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Bruce Lee

Q&A: Aarif Rahman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am

Aarif Rahman is perhaps best known as the actor who played the eldest son of a shoemaking couple in Echoes Of The Rainbow, which won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival this year. But the 23-year-old is also a musical talent: he plays several instruments, sings and composes.

Despite being signed to local label Amusic, Rahman earned a physics degree from Imperial College, London, before embarking on a musical career. He produced his debut album himself last year, and has since won several local music awards as best newcomer.

Rahman can now be seen in the biopic Bruce Lee, My Brother, in which he plays the kung fu legend before he became a world-famous figure. Directed by Raymond Yip Wai-man, the film co-stars Tony Leung Ka-fai and Christy Chung as Lee's parents.

What was it like to be offered the role of the kung fu icon?

In the beginning, I was shocked. I felt some pressure because he's a legend. But then the director, Raymond Yip, said something that really made sense. He told me, 'This pressure is shared by the entire team. It's not just on you. As a team, we want to show the spirit of Bruce Lee and we want to tell people about his childhood.' I felt relieved that the entire team was behind me.

They helped me in every way. Every morning, they would say, 'Morning, Bruce'. It's these little things that gave me the confidence to try and bring out what I believe was Bruce Lee.

Did you know much about Bruce Lee before playing him in this movie?

Not much. I was born in 1987 and he'd passed away by then. Everyone knows about him, that he's a legendary fighter, but I don't know much about what was going on in his mind. So, I looked up all his interviews, particularly the tape of him auditioning for The Green Hornet. I looked at that video many, many times, trying to pick up his mannerisms and figure out what he was thinking.

He was a really bright guy, and had a degree in philosophy. That's not easy. At the same time, he gave me the impression that he liked to push his physical limits.

What was most challenging about making the movie?

Everything. The fighting was challenging because I'd never fought in my life. Even though it was for a film, we were actually using about 80 per cent of our strength when we were fighting. Once I forgot a choreographed move and didn't move away in time and the other guy hit my nose. That hurt.

How did you train to get closer to Bruce Lee's physique?

I went through two months of fitness training, going to the gym constantly, practising basic wing chun, free-fighting, boxing - and dancing cha cha. It was very intense. Bruce Lee was a great cha cha dancer.

To build up my muscles, I led a very disciplined life. No matter how much you do at the gym, you have to sleep early and eat properly. I was on a very healthy diet with a lot of protein and vegetables, and fewer carbohydrates.

You started as a singer-songwriter, but you are recognised as an actor now. How do you feel about that?

I'm still a singer-songwriter. I'm very lucky. Everything has been going smoothly for me, which is rare in this industry. The people I meet are all of a high calibre. They have all taken good care of me, I'm grateful for that.

I'm midway through making my second album. I like a lot of different music styles. On my first album, the opening track is smooth R&B, the second song is soul; Fly Away is pop-rock, The Speed of Light is abstract and Another Day is a harder rock song.

That's the kind of person I am. I try different things because life is so interesting. There's so much in this world. I want to be able to see and experience as much as I can.

There's a video on YouTube in which you are sporting a punk outfit and hairstyle playing rock guitar. Are you a rocker at heart?

I don't know what I am, but I really like rock. I play various instruments. I grew up playing drums first and then learned the guitar. I listened to Dream Theatre when I was a teenager, and bands such as Metallica and Limp Bizkit because their rhythm sections are really powerful. They are really great drummers: Mike Portnoy from Dream Theatre and John Otto from Limp Bizkit.

All my funk sounds are influenced by John Otto, and the really fast rock stuff from Dream Theatre. When it comes to guitar, I like Japanese bands Luna Sea, X Japan. For singing, I listen to people like John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Alicia Keys.

How old were you when you started playing drums?

I started playing drums at 11 or 12. After school, I would head to the music room to try to play the drums. Then I took a few lessons, listened a lot and picked up other people's tricks and styles, trying to make them my own. After that I started to learn the guitar and bass. About a year ago, I started to play the piano.

From Echoes of the Rainbow to Frozen to Bruce Lee, My Brother, all the characters you play are from the old days. Do you feel distanced when you interpret these roles?

I quite like the old days. I listen to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, all from the 60s and 70s. That's what is interesting about movies - you can transport yourself back in time. What I realised is that things aren't really that different; people and human nature are more or less the same. People used different expressions back then. Other than that, it's pretty similar, personality-wise.