FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Prepared to take one solid step at a time, ready to fall and reroute rather than get stuck; and equipped only with the determination to grind, the humility to learn and the willing mind to apply in good faith, Shaheizy Sam makes his arduous journey from teenager to consummate actor, and builds himself a 20-year-long career of concrete material, with more to come.
Photographed by Chuan Looi/Yipieyaya Studio; styled by Ibnu Aswan; words by KC Yap; make-up by Joey Yap; hair by CKay Liow
Breezing in for his photo shoot, Shaheizy Sam brought with him his signature effortless, cool, an organic blend of dapper to edgy, fresh-faced to bad-boy, nonchalant to charismatic. Adding to the stylish persona, which we thought could not be more wholesome, was the sporting nature to don some hair extensions at our request and, most importantly, the ease to work the look and ensemble of fall/winter 2016 outfits to advantage, with neither a hint of apprehension nor arrogance the entire way.
As our photographer started clicking away, Shaheizy delivered a series of fluid, nuanced poses, and there’s nothing more relieving to a photographer and stylist than having a subject who gets it and knows his angles and moves. In his relaxed but steady composure, which changed ever so subtly, almost always landing a perfect shot, we recognised a man of experience, confidence, care for detail and mindfulness. On occasion, a cheeky smirk would come on and indicate that the multi-award-winning actor still has a spirited outlook on life. Personally, I felt assured that we have made the right choice for the cover.
While the shoot was a recent event, the first time we contacted Shaheizy was in fact back in 2012, to inform him of our plan to recognise his work with our Men of the Year decoration, following the release of the highly acclaimed Songlap, a film about baby-trafficking in the black market, and a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 25th Film Festival Malaysia (FFM) for his gripping performance as the elder of two brothers involved in the syndicate. Unfortunately, Shaheizy was occupied with filming at the time, and it has been such for the prolific actor over the past 20 years, until recently.
Today, just films alone, the 34-year-old star hailing from Johor Bahru has over 30 under his belt, from controversial to commercial hits, starting with the provocative Bohsia: Jangan Pilih Jalan Hitam, which marked Shaheizy’s big-screen debut and saw critics lauding the newcomer for his brave choice and standing out with his rendering of hoodlum angst in mat rempit style. Other highlights include high-octane Evolusi KL Drift 2 for which Shaheizy was awarded and nominated Best Supporting Actor by the FFM and Anugerah Skrin, respectively, and buddy-cop action flick Polis Evo.
In addition to action and drama, Shaheizy’s acting repertoire has been extended with lighter, endearing roles in films such as box office comedy trilogy Adnan Sempit, which showcased his range in comedy and rom-com to great effect. He juxtaposes this with heavier, multi-layered and hard-boiled stuff, which includes playing a schizo-romantic in the psychological thriller SAM: Saya Amat Mencintaimu, for which he was awarded Best Actor at the 2013 Anugerah Skrin, and, in his latest endeavour, exploring the dark side of Noir by playing detective in the upcoming crime-thriller Interchange.
Since the start of his career in entertainment, the leading man has undertaken an average of two to four films annually. Despite not having had a real break in years, according to the artist, Shaheizy shows no sign of fatigue and assured us that he remains committed to his art, crediting his continuous success thus far to his constant appetite for learning, saying, “I didn’t attend any formal acting school, so I learned by asking seasoned actors a lot of questions. Back then, I would ask about the basic things I need to be an actor. Today, I ask about how I can improve my artistry and delivery.”
Having said that, acting hasn’t always been Shaheizy’s first passion, who, in fact, comes from a family of artists. His elder brother, Jeff, was a member of the 1990s pop group A to Z, while his sister, Zizie Izette, a TV drama sweetheart, once winning the Most Promising Actress award at the 1994 FFM. Shaheizy shared that his journey into the entertainment industry began with music.
“Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a singer. I love music. I started acting when I was 12 only because I was always accompanying my sister on set, and one thing led to another until several producers started to ask if I would like to try acting. At the same time, however, I was set on pursuing music, but back then, during school days, I was faced with limited time as we only had enough to do one to two projects a year,” revealed Shaheizy.
He added, “It was also during this time that I had a group of friends who were very into the whole hip-hop/R&B scene, so we decided to give music a try, going as far as forming our own band, MOB, with my two other friends (one of whom was Sein of Ruffedge). We had a good relationship with then popular recording company Positive Tone, during the time of Paul Moss and Ahmad Izham Omar, and were fortunate enough to have their support. But when we were about to make our own album, they moved to 8TV. So we missed the chance and dissolved, but managed to make a few tracks just prior to. It was after a continued search for a pad to launch my career in music to no avail that I resumed acting.”
But all was not doomed for Shaheizy; as fate would have it, the turning point proved to be a smart move that quickly changed his life forever. “As time progressed, I learned that this is what I can do, that the talent I have is more towards acting.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the following, Shaheizy relates to us his rise to success, working style and love for the art.
Do you still feel bitter about having to put off your pursuit of music?
Strangely, I discovered that both arts, acting and music, have one thing in common—emotion. Both making music and acting have the ability to draw inspiration from an emotion and, in turn, express it in your own way. Personally, music often affects my emotion, so when I’m preparing for a role, I would usually incorporate music into the process by listening to or playing a song/tune in my head to set the tone, emotion and tempo of my character.
Do you feel that coming from a family of artists gave you a head start over your contemporaries?
It sort of worked to my advantage, coupled with an innate mindfulness and curious appetite. I’ve learned so much during those days. I was always around, and because people hadn’t noticed my presence that much, it was easy for me to move about and observe the entire filmmaking process from different perspectives. I’ve developed a huge memory bank of all the hustle and bustle on set and location, the work and challenges at hand, the crew and cast and their individual expertise, approaches and methods, and how it all comes together and makes things fall into place. This is the bag containing all the tools and know-how of my trade that I carry with me from role to role, which only gets bigger every time.
How do you normally approach a role?
For me, studying the small details and using them to great effect help to deliver a realistic performance. There are times I play a role more than once, albeit for different films. I would focus on the character as an individual, as described in the script. Again, I just need to study the details and pick them from different sources and put them all together nicely. For instance, I’ve played a detective twice now, but there are many types of detectives out there, so you just need to explore.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Learning about and adopting a character, sometimes going as far as changing yourself physically, if need be, to me is the most fun part about acting, that transformation process to another person. You get to become someone else without being judged. In doing so, however, you are also bringing in all the emotional baggage and background of the character, which can get quite overwhelming at times. In a recent film, for example, I played a lung cancer patient, and at some point during filming, I did feel scared and started to worry about my own health because I smoke a lot. What’s more, I had to lose quite a bit of weight in a very short time frame. The sudden transition was quite worrying. I believe, altogether I lost 8kg for the role. Personally, every time I play another person and experience all that he is going through, I develop a new perspective and begin to see similar situations from different sides and have a better understanding of reality.
Having worked back to back for so long, how do you decompress and stay committed?
I’m a loner when it comes down to it. When I get out of my comfort zone, it’s usually for work. When I switch off, I would just be on my own, in my room. Having said that, I spend these alone times thinking about what’s new out there, working, researching, experimenting with little details and see what I can add to my character.
Tell us about your time working on the upcoming Interchange directed by Dain Said?
I play a detective, Detective Man. Working with Dain Said was perhaps one of the most challenging times I’ve had, but in a good way, in that it pushed me further and taught me a lot. He’s a perfectionist. They took two years to prepare for the filming. The atmosphere on set was occasionally tense, simply because everyone wanted to meet his perfection and deliver their best and every necessary detail, so there was this huge responsibility on everyone’s shoulders, hoping to achieve the best, especially after knowing that Dain had plans to showcase this film overseas.
COMING SOON: INTERCHANGE
Starring Shaheizy, Iedil Putra and Indonesia’s Nicholas Saputra and Prisia Nasution, Interchange is described as a detective thriller meets Asian folklore, which follows a hard-nosed cop and a crime photographer as their friendship is being tested following a murder investigation. The probe soon leads them to the mystical underbelly of a city of dark secrets where shamans, supernatural beings and superstitions come to life. Directed by the acclaimed Dain Said of Bunohan fame, the film premiered in August at the Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland, and is scheduled for its nationwide release on 1 December 2016.
Watch the trailer here.