for me.

3. You had a strong athletic background, so why didn’t you pursue sports fulltime?

As a kid growing up, I always wanted to be a sportsman. I was always involved in sports. In primary school, I played softball and baseball. I was scouted to be a part of the Japanese team; I played with them and travelled to Taiwan to compete.

In secondary school, I played hockey. I decided to stop baseball and softball because there wasn’t a very big market for that sport. I represented the national team, I was training for the Youth Olympics squad but as my O-Levels was coming up, I couldn’t continue.

I went on to polytechnic and played hockey as well, I played for a lot of clubs. I finished school then I got called up for national service and I lost interest in sports.

But since young, I’ve always liked singing. I finished national service and there was this singing competition, The Final One, and I joined it.

4. You just got married about three months ago. Do you think your marital status will have any effect on your career?

People tell me now that I’m married, things will slow down. I don’t believe in that at all. I received all of my biggest opportunities after my marriage: My song, Katakan, was picked as a theme track for a drama (Cinta 11 Syarat), I’m acting in my first drama and I had the opportunity to perform at the press conference for Anugerah Planet Muzik. (Harris later scooped up two APM nominations.)

5. There’s an interesting story behind how you met your wife. Share with us.

I was at Orchard Road (in Singapore) when I saw her. She was standing under a tree in front of a hotel. I saw her and she saw me. I was interested in her but when you’re out on the street and you bump into someone, there’s usually no chance of seeing the person again.

Suddenly, a few days later, I was on Instagram and I came across her profile. She remembered me. She said: “You’re the guy who looks like Zayn Malik.”

We started talking. I found her to be very a nice and humble. I think it was fate.