Actress Siti Saleha was only 18 when she scored her first acting gig in the television drama-musical 5 Jingga. And, get this, she didn’t even know that she had walked into an audition for a drama.
“I thought I was casting for another commercial,” she said during an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
The 27-year-old actress just went along during the audition. Three months later she was told she got the part, playing the leading role, a head cheerleader. “I just decided to go for it,” said Siti who has not turned back since.
That first role was a monumental feat for a newcomer with no experience. The role required her to sing and dance, but Siti wasn’t a “triple threat” and the director must have known this.
“They didn’t allow me to sing. I tried but I guess I couldn’t follow the tempo. I just danced,” she recalled with a laugh.
While it may have sounded easy for Siti to nail her first leading role through an accidental audition, she admitted that her lack of experience was obvious on set. The England-born actress couldn’t quite nail her Bahasa Malaysia lines to sound natural.
“I won’t lie. The first time was quite bad. In terms of my accent and whatnot, I was trying my best to say the lines.”
Siti would go on to act in other dramas such as Kasut Tumit Tinggi and Kapten Boleh. Eventually, her beginner’s luck ran out as the offers stopped coming. It was a major reality check for the Malay-English actress.
“Suddenly, it all just went quiet. I was like, ‘What is going on?’. I started thinking if this (acting) was really what I wanted in the long run,” she lamented.
Siti then decided to focus on her studies and pick acting projects carefully, believing that everything will fall into place.
It would take three years for Siti to finally score a breakout role through the romantic TV drama Nora Elena. Her effective performance as a heartbroken woman with a traumatic past earned her a legion of fans.
She was thankful for the success but at the same time, learned the hard way that popularity came with a price. Siti’s private life was under scrutiny when photos of her socialising at parties surfaced on online news portals and it painted a negative “party girl” image of the actress. The actress said the photos came from her private Facebook account.
“When I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh no’. So, I removed people I didn’t know from my account. Since then, I started being more aware of what photos to upload and all that.”
Her older brother Shamsul Annuar, or Sam of local rock band Bunkface, was upset at the incident.
“His baby sister is in the industry and he thought that I could cope with the responsibility that came with fame. After that, you got to learn to play it right lah. People will always find stories about you. But if you have an objective and show people that you’re in this industry for real, then nothing can take you down,” Siti affirmed.
She was right. After that incident, reporters would be hard-pressed to find any unsavoury stories about Siti. Instead, she was making headlines for her professional life.
In 2013, she scored wins for Most Popular TV Actress and Most Popular Film Actress at Anugerah Bintang Popular. She broke away from her usual “pretty girl roles” to do comedy (Mamak Cupcake), psychological thriller (upcoming local English-language movie Spiral) and horror (yet-to-be-released Tujuh).
Most recently, Siti starred in drama 7 Hari Mencintaiku, based on a popular novel about a spoilt rich girl named Mia Adriana, who upon her father’s request, had to marry a kampung boy.
Before shooting for the drama began, Siti came across a fan survey about who should play Mia. “My name was on the list but there were a lot of comments saying I couldn’t do it,” she recalled.
But as usual, Siti proved her critics wrong as 7 Hari Mencintaiku was not only a highly-rated drama which drew up to five million viewers per episode, the actress earned rave reviews for her performance.
Following the success of 7 Hari Mencintaiku, there have been news that Siti is now making demands for higher acting fees. The actress said there is truth to the news report. After almost a decade in the business, Siti said it was the right time to do so.
“I felt that I’ve come a long way. I’ve been stepped on too many times. Back then, I would (accept roles) without thinking of how much I should be paid. I can’t be like that anymore. There comes a time when I should put a price for the experience I bring (to a project),” she reasoned.
Throughout her life, Siti believes in working hard to earn the confidence of others. Her parents divorced when she was only 10. Growing up with her Malaysian father, she said it wasn’t easy to convince him to let her act.
“He was scared. This business has a lot of cheaters and whatnot. And I have had my fair share of bad experiences but I guess going through all that made me a stronger person. I was bringing in some good money. I was independent. I drove myself to the set. I didn’t ask him for anything. I showed him that I know how to take care of myself,” she said.
Siti – who will be getting married to a man named Lutfi Azhar this year – is unapologetic about asking for a higher acting fee.
“This is what I’m worth.”