Aaron Aziz: I want to give Malaysian artists the break they never had

Aziz returns to MediaCorp TV Channel 5 to star in the new sitcom 'Meet The MP'. — TODAY pic
Aziz returns to MediaCorp TV Channel 5 to star in the new sitcom 'Meet The MP'. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, March 17 — Aaron Aziz is glad that Singapore hasn’t forgotten him, because he hasn’t forgotten Singapore. This week, the actor and producer returns to MediaCorp TV Channel 5 to star in the new sitcom "Meet The MP" as Danial Razali, a newly elected Member of Parliament (MP) clearly out of his depth among the quirky residents of his constituency. The show also stars Oon Shu An, R Chandra and Zhu Mimi.

Having spent the past decade growing his career in Malaysia, the 39-year-old jumps at opportunities to work here, as well as to use his influence to help other Singaporean entertainers expand their market. And for him, spending time here is always nostalgic.

“It felt so good to be back. I’m just happy that I’m not totally forgotten,” he said.

Far from it — even his original fan club is still intact. “They are still friends,” he revealed. “Back then, they were still in school. Some of them are now married with kids and hold professional jobs.”

Neither has he forgotten his pre-movie-star years. Shooting Meet The MP in Housing and Development Board estates brought back lots of memories for Aaron (“we don’t have those kinds of blocks in Malaysia”), especially of the time he spent working on four seasons of the popular police TV series Heartlanders. He would reminisce: “I used to wait at this spot for cabs. This is where I used to play soccer. I used to run behind that block and steal Vincent’s perfume! Vincent Ng always brought his perfume everywhere.”

“Danial in Meet The MP — I see the real me in him. He’s here, but he’s not really here. He has been missing out on so much and things are just not how they used to be. They don’t run things like how they used to. That’s where I feel I am right now.”

Over in Malaysia, he said, things can get a little crazy. “It’s work, work, work — I don’t even have time to have flashbacks — old memories, sweet memories. Everything’s all about the future and, ‘Let’s do more, do more.’ But I don’t want to forget the past.”

When one returns home after years abroad, even the disappearance of one’s favourite cafe can be rather symbolic. “There used to be a Delifrance at Wisma Atria. Is it still called Wisma? That was my spot,” Aaron recalled. “I would just sit there, especially during the Christmas season when Orchard Road was lit up, have a cup of coffee, and just look at people having nice conversations. I want to do that again — but I can’t. Where is my Delifrance?”

He laughed: “I hope this is not some kind of turning-40 syndrome.”

Giving people what they never had

With the big 4-0 looming next year, Aaron doesn’t know if he’s feeling a crisis coming on. The only thing he’s sure of is that he has changed.

“I just don’t see myself being angry any more,” he said. “I used to be someone who, for example, if I saw a dad spanking a child in public, I would want to go to the dad and smack him back. But now, I would go to the child and pacify him, then the father. I’ve gone in that direction: I’m not going to give you back what you’ve given to other people — I’m just going to give them what they’ve never had.”

That’s why he feels it’s important for him to do his part for other Singaporeans looking for their big break. “I’ve always wanted for my fellow countrymen who are in the industry to expand their horizons. I want them to soar,” he said. “Knowing that some Malay actors here have not even done film — how sad does that sound? That’s why, whenever a director or producer in Malaysia says, ‘Aaron, do you know any new faces?’ I call my Singaporean friends. Like the MP, I have connections!”

Some Singaporean names who owe their success across the Causeway to him are actors Adi Putra, Shah Iskandar and Suhaila Salam; stylist Fatimah Mohsin; and hip-hop duo Sleeq, whom he manages. “I always tell (Sleeq), ‘You come to Malaysia already sorted — you have a car and a manager’. I came here with nothing. I learnt the hard way,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t ever stop working hard and don’t change.’

“The problem with youngsters these days is that after they’ve been in the industry for two years and they get popular, they turn diva. You’re killing your own career. I say, ‘Don’t come to Malaysia and be a diva and make people start to hate Singaporean actors.’ There is a lot of damage repair that I’ve done (for the reputation of Singaporean actors in Malaysia), so don’t go f*** it up. When I do meet these people, I give them my two cents’ worth. They just need to stop thinking that once you’re up, you can never go down. No way, man.”

‘I’m like Jenga’

There’s no doubt that Aaron himself is still “up” there and influential. But the idea of going into politics for real cracks him up. “I’d make a screwed-up MP,” he laughed. “I would not run the place properly. We would have chewing gum back. Let’s have chewing gum back! You need to chew your misery away!”

However, there’s one aspect in which he would make a good candidate for political office: He’s famously scandal-free, although he isn’t so sure that’s a plus point. “There’s a danger there, you know. I’m like Jenga. They’re just waiting for me to drop one brick, so they can see me tumbling down,” he said. “It doesn’t stress me because I don’t see the need to go in that direction, but because they are waiting for the slightest mistake, the dumbest thing can be made into an issue.

“Come on, find something else to talk about instead of writing rubbish, lah.”

He can think of another reason not to run for office: “People wouldn’t take me seriously.” In fact, people already don’t take him for who he is. The reason being that he has done so well in two genres – romantic comedies such as Ombak Rindu and action flicks such as KL Gangster. His image in people’s minds is either that of the romantic hero or the tough guy.

“Some people see me as loving husband and father: ‘Aaron, you cannot fight. You have to do love scenes.’ Other people are like, ‘No! You have to do action!’ So, no one is going to take me seriously, because no one takes me for who I am. They think I am the person they see onscreen. I’ve become - I don’t know what you call it - a product, or whatever.”

The real Aaron Aziz, he said, is a bit of both the lover and the fighter. “Some actors tell me they get carried away because they just don’t know how to get out of their character, even after the show is done. I say, ‘Bulls***.’ You get cast because they see something that is you in the character. If everybody could act in that role, they wouldn’t have to do casting,” he stated.

Going forward, there’s nothing he would like more than to break out of those two stereotypes, although that may take some time to achieve: He’s going to start shooting another romantic film soon. “I used to do roles that people want. I don’t want to do that any more. I want to do roles that I’ve never even given myself the opportunity to like or dislike,” he said. “It has always been, ‘You should and you must. You did too many love stories; let’s do action. Oh, too much action — let’s do a love story.’ There has been a whole team planning what to do with my life. Now, I want to do what I want.”

And what does he want? “I want to play a character based on a factual event,” he said. “But not as someone famous. Someone nobody even knows about until you learn about him, like the guy who walked 50km to work in the United States every day until somebody gave him a car. Characters that make you think, ‘My gosh, I didn’t know this kind of suffering existed.’” — TODAY