Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja is a ten-year-old Indonesian actor and co-star in the new film AFTER YANG, directed by Koganada. She plays the pivotal role of Mika, the young adopted daughter of Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith). Her parents buy Yang (Justin H. Min), an android companion, to help Mika connect to her Chinese heritage and have a brother to take care of her and keep her company. Mika develops a very strong and loving connection to Yang. When Yang malfunctions, she is devastated.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke with Malea about her role in AFTER YANG, where they dove further into what it meant to her, what it was like working with director Koganada, and what it is like to be a young actor today.
I loved your performance in the film. How did you get into acting?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: I actually started with singing because I’ve been singing for my whole life. Then after that, I realized that in singing, you need to be able to act because when you’re singing, you need to channel your emotions into the song, so that the audience can see that you can feel the song. So then I started to try to teach myself acting. I did a couple of auditions for some acting jobs. Then the director Kogonada saw my video of singing the national anthem at a sports game. He thought that I would be a really good Mika. He contacted my manager for an audition. All of this also made me think that acting is something that I really love to do. I guess that singing is something that made me want to become an actor.
That’s great. I think you realize something that a lot of adult actors don’t actually understand. Maybe some singers don’t understand that both singing and acting are very emotionally based craft forms and have a close relationship on that level. It was a very emotional performance. I wondered how you related to the character.
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: Before I started filming AFTER YANG, my grandpa had died. I guess I could connect my feelings from that into my acting. I also have an older brother. So I just imagine how it would feel if that sort of thing happened to my brother. I knew how it felt to lose someone I love because my grandpa died. So I guess that’s something that I could relate to the story of AFTER YANG because I knew how it felt to lose someone that you really love. It became kind of easy for me to act it out. Because, in my mind, I knew how it felt and I could really relate to it.
That’s great. I noticed that towards the end and I don’t want to spoil the scene. You are actually speaking in a different language, but it’s actually not translated. I was wondering about that. Was that intentional?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: I speak Chinese, so I knew what it meant. I guess it was probably not translated because it’s an aspect for the audience to think about it. What do they think it really meant? It’s not something that’s straightforward or something that you have to know exactly what it is. Because even if you don’t get the right idea, it’s something that is up to the audience to think about, because it’s different for everyone.
I found that choice to be really wonderful and that speech, in particular, was really a high point of your performance. You also have a multi-layered thing going on where you are sometimes angry. That’s part of grief, but not everybody thinks about grief that way.
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: I think it’s just part of Mika’s personality, because Yang was someone who was always there for her.
What was it like working with the director Kogonada?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: It was really amazing, because he is a very kind person. He’s very down-to-earth. He actually taught me so many things. I had been doing very over-the-top acting, like Disney Channel type of acting, where it’s very exaggerated, and very, very, over the top. Kogonada told me that sometimes you have to tone it down a little bit to make it more natural. AFTER YANG is a very quiet and very still kind of a movie. I realized that it actually is very beautiful, because it’s really natural and you have to pay attention. It’s something that’s very calming. I hadn’t thought about this before I did AFTER YANG. I always thought that if you’re acting in a comedy, I had to make my acting more exaggerated, because I thought that that would catch the audience’s attention. I think toning it down makes it a lot more natural. So I think not only is Kogonada very kind, he’s also very smart. It was very cool to work with him.
That’s awesome. Great to hear that. Do you have any projects coming up or is there anything that you’d like to work on?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: I just finished filming as a guest star on a show but I’m not allowed to tell anyone yet. I’m also working on a new song. I’m not allowed to say so yet but I am working on some projects.
Is it stressful for you as a young actor who is working and trying to continue your schooling?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: Sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming, because sometimes I have a lot of assignments and I think school is very important. But if I have a lot of work and I also have a lot of schoolwork, it just takes a lot of time. But I think it’s worth it because I really like doing it. School is something that I’m really passionate about because it’s really important and I really like acting and singing. So I think it’s worth it with all the work. It’s just something that I really love to do. Speaking of being a young actor, I was seven when we filmed AFTER YANG, and my two front baby teeth fell out. I had to wear fake teeth during the movie, because we didn’t film the scenes in order. During the time we’re filming, I had to wear big teeth the whole time. That was something that was kind of stressful, but also very funny. Whenever I want to eat lunch or anything, I have to take the teeth out and then put them back in and everything.
Well, that’s really something. I’ve never heard of that happening before. Are there any types of roles that you’d like to work on in the future? Do you have an ambition to like to play a certain character in the future?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: Well, I actually never thought of that. I guess I don’t really think so. Because I love acting as all different kinds of characters. Because then it’s also something very helpful for me to learn how to act better and then I would know how to portray a different personality. So I guess there isn’t like one character that I really want to portray. But I would love to do a lot more acting jobs in the future.
I think you will because you gave a really wonderful performance. I think you understand acting very well. I guess it’s time for a fun question. What do you like to do in your free time?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: Well, I’m still a normal kid, so I watch TV and I like reading books. I also play a lot of musical instruments. I play guitar, violin, ukulele, and piano. I like playing sports and I play soccer, basketball, handball, and tetherball. I do gymnastics, contortion, and dance.
Wow. You’ve accomplished a lot in a very short time. What would you like your performance in the film or AFTER YANG, in general, to say to the audience?
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja: I really want people to be able to, if they’re dealing with grief, I really hope that AFTER YANG can make them feel better. Because I want the audience to know that if you’re ever dealing with grief of losing someone that you love, you’re not alone. A lot of people are feeling the same way. I guess AFTER YANG is just a story, but I know that many people can relate to it. Even though you’re not losing a robot or maybe you’re not adopted, it can help you relate to people in different ways.
AFTER YANG will be released in select theaters and streaming on Showtime on March 4, 2022.