“Aren't you an actor? I’ve seen you on TV before,” a shopper tells Izzue Islam, who’s holding a tray full of product samples at a supermarket.
As the bewildered shopper takes a closer look at the then up-and-coming actor’s face, Izzue dismisses the suggestion: “No, no, you must have mistaken me for someone else.”
The Kelantan-native is recounting the various odd jobs he worked during his first few years living in Kuala Lumpur while moonlighting as a TV actor.
“Initially, I felt shy. People would say, ‘Actors do this too?’ But later on, I admitted and told people, ‘Yes, I work at a supermarket.’ I felt what I was doing wasn’t wrong. I was a young man trying to survive in the big city.”
Izzue continued working as a sampling promoter for a while, even after landing lead roles. “I could be playing the lead role today but who knows if I’ll get the lead role again tomorrow?” he reasons.
Turns out, he had nothing to worry about. After starring in popular TV dramas like Sebenarnya, Saya Isteri Dia! and winning Most Promising Actor at the Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) for his performance in 29 Februari, the 28-year-old has carved an enviable acting career today.
He sits down with Star2 and shares candidly about the long road that took him from supermarket aisle to the bright lights of film and TV sets.
Born and raised in Kota Baru, Izzue first came to KL around 10 years ago to attend a concert with a group of friends.
“The journey to KL cost a lot more than expected. And the prices of food and drinks here are not the same as in Kelantan. So when the concert was over, I realised I didn’t have enough money to go home,” he recalls.
Izzue and his friends, who had all just finished secondary school, were discussing what to do next at a tomyam shop. They decided to ask the eatery itself if they had any vacancies. Izzue started work the next day.
Just next door to the tomyam shop was a hair salon owned by Awin Nurin, who eventually became Izzue’s manager and wife.
“I started getting to know her when I sent food and drinks over,” he talks about the beginnings of their relationship. “I didn’t know anyone here. It felt nice to have someone who wanted to befriend me.”
Awin was instrumental in kick starting Izzue’s showbiz career, often encouraging him to go for castings and driving him to them. His first audition was as an extra for comedy series Kampung Jaguh.
“Even though I played an extra, I went all out. If people asked me to walk, my walk was full of character. So much so, I became the ‘main extra’ at one point.
“Whenever they needed ‘extra yang over-over’ (overly-enthusiastic extras), they’d call me,” he says with a laugh.
Izzue also made use of his job as an extra to learn more, often coming to set earlier than scheduled to observe the filming process.
But work as an extra was unpredictable and could hardly pays the bills. Most days saw Izzue holding down multiple jobs.
“I would wake up at about 4am to deliver milk to about 20 houses so kids could have fresh milk before going to school. After that, if I had shooting that day, I’d go straight to set. If not, then I’d work as a promoter.”
Money was tight to the extent that he once rented a room with seven other people.
“All eight of us slept on one mattress. But we usually take turns to sleep. For those who aren’t sleeping yet, they’d play games first and let the others sleep, especially those who have to go to work early.”
He lived on RM2.50 nasi bujang every day, which comprised a plate of white rice, one fried egg and a dollop of sambal belacan.
“Once a week, if I got to eat nasi goreng, that was like an achievement. That cost RM5.”
Despite the difficult circumstances, Izzue says he was enjoying himself.
“I never felt it was difficult. Only when I look back, I see how hard my life was. At that time, I didn’t mind it at all. I was young and full of energy.”
Three years have passed since that fateful day Izzue stepped foot in KL. It has also been two full years since he poured his heart into acting as an extra.
“Once, I told my family to tune in to a show I was in. I told them to watch it until the end. As it turns out, they didn’t even see me. Only my shoulders made it into the scene! I was so embarrassed,” he remembers.
Izzue says while his immediate family was supportive of his acting endeavour, other friends and relatives doubted if he could succeed in the cutthroat entertainment industry.
In 2011, Izzue proved them wrong, landing a supporting role on drama series, Papa Nak Kahwin. In the same year, he was offered the opportunity to join local boy band Forteen.
“I initially auditioned for a hosting job at KRU Studios. Then the producer asked if I could sing, as the company was putting together a boy band.”
Izzue, who used to sing in a band back in Kelantan, took up the offer.
Whether it was acting or music, Izzue was firing on all cylinders. He landed his first lead TV role on Cita & Cinta in 2012.
Around the same time, he played a visually-impaired man on historical fantasy, 29 Februari, and took home a trophy at FFM, Malaysia’s equivalent to the Oscars.
Forteen also amassed a number of hit singles Kita, Tidak Pernah Berjumpa and Dekat Tapi Jauh and went on to win Best Group Vocal Performance In A Song for Seperti Dulu at the Anugerah Industri Muzik in 2012.
With his career steadily on the rise, Izzue felt it was finally time to let go off his odd jobs in 2012. He also saved up enough money to marry the woman who stood by him through thick and thin in 2013.
“I see it as a blessing. I get to spend more time with her,” he talks about Awin’s role as both his manager and wife.
“If we worked in separate industries, she’ll probably be asleep when I get home from filming. And when I wake up, I may only get to see her for a while.”
As the years go by, Izzue’s roles have only grown bigger. He currently has a main role on romantic series, Jangan Benci Cintaku, airing on TV3’s prime time slot.
He also has two films coming out this year – playing a supporting role in friendship movie, Bella & Jamie, and leading the cast in the third instalment of popular adventure and sci-fi film series, XX Ray.
Music-wise, Izzue is making a name for himself as a solo artiste, with five singles including his upcoming English track, My City, under his belt.
There has been an influx of new talents in the local TV scene of late. Driven by their strong social media presence, some of them have been entrusted with lead roles despite having little to no acting experience.
Asked how he felt as an actor who spent years paying his dues as an extra, Izzue offers: “I don’t know what to comment but what I can tell them is, when they get an opportunity, don’t waste it.
“To be in the TV industry is unlike being in social media where only you are involved. (On a TV show) you have other people – director, cast and crew members – that you work with. Prepare yourself. Research. Ask the seniors around you for help,” he advises.
Izzue remembers the simple principle he learnt serving samples at the supermarket aisle all those years ago.
“Whatever you do, do it properly. Even if you’re a promoter at a supermarket, be a really good promoter. If not, people won’t call you up for jobs.”