Actor Nicholas Saputra is one of the most well-known faces in the country and perhaps its most reserved individual as well. Starting his career early at the tender age of 18 in the romantic classic Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (2002), Nico (as the public affectionately calls him) has grown up in the public eye. So it made sense that the 33-year-old actor chose to live under the radar and resorted to travelling to experience the world.
“I like riding on a bus, but I can’t do that here since people will instantly recognise me. This is why I love riding on public transport whenever I travel,” said Nico, starting our exclusive tête-à-tête at the extravagant Presidential Suite in The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place.
Standing tall at 175cm, Nicholas Saputra kept it simple by wearing a navy-blue gingham shirt paired with black pants and hair kept clean and short. We were there to discuss about his utmost passion in life: travelling.
“I am not sure from where I got the passion to explore the world. I guess I grew up watching a lot of films and TV shows related to animals and nature and that inspired me. Most of my travels are based on my curiosity and imagination. ‘How does it feel if you see it for yourself?’ I like to ask myself.”
Travelling to Bandung with his group of high-school friends was Nico’s first travel experience, followed by a visit to the UK after his graduation. Asked him what was his fondest travelling memories and you will come up short. “I can’t just pick one. There were a lot of stories,” he insisted. But when asked about the scariest, he will give you three different, but equally interesting, anecdotes.
“During my trip to Flores, it was raining, so we couldn’t hike and we ended up in a local fisherman’s village and hired a boat. Because of the weather, we were stranded on the beach in a small boat with three metres tall of waves in front,” recalled Nicholas before continuing with his second story, which took place in the middle of a Thai blue sky in 2011.
“That would be my first and last time doing skydiving! The jumping part was not the scariest bit, actually—it was when they opened the plane door for 45 minutes and you waited there and the air slowly became colder and colder and we went higher and higher. The jumping part was actually relieving.”
The third story involves Nicholas and another eight people in a small rubber boat in Aceh, North Sumatera, where they took tubing for six hours going against crazy river streams.
With these kinds of extreme stories, admittedly not all of which are so adrenaline-pumping, one can’t help and wonder what travelling means to Nico. “It means many things, really. It can be for relaxing, obviously, but for me as an actor, travel also helps me since that’s the only time I can observe people. Aside from travelling abroad, I also like to travel to Indonesia’s remote areas to learn more about my own culture,” said Nico, further adding that he seeks architecture, history, culture and anthropology in his travels.
Speaking of acting, we discussed what he has learned throughout his more-than-a-decade career? “I think I learned from every character I played, because it’s important to give something to my characters as well as to learn something from them. Somehow I am shaped by my characters, I think,” said Nico.
“For example, I learned a lot from Gie (a movie based on Indonesian activist Soe Hok Gie), who had such a strong personality. Even with Rangga in Ada Apa Dengan Cinta—I had no interest in Indonesian literature before the film and he introduced me to it. The things I have learned from my career range from the mere trivial to much more substantial things I must say.”
When it comes to his success, this Piscean thespian defines it as a process: “I don’t know whether success is the destination or the journey, but I know that it’s a success when I am constantly evolving and I learned something new out of it. Success is a journey when you really enjoy it and, of course, to keep up your integrity,” Nico explained.
With his deep-deadly stare, chiselled jawline and soft-spoken mannerisms, being near Nicholas Saputra can be quite intimidating. But asked the right questions and Nico will ease up a little and light up the room. I asked him why he likes to travel alone and why he thinks everyone should do it.
“You make more friends when you do solo travelling. For example, when I was in Rio for the street carnival, there was this guy who randomly conversed with me in Portuguese at me and when I said I am not Portuguese and that I am Indonesian, he called up his other mates and we ended up being friends. I even stayed at their place the next trip I went to Brazil,” Nico laughed.
“And I think sometimes people do pity you when you travel alone and try to reach out more,” he continued. “During my time in Morocco, I took a train from Casablanca to Marrakech. I sat there and fall asleep and woke up to someone asking me whether I am travelling alone and when I said ‘yes’, he introduced me to his cousins who owns a café in the city and who gave me a great tour after,” said Nico, adding that he can’t travel in big groups; the biggest would be a group of eight.
Earlier this year, Nicholas Saputra was appointed as the Brand Ambassador of the luxurious, eco-friendly Nihi Sumba Island—dubbed as the best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. How did it happen? “I have been to Sumba Island many times before for filming or travelling. I had heard about Nihi Sumba before, but I never got the chance to stay until this year. And during my transit in Bali afterwards, I bumped into James McBride [the owner] and I must say I was inspired by what they are doing there,” said Nico.
“For me the meaning of true luxury is when you can get as close to nature as possible. I don’t interpret luxury as all the glitz and the glamour, and I find the true meaning of it at Nihi Sumba Island. It’s also inspiring what they are giving back to the Sumbanese, and how proud the natives are to have the hotel on their island. I also admire what Nihi are doing for the environment; for instance, there are only 33 villas across the colossal 33 hectares of land!”
It’s quite visible that Nico is very passionate about the environment. His voice deepened and his body leans forward, eager to answer the impending questions. Last year saw Nicholas Saputra in a short EU documentary film Save Our Forest Giants, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of Indonesia’s elephants and forests in a small village in North Sumatera.
The small village is called Tangkahan: an elephant sanctuary located near Gunung Leuser National Park that holds a special place in Nico’s heart. “I love that place so much. I was introduced by a friend a few years ago and I kept on going back countless of times. When I found out that the EU has a project there, I approached them to collaborate with my production house for a documentary film,” said Nico.
“Save Our Forest Giants aims to raise awareness about Elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV). It’s an epidemic that has attacked our Sumatran elephants. For now, we only know how the virus is transmitted and how it can kill the elephants in matter of hours or days. I hope the short documentary will help to promote the cause and help to fund the scientist to find the vaccine.”
Tangkahan is such a dear matter to Nico’s heart that the actor teamed up with his photographer friend Angki Purbandono and presented an art installation titled Post Jungle-Tangkahan at this year’s Art JOG exhibition. “I introduced Angki to Tangkahan and he loved the idea of making an art installation based on it. I also agreed to participate in this year’s Art JOG based on the theme ‘Changing Perspective’, because I also want to change the public’s perspective on the elephant conservatory and helped as much as I could.”
The enthusiasm in his passion and the sincerity in Nico’s voice triggered me to dig deeper about his fervour and dedication to the environment. “I do care about the environment, but I am not qualified to be called an environmentalist,” Nico gushed. “But, yes, I do feel it’s important to care about the environment. I believe it’s our social responsibility to give back to Mother Nature for we have taken a lot from Her. People living in big cities some time tend to get disconnected from Mother Nature, but don’t we realise that we need Her in order to survive? The air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth that we stand on? Because whatever you have could easily go away. In the end of the day you need to connect to nature to survive.”
For someone who has travelled to myriad countries around the world, Nico’s travel bucket list might surprise someone as his aim now is not to explore new places, but instead to rediscover the places he has been to. “I love South America and I am planning to go back to Colombia soon. I love exploring remote areas, but I do like metropolitan cities like New York, London and Tokyo. I also find it impossible to really know a place if you only visit them once. You need to go back to rediscover and to dig deeper,” said Nico with a smile.
What about Jakarta, then? “I think I will always have a love-hate relationship with this city,” laughed Nico candidly. “I love Jakarta because I have a lot of friends and there are a lot of cool places to visit, but the traffic is getting horrible! I don’t remember the last time I spent more than two weeks in Jakarta.”
Nico admitted that he likes to think a lot and he still doesn’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. He also revealed that he is the opposite of a hoarder: “I don’t even have any poster of my movies, or maybe just one or two. I didn’t see the important of looking back, but I do appreciate the past.”
His philosophy in life is also close to nothing and neither is he spiritual or philosophical. “I know the irony for someone who likes to think I don’t have a philosophy, but that’s how I am. I value happiness more than anything.” How do you define happiness, then? “My happiness comes from freedom, I guess. And yeah, now that I think about it travelling does give me that sense of freedom,” said Nico, as if he was talking to himself.
Having no feature film in sight and only one documentary about Indonesian maestros in the pipeline, Nicholas Saputra’s future plans fall back into travelling the globe, learning and evolving as a human being. What has Nico learned throughout his travel journey? “The more you travel, the more you will be more open-minded. And the more you are open to new things, the more you will be grateful for the things you have in your life,” said Nico, concluding our interview.Watch the video above to see Nicholas Saputra's adorable interview for yourself.