In my phone call with him, asking him to make himself visible for this interview, I told him that I would “glorify” him just enough. As I waited in the solitude of my room, listening to the fan move in its ever mundane speed, I was wondering how much I could deliver on that promise.
He was going to be late and we were supposed to meet at 10am at NUS Residential College. 12.16pm, and still there was no sign of him. I had a half-hearted intention to box his ears (if he would even arrive in the first place) for his tardiness, but quickly reminded myself to try to understand the troubles he had to go through. So, being the extremely-understanding friend that I strived to be, I decided to wait a little while more.
Just as I was ready to give him another call, my phone rang. It was him.
I told him where my room was, double-checking if he was really up for our planned interview. 5 minutes later, there was a light knock on my door and lo-and-behold, THE Ejaz Latiff had finally graced me with his presence.
“Late-Latiff”— a derogatory Indian equivalent of the phrase “fashionably late”, could accurately describe his arrival. He opened the door and was grinning in a very friendly, almost feline manner (a signature of his I would say), with a bright glint in his eyes. Late-Latiff or not, this cat always seemed to get away with everything.
He sat on the chair while I, on the bed, and as if offering catnip, I offered him a piece of brownie in an attempt to allow him to open up. If you must know, Ejaz leads a very private life so “bribing” formed an integral part of this interview.
We spent some time trying to settle down, but failed at it miserably for at least ten minutes. I then willed myself to stop laughing and we finally started the interview. My first question was simple and direct,
Do you think of acting as a therapy?
He laughs awkwardly before replying, “Hmmm… I never thought of acting as therapy; so far it’s never crossed my mind that it could be therapy. I’ve yet to ever use acting to fix problems. Occasionally you find yourself being able to plant your acting experiences and emotions in real life situations, but you seldom find yourself using the acting as a platform to work back in real life experience(s). In that regard that is why I don’t do well in unscripted work. I’m not ready to put myself up onto the stage so openly.”
So does this mean he was scared of being vulnerable? On the contrary, he spoke of a “desire” to not be as such.
“I don’t do well with self-expression. In addition to that, I have enough of a struggle to reconcile my experiences and emotions for my own understanding. To polish it a step further for the public would be far too taxing a process.”
And with that statement, he made it clear that theatre had never been a therapy for him (or the mysterious soul of his for that matter).
A JAE student of Raffles Junior College, Ejaz was the first student to be accepted into the reputable school for his drama skills in a decade. And that brought along many queries as to who this prodigy was.
Being direct again, I proceeded to ask my next question: So why do you act?
“I act to please people. Someone has to do it. And also it gives me a chance to explore the whole spectrum of arts, which as I said, you take back to your real life.”
I am surprised, if not a little shocked, but why does someone like you need to be a “people-pleaser”? he laughed a little, “You’ll be surprised; I have a lot of haters…”
It was then that I reminded him that I was “one of them” and he demanded to know the rationale. It started from the time when I met him at a play and despite standing right in front of him, he did not acknowledge my presence. “But I couldn’t see you. There were so many people.” He pleaded with guilt, yet truth be told, I had already forgiven him for that trivial incident.
Just then he dropped a portion of the brownie on my recently cleaned floor and started to laugh at me for telling him not to consume that piece. Doing so begrudgingly, he turned to me to answer my question:
How and where does theatre fit in with all the work you had to do? After all, you’re in a very rigorous Medicine programme and you’re also the vice-captain for the Tennis team in the Singapore University Games.
Straightening his spine, he replied, “It was a very conscious decision and effort to use more of my mental capacity and push further. In JC I slowed down because I didn’t do tennis, but I came back to it in University. There’s always the excuse that studies are getting harder, but then again I’m getting wiser.”
By now I could see where the charm exuded from within this tanned and lanky 20-year-old. His zeal and determination were as inspiring as they were endearing. He jokingly added, “All this is provided I pass M2; if I retain then all this is rubbish and I should’ve just focused on Medicine only.”
A student of Victoria School and subsequently RJC, till date Ejaz and I have many mutual friends. They are either always singing his praises or have a funny tale to tell me about him.
But love or hate him, they can unequivocally agree on something — that he is rather good-looking. I disagree, out of “personal vendetta”, but during the interview I couldn’t help myself but to ask him about how he felt about this.
You’ve been compared to actors like, Plummer, Connery and maybe on stage the types of Brando, one that I have a hard time to see the association. How do you take to this assessment? At this he doubles over with laughter and raises a quizzical eyebrow, “Who have you been doing your background homework with? I need the names right now!”
I’m not sure if he was acting, because really, it was hard to believe that someone who had been watched and wanted by so many, was unaware his admirers. He refused to believe me and I was trying my very best to convince him that he really had been compared to these iconic and charming men. I pushed him to reply, and his reply was,
“The only thing I can say is, I am humbled because if I deny it, I am fickle, if I agree, I am vain.”
Moving on with the session I asked,
You’re doing and have done different types of characters so far. Tell me a few of them.
Scratching his head around his newly-grown man bun, he was aglow to tell me, “I did Lord Windermere from Wilde’s famous Lady Windermere’s fan and my so-called breakthrough performance as Chris in Unfinished, Alfred III in The Visit. I’m all set to play the Lord of the Underworld in the adaptation of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice this month.”
Ejaz has always been one who never says no to playing complicated and nuanced characters. These characters demand a lot of work and practice, let alone the amount of self-reflection that must go into them to understand and bring them to life the way he does.
Not that he is incapable of doing comedy and romances, but the dark side; even dark humour, is his forte. I must say that his exploration of this aspect would give his audience a good insight, when they are left hanging on his every word.
Looking into your upcoming play, most people prefer the protagonist, and here you are as THE ultimate baddie, why this choice? Why hope for a role as contemptible as that? What was in it for you?
He paused momentarily and looked down.
“It’s a tough role, so there’s a lot of self-growth. The character metamorphoses within the play and that means I have to mold myself and change accordingly. There was a lot of work in that and I really enjoyed it. I’ve played a lot of good guys so for a change it was nice to play the bad guy (not get the girl for once hurhur). It was a challenge and a test, but it was great doing this.”
He then gave me a little sneak peek of his upcoming play, Eurydice which, for obvious reasons, I will not divulge here. Eurydice is going to be his last play before he takes a break from theatre for a decade, an estimate he gives. I highly doubt that notion.
It was late and we both had lessons the day after, and other deadlines to meet. I asked him my last question:
What do you want the world to know about you?
He smiled, then pondered for a while before showing me a smile again, only this time it had a hint of bashfulness. “I’m actually happy with the world not knowing about me. I want people to think I’m boring…but at the end of the day I guess what I want to be remembered for is that I tried to be my best as a person and give to the world my best at any given time.”
We ended the interview with his singing of the first verse of Hey There Delilah, before I told him to spare me the rest of the song. He got up, grabbed his customary white Wimbledon cap and started singing the chorus of Hey There Delilah. He looked back, waved and flashed that iconic feline and bright, brilliant-eyed smile.
Yup, he’s definitely got that thing.
Photo credits: All images taken from Couch Theatre on Facebook