Interview by Leo Maxam
For Varun Tandjung, “drama” used to mean whether or not he would get the score he needed to win his heat, or when he and little bro Sinar would get into a heated karate match in the living room and break something. Then Hollywood came calling – well, Jakarta actually – and drama took on a whole new meaning for the Bali grom. Varun was cast by legendary Indonesian filmmakers Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza for a starring role in Kulari Ke Pantai, Indonesia’s first major motion picture about surfing.
With Kulari Ke Pantai now landing in theaters across Indonesia and Southeast Asia, Varun says he’s in no rush to trade his Hurley boardshorts and Pyzel surfboard for hair and makeup every day. But don’t be surprised if you see him in another acting role in the near future. BELLY caught up with Varun at the world premiere of Kulari Ke Pantai in Jakarta to talk about his surprise journey from the beach to the big screen.
BELLY: Your Uncle Marlon was on the TV show Joe Millionaire, and I remember your dad acting in a few skits in Taylor Steele movies like Loose Change and The Show. So who’s the best actor in the family?
Varun: (Laughs) We’re all pretty good actors, but I would have to say I’m the best since I’m in a bigger movie.
Are there any Hollywood films about surfing that got it right?
The best Hollywood surf movie is definitely Surf’s Up [the animated film with the penguins]. The cartoon characters really act like surfers I know and it makes for a lot of funny scenes. And the Kulari Ke Pantai crew isn’t from Hollywood, but they definitely did their homework and got all the surfing scenes right for this film.
Did you give surf lessons or surfing advice to any of your co-stars in the movie?
Yeah, I gave most of my surfing advice to (Suku) Dani, who was still learning to do turns and gain speed. He has gotten a lot better since I first saw him surf.
What did you think when Mira first approached you about the role?
My dad [Rizal Tandjung] told me that Mira wanted me to be in her upcoming movie. I remember watching her movies back in Indonesian class in school and I always loved them, so I was happy to say ‘yes’ to the role.
Was this a one-time thing, or do you want to continue pursuing acting and film roles
Hopefully I can have more roles and do more acting. I never really saw myself as an actor because I wasn’t the best in drama class in school, but if I get paid well, then why not?
If your acting career took off would you consider moving to Jakarta?
(Laughs) No way. I was there for three days and by the third day I was already stressing out because I needed to surf!
What was the best acting advice you received in preparation for the movie?
I was lucky enough to work with Riri Riza who is one of the best film directors in Indonesia. He helped me prepare for the movie and he had some good advice for me – mainly to have fun, because acting and shooting all day can be stressful and tiring. So try to have fun in between shoots.
What did you learn from your fellow actors in the film?
I mostly learned from Riri and my other acting coaches, but my fellow actors helped me memorize my lines because at first I kept forgetting them (laughs).
How were you feeling heading into the premiere and what was it like to watch yourself on the big screen in a packed movie theater for the first time?
I was super nervous about how the movie would turn out, but after the premiere everyone said that they really enjoyed my scenes, so I was feeling relieved, proud and happy all the same time.
Tell me about the suit you wore to the premiere. Whose idea were the suits and did you pick your suit yourself?
The custom suits were made by my dad’s friend Okar. He was kind enough to make my dad, my little brother and I suits. I got to pick what kind of print I wanted on my suit and I chose the famous Hokusai wave print. I thought it would be great fit – no pun intended – for a movie about the beach.
What do you think Kulari Ke Pantai will do for surfing in Indonesia?
Hopefully surfing in Indonesia will receive more support from the government after this movie comes out. One of the main reasons tourists come to Indonesia is to surf the best waves in the world. I heard that surfing will not be in the Asian Games being held in Indonesia this year, which is disappointing. Hopefully Indonesia can make it to the Olympics for surfing in 2020. I believe Indonesia’s best chance to win a gold medal at the Olympics will be in the surfing event. I also heard that the Indonesian President is going to have a special screening of Kulari Ke Pantai, so hopefully after watching he will want to help support surfing in Indonesia.
Why should people go see Kulari Ke Pantai?
I think people should watch it because it’s really educational for kids. It shows young people that it’s actually cool to put down your phone and see what is happening around you – especially in a beautiful place like Indonesia. It’s also a great story about how the beach brings people together. And you should also watch because I’m in it!
* Kulari Ke Pantai will make its Bali premiere on Thursday, 5th July at Cinema XXI in Beachwalk Shopping Center, Kuta. Don’t miss it!