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When Local Actor Fir Rahman Met Ryan Gosling and Fan Bing Bing

The Apprentice breakout actor tells us about his starry adventures at the Asian Film Awards and Cannes Film Festival.

Fir Rahman arrives very early for our interview at the Mediacorp campus. We find him standing in a dark corner somewhere in the building, typing furiously on his iPhone. “Oh, sorry, I was Instagramming lah!” he exclaims sheepishly when he spots us. After all, @fir_rahman has some 16K followers on Instagram to update. He seems incredibly relaxed, even though he has a long day of rehearsals for his new play Hope ahead of him. So chill is Fir, even his denim shirt is embroidered with the phrase, ‘Make Pizza Not War’. The actor has just returned from the Asian Film Awards ceremony in Hongkong, where he was nominated for the Best Newcomer Award for playing a conflicted prison officer in local auteur Boo Junfeng’s critically acclaimed film The Apprentice. It’s the first time a Singaporean actor has been nominated in that category in the history of the awards. 

8 DAYS: Congrats on your nomination! Even though you didn’t bag the trophy,  we’re still really proud of you.
FIR RAHMAN: Thank you! It was quite a heavy responsibility, to be honest. I felt like I was carrying Singapore’s hopes on my shoulders. (Laughs) I was at the gym when my [Apprentice] producer called to tell me I was nominated. My first thought was, “Really ah?” I thought I was included just to fill up the numbers. It was an uphill struggle for me to win lah, since there were many other strong contenders like [Korean actress] Kim Tae Ree, who acted really well in [Korean psychological thriller] The Handmaiden. I wasn’t surprised that she won the Best Newcomer award. We were seated next to each other at the awards and chatted a bit. She couldn’t really speak English, but she was more fluent in it than [Taiwanese actress] Jelly Lin. (Laughs) I also saw Fan Bing Bing, but she was with a bodyguard so I didn’t dare talk to her.

Fir at the Asian Film Awards last month, where he was nominated for Best Newcomer (the prize eventually went to Korean actress Kim Tae Ree). 

Fir Rahman in The Apprentice as prison officer Aiman, who is forced to decide if he should take over the job of an executioner (played by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su) who had hanged his father. 

Were you disappointed about the loss?
I’d be lying if I say I wasn’t sad, but I was happy to be able to fly our Singapore flag high. And we did win something — our editing team won the Best Editor prize. We beat Train of Busan for that, and how good was that movie! (Laughs)

In your movie, you play a prison officer who’s asked to be the apprentice to the facility’s executioner, the same man who had executed your character’s father. Has your stand on capital punishment changed?
Before the movie, I was actually pro-capital punishment. But [as research for the movie] we spoke to past prison officers and the families of executed prisoners, and it is hard not to [feel for them]. So yes, it has changed my mind. 

Fir with his The Apprentice co-stars Wan Hanafi Su and Mastura Ahmad (First and third from left respectively) and director Boo Junfeng (second from left) at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Photo: Cannes Film Festival 

You also attended the Cannes Film Festival last year.
At Cannes we got six minutes of standing ovation [when The Apprentice was screened]. It was really surreal to see myself on the silver screen in front of an international audience, considering that it was my first movie. It was fun to see Hollywood celebs in real life. [My co-star, Malaysian actor] Wan Hanafi Su and I heard a commotion near us and ran over to see what happened. It was Ryan Gosling. (Laughs)

Did starring in The Apprentice and getting nominated for an award help you get more jobs?
Yes, I got more theatre gigs, like a role in [local playwright] Haresh Sharma’s play Hope [which was recently staged at the Esplanade], and Toy Factory’s play Prism earlier this year. I’m also filming the second season of [Ch 5’s] Lion Moms where I play Nurul Aini’s husband. Before I auditioned for The Apprentice, I did not even know what a feature film was. But I went for it anyway ’cos actors are always looking for jobs. There were people who thought I would jack up my asking pay after the nomination, but no lah. That would be crazy!

Ever considered doing a Ch 8 drama?
I did. I’ve been thinking about learning a new language for some time, maybe Mandarin or Korean so that I can act in K-dramas too. (Laughs) I want to go international.

You were a personal trainer before you got into showbiz. Are you still into fitness these days?
I stopped being a personal trainer in 2014 when I was cast in The Apprentice. Now I just train 'cos I like fitness. But if there are no active acting jobs, I might go back to personal training again. I’m a dad with a one-year-old daughter and four-year-old son [to feed]! (Laughs)  

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