In the meWATCH telemovie Papa Pilot, Fir Rahman plays Ashraf, a commercial aviator who’s grounded, in more ways than one, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Domestic chaos ensues when he stays home to look after the kids while his wife (Farhana M Noor), a nurse, toils at the hospital. Fir, 40, best known for his lead role in Boo Junfeng’s 2016 capital punishment film Apprentice (more of that in a bit) and as Nurul Aini’s army husband in the dramedy series Lion Mums, the Father’s Day-themed dramedy was the most challenging project he’d ever worked on: he boarded it just three weeks after the birth of his son in March. Calling from Batam where he’s currently sequestered for a highly secretive “international production”, Fir — who has three other children, aged eight, five and three — tells 8days.sg what he endured during the making of Papa Pilot.
1/ Papa Pilot was shot in eight days: Besides a few exterior shots at Changi Airport, filming was mostly done in his character’s house — by all accounts, it wasn’t a difficult production. But for Fir, it was the longest — and most gruelling — eight days he’d ever experienced. “I had a very tiring shoot,” says he. “Not from playing the character but because at night, I had to help my wife to feed and look after the baby. On the next day, I had to return to the set. I was sleepy most of the time.”
2/ He has resigned himself to portraying fathers onscreen: As a father of four, Fir finds it easier and easier to play patriarchal figures onscreen (see Lion Mums, the ‘Tamarind’ ep of the HBO anthology Food Lore). “It really helps a lot with the way I talk, the way I respond to my [fictional] kids.” He says. “I can relate to playing fathers; I cannot imagine that I don’t have a kid.” Does he feel typecast? “All actors will go through that phase lah,” he muses. “I’ve been acting since my 20s. I started out playing students, then characters doing their National Service, someone getting married soon, and now a father. I’m taking one day at a time. Soon, soon, in 10 years’ time, I’m going to play a granddad!”
3/ Coping with life during the circuit breaker period: When the CB struck, Fir had to shut down production on Poop!, Malay Theatre group Teatre Ekamatra’s adaptation of Chong Tze Chien’s play about the impact of a man's suicide on his family. “Other than that, I wasn’t greatly affected,” says Fir, who spent the first two months of lockdown “doing nothing” with the family. Well, not nothing: he and his then-Primary One son were acclimatising to home-based learning. “I was really stressed at home,” he recalls. “I can’t imagine being a teacher with 30 kids in a class. I cannot tahan just being a teacher for my own kid!” Elsewhere, the erstwhile personal trainer bought a road bike and started cycling with a group of friends about twice a week. But once production resumed in June, Fir hit the ground running with back-to-back shoots. “Although most of our friends in other sectors were affected, it didn’t hit me that much,” says Fir. “I’m blessed in a way.”
4/Fatherhood in the time of Covid-19: “I have four kids right now. I need to give more time to them,” says Fir. It’s all about time management, he adds. While he was away in Batam (since early May), he kept in touch with his family via video calls every day. But the separation was especially hard on his daughter. “She is close to me, so she’s crying every time I go online with her,” he says. “But now she’s okay…now, its like a new norm of having me around.” Fir hopes that after he returns to Singapore later this week, he can find time for his family as well as for himself. “I hope my baby doesn’t ask for milk too much at night, so at least I can go cycling at night.”
5/ Apprentice turns five: Five years on, Fir still regards Boo Junfeng’s acclaimed film — where he plays a conflicted correctional officer who believes in rehabilitation but is being groomed to be an executioner — as a gift that keeps on giving. His breakout turn earned him a Best Newcomer nod at the Asian Film Awards and opened many doors for him, including his first English theatre play, Toy Factory’s Prism, the Malaysian action thriller Polis Evos 2, and the Eric Khoo-helmed episode ‘Tamarind’ in HBO’s Asian cuisine-inspired series Food Lore. Can we see another Fir Rahman-Boo Junfeng team-up anytime soon? “I don’t dare to ask him,” Fir laughs. “He has yet to announce his next film. If you look at his first movie [2010’s Sandcastle], he didn’t reuse the same cast [for Apprentice]. So I don’t expect him to approach me again. But it was very nice working with him.”
Photos: Suria (Fir Rahman main); Zhao Wei Films; HBO Asia; Fir Rahman/Instagram