Maya Karin is All In


Maya Karin requires no introduction. If you have paid any attention to Malay cinema over the past few decades, you would have seen her work. From the dramatic heights of Ombak Rindu to the scares of Jwanita, she’s done it all. She’s been an award-winning actress, a TV host, an activist, and more. So it was with no small amount of anticipation and trepidation that I turned up for the interview and photoshoot with Maya.

Maya turned up as we were having our pre-photoshoot lunch. Not sure what to expect, I was caught a bit off-guard when she made a casual joke about something I was doing. Most of the time Maya is calm and composed, almost cold, but at times she becomes warm and animated, putting on a different accent or assuming another person’s mannerisms when telling a story. The ease with which she slips in and out of these mini-performances is of course expected for a veteran actress like her.

Maya is an environmental activist and has shown great support for environmental efforts. “I’ve always been concerned,” Maya says. “Malaysia is hugely rich in natural resources and biodiversity. A lot of Malaysians don’t even realise it.” This love for nature was instilled in her during childhood. “There was no such thing as gadgets in my time. Every weekend my father would take us to either a beach for surfing or he would drive us 3 to 4 hours out of town to swim in the river. We were 7 or 8 at the time.”

Raised in Germany, Maya is very grateful for the life lessons imparted to her by her father. She says, “We would go into the forest and he would teach us how to look for blueberries. He would get us to go buy bread by ourselves in the village.” Since childhood, her father nurtured this independent spirit in her, as well as her ability to deal with problems calmly and rationally. She tells us about how as a child of seven years, she was on a storm-tossed boat. Despite the heavy rain and powerful winds, she alone remained calm while the other children cried. “I felt no point in crying or screaming. What’s the point?” In another childhood incident in Bali, she was pulled out to sea by the ocean currents and had to be rescued by a fisherman. “I had my father’s life lessons; when people drown it’s because they panic and forget how to breathe. You cannot fight the current. Immediately my brain went into survival mode. Focus, calm, don’t panic.” Eventually, she was able to signal for help.

An understanding of nature was not the only thing Maya’s parents cultivated in their children. “The arts were cultivated since young,” Maya says. “My family comes from a classical music background.” Maya attended a German primary school and an international secondary school. She had a very holistic education, where the arts were just as important as academia. “Getting 10 A’s in SPM doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in life,” she says. “Sometimes the B-grades and C-grades are the ones who know how to think outside the box because they have to be creative.”

Maya started her career with modelling in Indonesia and came back to Malaysia when she was 17. She was discovered while working in MPH as a cashier and continued modelling locally as well. Eventually, she received a call from an agency, asking her if she wanted to be a TV host at TV3’s Wavelength. “I think I got the job because of the life lessons I learnt,” she says. “I didn’t go in there blind. When I walked into the audition room there were maybe 60 to 80 girls from different backgrounds. I analysed the situation and decided to sit in the very back and watch the other girls first. One by one the girls dropped like flies, until I was one of the last. I collected all the information and computed it in my head. After my turn, three minutes later the producer came out and said, ‘What took you so long? I was so worried, I had to find a host in three days, why did you wait until the end, you gave me a heart attack!’ If I had gone first I would have made mistakes and jumped the gun.” Maya laughs as she imitates the frantic enthusiasm of the long-ago producer.

Maya enjoyed her time at Wavelength. Over time, that snowballed into a career in the movies. As she didn’t grow up in Malaysia, she had to learn Malay by herself (with the help of a few friends) to get the roles. Maya reminisces about when she was announced as Izzah in Ombak Rindu, and the backlash the casting had received. Back then, people gossiped on Cari Forum. “23 pages of everyone condemning me,” Maya says, her eyes flashing. “‘You’re ruining Izzah! My childhood is gone! She’s gonna ruin everything!’ I was thinking, ‘I’ll show you. I’ll show you.’ Then the movie came out, and people were saying, ‘Oh my god, it was so amazing, let’s watch it again tomorrow!’ It was great. Even now, people still call me Izzah.

“I’m very proud of my catalogue of movies,” Maya says. “That’s because I’m very picky. Why shouldn’t I be? Whatever you do in life, do the best that you can. Don’t just accept crap. Life is no fun if it’s not challenging. The latest one that was hugely challenging was Telaga Suriram, which is coming out next year. A lot of physical acting for me, I had to roll around in tall grass at 5.30 in the morning. By the time I had finished at 7.30, I had cuts and bruises everywhere.” This is just one example of the physically taxing roles that Maya, who frequently does her own stunts, has done over the years. “I’m lucky that I have a job that can create so many memories,” Maya muses. “That’s why it’s so hard for me to say which role was the best. I only choose stellar projects.” The pride in her words is palpable. We should all be so lucky to be able to say the same about our work someday.



BASKL Editor & Co-ordinator: Shah Shamshiri

Assistant Co-ordinator: Azuwan Ahmad

English Text: Chin Jian Wei

Stylist: Shah Shamshiri and Chandra Shegar

Hair and Make-up: Chandra Shegar

Wardrobe : Wan & Mary

Photographer & Art Director: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio

Location: White Studio, Sungai Lui, Hulu Langat

Digital Cover Designer: Daniel Abdul Halim

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