For those who have seen actor Joe Taslim as Manas, the alien badass in the latest Hollywood space opera Star Trek Beyond, most would agree that the actor has slowly but steadily grown as a thespian. Sure, Joe was unrecognisable as Manas with layered prosthetics turning him into a lizard-like alien character, but isn’t that what an actor is supposed to do? Get fully immersed in his role, with or without fantastic make-up prosthetics?
Born in Palembang, South Sumatra, Joe Taslim came to worldwide acclaim after his role as Jaka in the 2011 cult action movie The Raid in which he played a police officer. The Chinese-Indonesian actor then rocketed into the limelight after playing a cold-blooded killer in the box-office hit Fast & Furious 6 in 2013, and, of course, in one of the biggest movie franchises, Star Trek Beyond.
If this seems like an escalated stairway to stardom to many, it really is given that Joe landed his first main role at the age of 29, just six years ago. Previously, Joe has starred in Karma (2008) and Rasa (2009)in supporting roles.
However, just as motion pictures have their opening credits, Joe Taslim’s first real-life role was as an athlete at the age of 16, mastering martial arts such as karate, pencak silatand judo, with the latter earning him numerous medals in regional and national competitions. But after a decade of practice and one near-fatal injury, Joe decided to retire and pursue his first love: acting.
“Since I was a little kid I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I remember the time my late father used to take me to watch action movies like Chuck Norris’s and Bruce Lee’s flicks. But I guess I held back on the dream when I was an athlete and decided to pursue it again after I retired in 2009,” he says.
When you meet Joe Taslim you will immediately be aware of two things: his commanding presence and his burly physique. These two elements are essential for a movie star, but not everyone acquires them the way that Joe did—from long, gruelling training years.
“In my case, the transition from being an athlete to being an actor wasn’t too bumpy. Of course, these are two very different worlds, but both fields demand similar work ethics and routines. As an athlete, I had to keep on practicing and be strong and focused, and I applied those routines to my current profession.”
His nage-waza (a judo throwing technique) might have helped lead Joe Taslim to his big break, but making it in Hollywood called for a whole new ballgame. The thespian told us that he regularly enrolled in short-term acting classes here and there and flew to Los Angeles (he is represented by ICM Partners) to build good relationships with casting directors and to expand his network.
“The competition in Hollywood is high, and as a non-American actor it’s important to see and to be seen, especially since Hollywood’s casting directors would rather opt for Korean or Japanese actors to play Asian roles,” he tells us.
Joe also confessed about his fear of not getting offers after Fast & Furious 6 since he thought Tinseltown’s casting directors wouldn’t make him a priority. But Joe’s jitters faded away after he landed Star Trek Beyond: “I always feel more confident after completing new projects, but after this movie [Star Trek]I realised I shouldn’t fear about not getting further in my career. Of course any actor’s career is fickle and unpredictable, but I am keeping myself positive for what comes next.”
There’s no denying that the Hollywood industry has a larger-than-life effect that actors crave, but for Joe what matters more than “making it” in Hollywood is starring in good-quality movies, whether they’re big-budget blockbusters or small indie movies.
“The common misconception about Hollywood is that when an actor has starred in one project it creates some sort of immunity for the rest of his or her career—and that’s just not true,” he shrugs. “I am very grateful to have been a part of the biggest movie industry in the world, but in the end I’m really just looking for good scripts, whether it’s in Hollywood or the local movie industry,” he says, adding that he is about to film an exciting new Indonesian movie. No further details yet, sadly.
Speaking of the silver screen, we asked Joe about his take on Indonesian movie industry and the actor told us that that the industry is facing an exciting period at the moment, but still lacks new talent to produce good movies. “This year  is probably the best year for our movie industry and has made working as an actor much more exciting. We have many rising stars from actors to writers and directors,” he tells us.
“But the industry is still small-scale and we need more talent if we want to grow and expand. For example, there are only a handful of film schools throughout the country and this prohibits younger talent from finding their feet. Our homework right now is to keep on producing better movies by exploring more varied scripts and genres,” he says, adding that the government should support future talents by developing more film schools.
After a brief time chatting with Joe Taslim, one notices a certain vulnerability and humbleness in his matter-of-fact voice and charismatic persona—a grounded superstar who doesn’t let his ego gets to him, yet someone who still embraces his success with pride and gratification.
This same attitude is what drew Joe to work together with a new director after his huge success with the romantic comedy La Tahzan (2013) and to spare time to take selfies with his avid fans. He has also participated in campaigns such as the current breast cancer awareness campaign with the Indonesian Breast Cancer Foundation, where we had this intimate interview.
“The key to fame and success is to be appreciative and not to get greedy,” says Taslim. “I always make sure to lock the hungry demon inside of me and so far, I think I have managed to keep him in check,” he says with a smile.
(Photos from Indonesia Tatler September 2013 Issue Fashion Spread Featuring Joe Taslim)