Zul Ariffin has this magical power to make his female fans go weak in the knees. Maybe it’s his masculinity, his charming smile, or smoldering stare that triggers that effect. Or maybe it’s the fact that the man speaks with kindness, but he has no qualms about calling a spade a spade.
At 32, Zul has risen to the top of the desirability pyramid. He has found great success as an actor, making him one of the most prominent thespians in Malaysian showbiz. His private life is often in question especially since recent reports had quoted him hinting about walking down the aisle next year with a woman whose identity has yet to be revealed.
He rocks a solid physique, thanks to all the hardcore workouts done in order to get buffed up for his action roles on screen (he played a ruthless mixed martial arts fighter in his most recent film). Tall, good looking, great body, charismatic – gosh, what else could we ask for?
The successful Zul that we see today is the result of years of determination, hustling and finding the will to never give up. That’s the reality behind sweet success. It’s not achieved overnight.
You could argue that a decade ago, this would’ve all been just be a pipe dream for Zul had he not worked hard to be where he is today. He claims he has not arrived at the top ladder of success just yet but best believe he’ll get there soon.
LIFE ON SCREEN
Success stories has to be one of the most gratifying storylines known to human. It’s that instant ‘good feeling’ you get when you hear someone talk about their humble beginnings and beating the odds to achieve their dreams.
To one degree or another, actors work hard. They put the hours in. Filming itself is no joke. Depending on the type of roles and film genre, preparation can take months. Sometimes actors spend months on boiling hot sets or uncomfortable settings and repeat the same motions repeatedly until it looks perfectly natural on camera. Factor in the pre, during and postproduction, materialising a film can even take years. This is something Zul knows all too well.
Zul has become entwined with the symbol of a new age leading hero. Throughout his years as an actor, he has landed multiple leading roles on the small screen and silver screen, expanding his skill set across genres like romance, action and comedy.
The star shared that the responsibility of a lead actor is undeniably huge. “The great thing about landing lead roles is that you’ll get more scenes and airtime.
“But also, you’re the captain of the ship. It’s your face that’s mostly out there, driving the film. So the pressure to do your ultimate best is definitely there.
“As an actor who started out on the small screen first before venturing into films, the pressure is different. With TV series, you develop your character across many episodes. Within time, it allows you to cover up your ‘flaws’ on screen, if there are any.
“With a film, you only get 90 minutes of screen time. You only have that much time to compress whatever you have to give it your all.
“The minute the camera rolls, it’s all you. You are vulnerable, you are alone. It’s like going on stage all by yourself, with the whole audience staring at you. The pressure is as real as it gets.
“Ultimately, you want people to like and enjoy the film. It’s a challenge, but that’s the beauty of this profession,” he said.
STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM
Zul remembers starting out as an extra on set, making about just enough per day to get by.
Back then, any opportunity that came knocking on his door, he took it.
“Even if that job paid about RM40 (about $10 USD) per day, I still took,” he said.
“Things weren’t as easily accessible as they are today. I started acting in 2008, back then there was no Twitter or Instagram so that means there weren’t any online platforms for us to promote or expose ourselves. The younger generation now have it far much easier, I’d say.
“The experiences I’ve been through during my early days are what makes this whole journey so memorable.
“I remember having no form of transport or money to travel to set, so I borrowed my sister’s money to hail a taxi, no hail riding apps back then either!”
Safe to say it was a solid phase of him being a struggling actor.
“I was told I would never make enough money as an actor but I often wondered how these big celebrities make enough to own luxury cars? Turns out the one who told me that was a fellow extra on set too,” he said with a laugh.
“I never gave up nor did I have the urge to quit. I love acting, I don’t know what else I’d be doing if I don’t act. I’m an actor and that’s it, if you ask me to host or sing, I can’t do any of that.
“You learn a lot when you start from the bottom. Not everyone starts from the bottom. That’s how you educate yourself to learn the ropes in the industry.
“Just because you’re an actor, the world doesn’t revolve around you and only you,” he said.
From being an extra on set with well-established actors, Zul can now proudly say he shares the screen with other highly acclaimed actors and actresses in the industry.
“When I bump into my fellow seniors, they always tell me how proud they are of me. That is such a good feeling because they knew that I started from the bottom,” he said.
You could say humility and self-discipline have been the mainstay of Zul’s career.
From ‘just another extra’ on set, to landing big roles on screen which led him to win multiple awards, we say not bad. Not bad at all.
THE BIG BREAK
Zul may have began acting in 2008, but it was only in 2014 when he truly received his big break.
At the time, Zul landed a lead role for a romantic TV series titled Rindu Awak 200%, where he played a pilot husband who goes through trials and tribulations in his marriage after being match made by his parents.
It was then that hearts were melted when they saw this romantic side of Zul. Ever since that TV series, he earned the spot as one of Malaysia’s leading actors.
“Somehow at the back of my mind, I knew that the series would be a hit so I was mentally prepared for it,” he said. True enough, the series became a huge phenomenon among Malaysian viewers.
“Everybody will get their big break at some point, for as long as they don’t quit. What matters is consistency,” he said.
Did he ever think that after all these years, he would be in the position that he is today? “I aimed for this. I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet, I may be halfway there. But this is what I aimed for,” he said.
IN THE ZONE
On the small screen he’s a romantic hero, but on the silver screen, fans get to see Zul transform into a tough guy through the many action movies he has starred in.
In 2017, he played an elite special force soldier for an action film titled J Revolusi. That same year he starred in another movie called Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba where he played a strong warrior, a ‘defender of the rainforests’.
In his latest film which was released recently, Zul played a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in a film called Sangkar. He stars opposite another popular Malaysian actor, Remy Ishak. The two play rivals but their rivalry escalates into a fight outside the ring, which results in one of them getting seriously injured.
He may play a mixed martial arts fighter on screen but in reality, Zul also actively pursues martial arts in his free time, as he often documents it on social media.
Zul loves filming in the action genre because with action films, there are many things he can explore.
In a previous interview with a Malaysian news portal he spoke about how much he loves action films and how now everybody favours just watching love stories.
The original idea for Sangkar came from Zul, but he said that the rest was developed by the production team.
Preparation for the film was intense, it included having to gain a certain amount of weight for his role. The production even had medics on standby to make sure injuries were looked into after all the fight sequences.
Zul admits he gets in the zone and stays in character while filming. “To be honest, it’s not very fun to be near me when I’m filming an action movie,” he said.
His love for action movies may inspire him to star in more, but we’ll see what else Zul has in store for his bright future. After all, as he says, he’s only halfway to the top of the ladder.
Behind the Face of Salam
- Face of Salam : Zul Ariffin
- Project Manager & Co-ordinator : Shah Shamshiri
- Text: Syahirah Mokhtazar
- Editor : Ili Farhana
Photographer: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
- Graphic Designer: Asyraf Tamam
Stylist & Art Director : Helmi Anuar
- Make-up Artiste : Jib Salim
- Wardrobe: Stylist’s own