Deanna Yusoff "unglamourised" for "1965"
Writer: Florey DM
Sezairi Sezali (left) and Deanna Yusoff posing with Cinnamon the Lion.
Malaysian actress Deanna Yusoff and Singapore Idol winner Sezairi Sezali recently starred in the Singaporean movie, "1965".
The movie, filmed in celebration of Singapore's 50th year of independence, is currently showing in Singaporean cinemas and is scheduled for release in Malaysia this 20 August, though there are doubts that the movie might not be screened in the latter country.
Nevertheless, Cinema Online had the chance to talk with the onscreen mother and son duo at the movie's press conference at Capitol Theatre, Singapore recently.
Find out what Deanna thinks about playing her first ever purely Malay (and no-makeup!) role and why Sezairi is impressed with the art team of "1965".
Spot Sezairi and Deanna among the cast of "1965".
Cinema Online: Hi, so who do you play in "1965"?
Sezairi Sezali: I play Adi, Khatijah's son. He just graduated from the Academy and he's very new to the force. Basically, the character itself just gets thrown into this mess that's called "real life". So he's not used to seeing things from a real world's perspective and he's suddenly thrown into all these stereotypes that he never thought existed. It was a very interesting trip for Adi because he's somewhat a very innocent character. He's very neutral and fresh.
Deanna Yusoff: My character is Khatijah, I play Adi's mum. If you were to see her on the street, you wouldn't notice her, she's just a common person. There's nothing really interesting about her life until something happens to her, which I wouldn't say what as that would be a spoiler. She then embarks on this journey where she feels a lot of anger and frustration, she feels sorry for herself. With the unrest happening at the time, everything happens very fast and for her, her journey is really to decide whether she wants to stay a bitter woman for the rest of her life or is she going to move towards something where there's growth. It's kind of parallel to what happened to Singapore, they were faced with a huge challenge and they have to decide the outcome.
How was that like, being involved in a project like "1965"?
Sezairi: It was very interesting because this was my first acting job, my first movie... my first everything really! It was quite interesting for me as a newcomer to be able to take this job and suddenly be exposed to such greatness in terms of acting technicalities and production. I think everything was next level in this film. You're working with the best people that the country has to offer. I sort of didn't absorb it so much until I was on the set. I was learning on the job and I was just so amazed every day at how everyone did everything, I got a lot of help from Deanna.
The onscreen mother and son duo praising each other's job well done.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Sezairi: I was told Deanna Yusoff was going to play my mother, that's why I agreed to do the role [laughs]. I actually got approached out of pure randomness. They were casting Adi, they were trying to cast a few other people but the art director Tommy was the one who suggested me. So I went for the audition. Apparently, they had a picture of Adi in their mind and I guess when I walked into the door, it was me, that was it.
Deanna: I was offered this role for the first time a few years ago. They've been trying to make this movie for the past five years. There was an initial casting and I was asked to read for the role of Khatijah but it never happened. It was silent for two years and then I got a call from a friend of mine about the same role again. I met up with the director in KL, he came down and we talked. When you look at the role on paper, you would not think about me, because it could come across as she has to be Malay but the character is actually Eurasian, she was mixed to show that at the time there were already people who were mixed, then you would think oh she would be very Malay.
Deanna Yusoff as Khatijah in "1965".
Did they [the production] have any concern with casting you? Or did you have any concern about playing the part?
Deanna: When they looked at me, their biggest concern was "you look too glamorous, too elegant, and you always have a lot of makeup on. Can we 'unglamourise' you?" And I said, "No makeup? Great!" [laughs]. I love to play a role where it's not about how you look but more like how you feel.
Even though I'm Eurasian, the character's very different from how I was raised because I was raised in two different cultures, Khatijah wasn't. If a person looks at this [situation in "1965"] and was exposed to it having that European background, she would've reacted differently. Sometimes I'd go why did she do that? Because my European side will go that's not how I would react. It was really nice to explore that because I've never been offered a pure Malay character.
Was this project very challenging for you?
Sezairi: As a songwriter, a musician for the past five years in the music industry, you sort of have to learn to be yourself. That was the point of being a songwriter, to let people listen to your music or stories. So being an actor is a totally different thing for me, I have to unlearn all these things about being myself and learn to be someone else. I think that was the biggest challenge for me.
Deanna: On every set, especially when there are a lot of creative people involved, there are egos. That's always been a problem for me in every production that I do, not just film but everything else too. I think to me in this production it was learning with not letting that interfere with my work. And I think I achieved that. I was able to go on set and really enjoy the whole process of being an actor and trying to create magic in front of the camera.
Adi and Khatijah in one of the scenes from "1965".
What was the most interesting thing about working on "1965"?
Deanna: To me the greatest thing in this production is, like he was saying earlier, that we were working with the best. That's so true. Everybody knew what they were doing, everybody were professionals, that is rare. Here in Asia, especially in Malaysia, we don't have the budget and a team trained to be like that. And this was considered a big budget movie, for Singapore it is. It's just so nice to work in a production where you know everyone's got your back, even the extras, they're all from Batam, they were amazing. You didn't feel like you were on set. It was reality. Because of the way everyone behaved, it felt like they weren't around and it was a real life situation.
I had this kind of feeling when I work on foreign production, either American or French, it's nice because all you have to think about is what you have to do, just be an actor, you don't have to worry about everything else. But here in Asia, it's a bit of a challenge. That's why I had a great time shooting "1965", I really didn't have any problems apart from my own learning on how to go on set and saying this is about doing the best shot.
Sezairi: That and the art team on this movie is incredible. They rebuilt Geylang serai and all these landmarks from scratch. Even down to the tiniest details, like the old F&N cans even though these things aren't in the shot, but when you walk pass the shop [on set] you will see all these little things. There was even dried fish smell on the road. They're just there to make you feel like you're really there, the roads are always wet and then there's the uncle down there frying char kway teow for real. Everything is so real and it just makes you feel transported to another place. And that makes our jobs as actors a lot easier.
Sezairi and Deanna happy with "1965".
What other projects are you working on?
Sezairi: I just released a song for this film that I worked on with Malaysian producer, Malique. He produced my latest single called "Selamat Pagi". We got Amyra Rosli to be in the music video, which will be out some time this August. Then I'm releasing an English album towards the end of this year. So far that's it. Sounds so simple right, releasing an album? But I've been working on it every day for the past two years.
Cinema Online, 17 August 2015
Deanna: I shot another movie since. A Malaysian movie called "Aku Haus Darahmu", it's a horror movie. I don't know when it's going to come out, what I heard its early next year. It's a very small cast, there was only five of us including Nad Zainal and SWEET. It involves dance so I had to go into training for the dance. We only had one month to train. Suhaili Micheline, the choreographer, she took influences from the Indian classical dance and Malay Mak Yong. Because it's horror, our dance has a very animalistic sort of movement.
Sezairi: So scary, just listening to this is scary!
Deanna: [Laughs] I had a solo dance, too. I can't spoil the movie for you, you'll have to wait and see it but yeah, it was interesting to work on something like that.