Joanne Kam plays a mamasan in "Grisse".
Previously we talked to producer-director Mike Wiluan about his upcoming HBO Asia series, "Grisse". Last month, we got to talk to the talents.
Joanne Kam Poh Poh is a name many of those who enjoy a hearty laugh or two would be familiar with. For her latest work with HBO Asia, the comedy queen of Malaysia decides to take on a role that's a little different than what she is used to.
Not only is it a more serious role, it even requires her to train with the "Ong Bak" stunt team just so she could do her own fight stunts!
Based on Cinema Online's chat with her on the set of "Grisse" in Batam, it sounds like the comedienne is thoroughly enjoying her role as a mamasan named Chi, who runs the only brothel in "Grisse's" fictional "Nasi goreng Western" world. [You know, like spaghetti Western but more Asian].
In the series, she partners up with Singapore's comedy actor Hossan Leong, who plays Chi's right-hand man, Zhengwei.
Joanne Kam and Hossan Leong dressed in their "Grisse" costumes.
Working on the series not only gave the comical duo the opportunity to use their talents in a different way, they also got to work with cast members from Australia, Indonesia, and Holland, to name a few.
Even though they had to learn to tone down their comical sides a bit (even former MTV VJ Jamie Aditya was guilty of being way too funny on set), Joanne and Hossan definitely did not mind their new non-comedy experience.
"Grisse", set in the 1800s within the colonial period of Dutch East Indies, tells the story of an unlikely group of people who suddenly find themselves in control of the eponymous town after leading a rebellion against a brutal governor.
Here's more of what Joanne Kam and Hossan Leong has to say about acting in "Grisse":
Cinema Online: Working on "Grisse" must be a new experience for both of you since you're more used to comedy works?
Joanne: It's a very different process because Hossan and I do a lot of theatre work and comedy shows. It's very rare to see us in different types of shows. But right now we've expanded our little box of talents to take on other stuff as well like stunt work, fighting, a bit of drama. It kind of feels very all-rounded.
I think being comedians, we can look at the script and we know which one to accentuate, if we want it to be funny. Of course, this is in line with what the director wants in the end.
Was this a challenging new environment for you then?
Joanne: At first it was challenging. Only because we tend to lift up our comedy side. So whenever we go on set, we do our lines and everyone laughs, and then the director tells us it's not a comedy. So it's a challenge, you need to find the same motivation but always remember that you're not supposed to be the clown.
Hossan: And then we had fight training and I thought "Yay, I can put my pole dancing days aside and now go into Kungfu fighting", and broke my tooth fighting, had it fixed. Quite a new experience for me.
We didn't get to see the duo do any stunts but we did get to walk around the set of "Grisse".
One of the important locations in the series.
You had to learn how to do fight stunts for this series?
Joanne: On the first day, after briefing, I was already in fight choreography. As you can see my body "doesn't need" exercise so I don't really exercise at home. But then coming in, they introduced me to this Thai and Indonesian stunt team. They all worked in amazing movies before. I'm like "Oh my god, this is the stunt team from "Ong Bak"." I looked at them and went "Err...I don't even do Zumba, you know."
Then they make us do boxing and kicks, they were trying to assess what you can and can't do. What's nice is they don't force you to do what you can't do but they will strengthen what you can do to make it better to make the fight scene more believable. Like, I have more upper body strength because I have bigger arms so they'll use sequence like that. They'll try you with a sword, an axe [to find the right instrument].
Hossan: I never thought I would say this but thank goodness for National Service because I can fire a gun properly. I know what to do with it when they put it in my hand.
Sounds like this is a complete departure from your usual comedy roles?
Joanne: With me and Hossan, because we've played so many comedy roles, even in theatre we always have that comedy element. But what's nice is in [Grisse's] script, there's strong storytelling, even for both of us. We are not the comic reliefs. There will be funny tones of course throughout the show but we are not the comic reliefs.
Hossan: Ours is not comedy roles at all, the script is serious.
How did you prepare for your mamasan role, Joanne?
Joanne: For me, I watched a lot of movies with a saloon and every western movie has a brothel, every one. So I take my inspiration from there. There was another TV series that was particularly on brothel, it was about this bunch of ladies running a brothel and I watched how the mamasan was controlling her girls, what made it special, what made the girls listen to her.