Continuing the Marathon – An Interview With Local Entertainer and Celebrity Fauzie Laily
Fauzie Laily had to delay his National Service in 2003 and spend six more months in school after failing his polytechnic course’s final year project. What is seen as a major setback for many became a key turning point in young Fauzie’s life. Following his lifelong passion for entertainment, he decided to take a chance and participate in that year’s edition of Anugerah, Suria’s reality singing competition.
“If I didn’t fail my subject [in polytechnic], I think all this wouldn’t have happened to me. If I had enlisted for National Service then, I wouldn’t have thought of joining Anugerah since I wouldn’t have any time for the competition,” Fauzie recalls.
Since then, the now 35-year-old has become one of the most versatile, accomplished and hard-working figures working in Singapore’s entertainment industry today – and all without any formal training. Today, most recognise him as police officer Razali Hamzah on hit TV drama Code of Law, and as Sulaiman Hassan, the loving husband and father in Tanglin. Those who have been captivated by his charms since his start in the entertainment world, however, would know him as far more than an actor.
WIth successful careers in music, hosting, and acting, he dismantles the age-old adage of “jack of all trades, master of none.” Sinema.SG had the pleasure to speak with the ever-energetic, ever-passionate entertainer to candidly share with us how he made his start in the entertainment world, how he has continued to thrive, and his determination to bring the industry to greater heights.
Fauzie’s first brush with performing on stage in his secondary two year at Bedok View Secondary School almost never happened. He recalls, “My friend joined a Syair (Malay poem recital) competition but couldn’t carry on at the last minute because he kept vomiting in the toilet. Someone had to take over him and I kena arrow (got selected).”
To his surprise, he won the competition. Looking back, he sees this as the start of everything, with him realising that he didn’t mind being on stage. This experience led him to audition for future Teacher’s Day performances and, with encouragement from his family, to audition for Anugerah in 2003.
Fauzie made it all the way to the quarter-final stage of the competition before being eliminated. This, however, did not discourage him at all, pushing him to take on the role of a backup singer on Konsert Solo, another of Suria’s music programmes, in the following year.
With both experiences in tow, Fauzie joined Anugerah again in 2005, this time making it all the way to the finals and emerging as the second runner-up. That year’s competition launched Fauzie and the three other finalists – Syed Azmir, Hyrul Anuar and Khairil Yusof – to stardom.
“We didn’t call ourselves a boy band but somehow it was packaged that way. I guess it was something different and the viewers were really into us at that point of time,” Fauzie recalls, “That was when the four of us felt like this was going somewhere. Everywhere we went, people followed us. [We] Want to go to the toilet also difficult.”
2006 saw them perform at Singapore Expo’s Max Pavilion to a sold-out crowd – a feat that hasn’t been duplicated by another local act in recent years. Even after his debut single “Selalu” topped the RIA 89.7FM charts for consecutive weeks, Fauzie looked to branch out as an all-rounded artiste.
With Teacher’s Day performances in secondary school as his only experience, he made his acting debut in Suria’s six-part drama Teman Anugerahku in 2006. His performance won him the following year’s Best Newcomer award at Pesta Perdana, a biannual award ceremony celebrating the very best of the local Malay TV industry.
During this period, Fauzie also expanded to hosting, returning to Anugerah in 2007 as one of its hosts and more recently with season 2 of Channel 5’s The Dance Floor. He continued to star in several Suria drama series and hosting programmes, with his hard work paying off by winning the Most Popular Male Personality award in the 2011 edition of Pesta Perdana – what Fauzie describes as “a peak” for him at that time.
However, soon after winning the award, an incident completely changed Fauzie’s outlook of the industry. He received an offer to reappear as a host for a programme’s returning season but – to his shock – they offered a pay that was $50 less than before.
“Immediately, I started to question everything – what was the point of getting an award and being celebrated for those few days? I told myself after that incident that this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. I need to keep improving myself or else people will keep thinking that I’m not worthy, as if I’m just an artiste that is doing whatever people want me to do. I didn’t want that to happen so I started working on my craft, wanting to improve.”
The incident also led Fauzie to realise the importance of branding and how to sell himself (“because show business is a business.”) to ensure that he is paid accordingly for his work. Wanting to improve, the “number one thing” Fauzie did after his performances is to look back and be critical of them – a habit that has continued to this day.
His work ethic soon led him to his “first break for acting” landing a role on the first season of Channel 5’s Code of Law in 2012. “That was an achievement to me because for the minorities, not a lot of us are able to be given the opportunity and trust to cross over [to Channel 5]. That was the turning point for me. It took seven years but better late than never.”
Another milestone – a “lucky break” – in the entertainer’s career came with his role as one of the full-time actors for Tanglin, Channel 5’s first long-form drama. That project was “industry changing” for Fauzie as he believes that this was the first time actors in Singapore received monthly full-time pay for a long period of time.
Fauzie felt that the younger generation saw Tanglin as an example of acting as a full-time job. On this note, he also expressed how he would love to be the example of long-term sustainability in the industry – for the parents of up-and-coming entertainers worried about the feasibility of such a career to know that it is all possible.
“I never thought that I can be a full-time entertainer but it’s been 17 years and I’m still doing it. I’m now happily married, I got my own house, and I did it all by being a full-time entertainer.”
Working on Tanglin between 2015 to 2018 on a full-time pay was a massive help for Fauzie in saving up for the bigger buys in life such with his house purchase, while providing him with stability for those three years.
“For those doing long-form projects now such as [Channel 5 drama] Kin, a few of them are also getting married and buying their own houses. It’s the kind of stability that other jobs would promise you but [for these long-form projects] you get to satisfy your passion and have stability at the same time. So I feel that there is a future if you get the lucky break sometimes and also if you keep working hard to show your worth.”
Fauzie shares that one of the key challenges for him and those in the industry at large is having to stay relevant and having to be aware of what’s current. Furthermore, being a freelancer will inevitably entail points in the year where there are no projects but bills have to be paid – such as with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“You have to find something that you are passionate about and hold on to it so that when there are times like these you don’t give up. It’s very easy to give up in this industry because of these kinds of challenges. So you need to not give up, you see. To know that your passion and your place in the industry means something, and you should keep working on it.”
And even after 17 years in the industry, Fauzie is far from slowing down with the expansion of his portfolio of work. In 2014, he starred in Banting, Singapore’s first commercial Malay film since the 1970s. Following his theatre debut in 2010, Fauzie was also recently part of WILD RICE’s A $ingapore Carol in 2018.
Towards the future, Fauzie is looking forward to seeing more full-time entertainers in Singapore, and to see much more improvement and growth in the industry. He hopes that this growth will encourage the government to spend more on the industry and to show their belief that the industry can be a big factor in shaping and moulding the nation’s future generations.
Perhaps his own faith and determination to bring the industry to greater heights can be seen with his response to the question of whether he has plans to expand his career overseas.
While he never closed any doors on these plans, he passionately explains, “In the Malay [entertainment] industry, it is so common to get the question. I take that as a challenge because there is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on the local industry. I think for [journalists] to ask that question it only means one thing – that they still don’t value our industry. I don’t think Koreans will ask their Korean actors why they are not expanding overseas because they value their actors so much; they know their worth. We need to work towards that.”
“If it’s for your own growth like if you can reach all the way up to Hollywood, of course! Local actors and actresses such as Kheng Hua have put in so many years in this industry and she deserves the success. But there needs to come a day when we stop asking this question. People won’t respect any entertainer or Singapore’s industry if they deem themselves as a failure only doing local work. How will we grow if we are not proud of ourselves, proud of the work that you are doing in Singapore? You need to take pride in it, you need to know that we are just as good as anyone as we want to be.”
The marathon continues for Fauzie. This year’s projects include season five of Code of Law, as well as its spin-off dramas Forensik and season two of Derek. Having previously performed in the National Day Parade of 2014 and 2015, he will also be involved in this year’s parade – but in a different capacity that he can’t share yet.
With an ever-expanding slate of work and a deep passion for the industry, Fauzie is definitely an entertainer to look out for, and a prime example of how hard work can overcome any hurdle that a lack of formal training may entail. Catch up with his latest projects by following him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify.
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(Banner image credit: Fauzie Laily’s Facebook page)