Down to Earth
Words by: Hiranmayii Awli Mohanan
Photographer: Barathan Amuthan
Venue: Finch KL
Styling/Wardrobe: Bernard Chandran
Venerable Malaysian actor Keith Foo comes from a mixed parentage, specifically Chinese and Indian parents, resulting in him being a fluent multilingual in Mandarin, Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia and English. Interestingly, it wasn’t passion that fuelled Keith into acting. In fact, he holds a degree in culinary arts and caught his big break on television through a commercial in Indonesia. Thenceforth, the rest, as we know, is history. Keith arrived at our destination beaming with a friendly smile, larger than life persona and a certain quietude about him. For the July issue, we get up close and personal with everything that drives the actor and all things acting.
TELL US SOMETHING YOUR FANS WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU.
That I enjoy spending time at home. Another interesting fact about me, I can eat really spicy food (maybe because I’m from Negeri Sembilan).
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT ACTING IS THE PATH YOU WOULD PURSUE AS A CAREER?
Not at all. In fact, I did culinary arts in college. I started off doing commercials, and that was by chance. My first ever commercial was at the age of 12. Subsequent to that, I received occasional offers for TV commercials. My big break was when I was offered to do a commercial in Indonesia. After that commercial, I started receiving more offers in Indonesia and that was when I decided to move there at the age of 21. Gradually, I transitioned into television dramas and later movies.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER THUS FAR?
I’d say now is my proudest moment. Despite having some setbacks over the past few years, I’m so excited for the audience to see my craft which will soon be aired/released.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE ACTING INDUSTRY?
That it is a glamorous and lucrative job. It isn’t. It is a lot of hard work, perseverance and determination.
HOW ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF THE ACTING INDUSTRY?
I felt that the creative industry has so much more to offer. Apart from entertainment, it can help power development and tourism. Just look at Japan and Korea as examples, where everyone is eager to visit the places where the movies or dramas were shot. In Malaysia, I know there are efforts being made, but the role of the creative industry in economic development has not always been at the forefront compared with the other industries. I hope we can tap into this potential.
YOU’RE A VERY NATURALISTIC ACTOR. WHAT IS YOUR METHOD IN PREPARING FOR A ROLE?
It requires a lot of research. This includes reading, watching, emulating and having conversations with people who have been through similar situation. Meditation also helps me in preparing for a role, it helps me deal with overpowering emotions, acknowledge them and accept them.
WHAT CRITERIA DO YOU USE WHEN CHOOSING A ROLE – IS IT A GUT THING?
In recent years, I have started to be more selective with the roles I want to portray. I’m all in for challenging roles. But don’t get me wrong, it is not arrogance or anything of that sort, it is just selecting a role that I want to empower, inspire, encourage and teach. There was an occasion where I was offered a role – an antagonist who abuses women, children etc. and he is proud of that. I cannot bring myself to play that because what good would I do in playing this character?
When choosing a role, intention is always the criteria. What do I intend this role to bring about when the audience sees it. For example, I’m currently shooting a drama where I play a character suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID), a severe mental health condition. I hope the audiences after watching the drama can be more mindful and empathetic of the various mental health conditions out there.
YOU SPENT ABOUT 10 YEARS IN INDONESIA. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF RETURNING TO THE INDONESIAN ENTERTAINMENT SCENE?
I’m always open for possibilities. Despite a rough and challenging start, I have had a wonderful decade in Indonesia and Indonesia will always be in my heart.
IT’S BOTH WONDERFUL AND AN ASSET THAT YOU’RE MULTILINGUAL. HOW HAS IT HELPED YOUR CAREER THUS FAR AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU SPEAK THESE LANGUAGES.
I speak different languages with different people – Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Bahasa Indonesia. I’m not sure if being multilingual has helped me in my career but when you speak someone’s language, not only you understand what they are telling you, but you connect on a different level.
YOU COME FROM A MIXED PARENTAGE – AN INTERPLAY OF CULTURES. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS YOUR PARENTS TAUGHT YOU THAT YOU’RE NOW PRACTISING WITH YOUR DAUGHTER?
To always go back to your roots. You’ll never go wrong.
WE WOULD SAY THAT YOU’RE A SUCCESSFUL ACTOR. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE SUCCESS AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
I think success is always doing your best. Success can be achieved when you try your best and be excellent in all aspects of everything you do, even if that doesn’t lead to big results.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND HOW IT FEEDS INTO YOUR CAREER?
For me, social media is like a life journal and when you use it well, it’ll serve you its intended purpose. Because I have this platform, I’m mindful of my younger followers. I want to be truthful and transparent because what you post out there is a reflection of you.
ARE THERE ANY PROJECTS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US IN THE PIPELINE?
There are a few coming up, most of them are dramas that I shot during the pandemic.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO ASPIRING ACTORS OUT THERE?
Not to give up chasing your dream. You will encounter a lot of disappointments along the way but keep your head up, keep going and stay positive. You will get through it.
Also, be competitive but use it in a good way with the intention to pave the way for others and make their path easier. You will realise you too will come out as a happier person.