Man at His Best

What I've Learned: Stephen Rahman-Hughes

Theatre performer, man of many talents, former Hang Tuah, 47.

BY Anis Taufik | Dec 4, 2017 | Film & TV

Photograph by Delvin Xian

I’m a bit of a chameleon. Time has taught me to try and learn everything I can. Once you reach a certain age, you’ll realise that you have a three – even, four – dimensional picture of your career. Understanding lots of different disciplines means I’m able to work all the time in different environments, and it keeps me interested in what I do too.

We witness these moments of humanity, these moments of communication, in the performance arts. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing something as a performer, choreographing or directing – you become privy to change happening before your eyes. The [performance] arts is the perfect mechanism that instigates people’s humanity to evolve; it allows people to have a greater understanding of who they are themselves. I love injecting ideas and philosophies into the room, and just watching people change. There’s just something really rewarding about seeing how people take in information, develop it and make it their own.

It’s nice for the ego when you’re [performing] in front of an audience. You have the power to make them laugh – or cry. It takes immense skill and dedication to your craft to be able to do that. The audience really has to believe in you, as an actor and singer, and it’s lovely.

Leave no stone unturned. Just listen and try to pick up as much information as you can. Really, listen. You might have an idea or an image in your mind about how something should be done, but everyone has a different version of that. You need to be able to listen to everybody’s version of that. When I was younger, I thought there was just the right way and the wrong way of doing things. But when you get older and work with so many different people, you’ll realise that everyone has their own approach. It’s really just listening and learning from other people’s approaches. Just be patient.

Movement was a way for me to express myself and release a lot of my energy. I had a complex upbringing, and I was always wanting to find a way of expressing myself – it came through a physical sort of motion in the beginning. As I was going through my teens, I wanted to do martial arts and I was doing a lot of breakdancing. Once I found the performing arts and dance, it became an escape for me.

Not everything is about money or earning a wage. I used to have a corporate job in advertising. I was just crunching numbers and it was so boring. I took six months off and when I went back, I said, “I can’t be doing this with my life anymore.” The experience taught me that I needed – and wanted – more out of life. I needed to find a way to express myself. Once I made that decision, everything just took care of itself.

Conflict is a part of life. Even as a performer or an artist, there are things that you have battle against, like dealing with a corporate mentality in a creative environment. I’m looking at the holes in my own personal knowledge and seeing what I need to work on, just in terms of creating a much happier environment in my own mind. I’m trying to arm myself with more patience, and understanding of how our different worlds can collide and create friction. It’s really about how you deal with that friction to make sure that you stay in a happy mindset. Things are not always going to go your way.

Tiara [Jacquelina] and I still laugh about Puteri Gunung Ledang. Tiara can’t remember any of the lines, and yet I remember all of them. It was so hard for me [to memorise the script] – the process was so arduous. It (Malay) is not my first language and I really had to drill the language into me. When I got the male lead as Hang Tuah in Puteri Gunung Ledang, a lot of the press was really skeptical because I couldn’t speak Malay at the time. But once I overcame that, people saw that I am an actor – and that I’d trained my whole life for it. That was really the beginning of my career here and it was amazing.

Malaysia seems to have gone through a bit of a lull in terms of creativity and the arts. I wanted to come back and just try to plug in again. It would be nice to just plug in and get something going. I’m involved in the production of Ola Bola The Musical, and I’d love to do a movie here after that. I’m much more selective about the jobs that come in and what I choose to do now. I know what’s going to make me happy and unhappy now. I try to stay away from jobs if it’s just for the money or if I know that there’s not going to be any real fulfillment.