From football to film: Sarawakian Haris Zainuddin’s shot at stardom

By Jude Toyat
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Haris Zainuddin

Haris Zainuddin

Despite his passion and talent for sports, particularly football,  Haris Zainuddin never expected to become a professional football player, do great things and inspire others.

Little did he know, other opportunities for him to score a goal awaited him, including winning a role as Sanjeet Singh in Malaysian football movie, ‘Ola Bola’ in 2014.

“I am a sports freak. I can say that I like almost every sport. Since I was young, I have always been representing my school for football, softball, badminton, hockey and lots more,” said the 21-year-old Haris, who has been playing football since he was nine years old and has represented Kuching in several football competitions at divisional level. He even played softball in Sukma after his SPM in 2013.

On how he clinched the role, Haris said, “I had no intentions to actually act…it sort of just happened.”

Haris (kneeling, second left) with the cast and director of Ola Bola.

Haris (kneeling, second left) with the rest of the ‘Ola Bola’ cast and director, Chiu Keng Guan (kneeling, third left). – Photo credit Astro

He had never attended any acting courses before and is currently furthering his last semester in Diploma in Technology (Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) at Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TARUC) in Selangor.

“I have not attended any acting courses but back in SMK Green Road, I was already sort of involved in acting where I represented my school in drama competitions.”

Haris was playing for the TARUC football team when casting was held for ‘Ola Bola’.

His college and teammate Lim Jian Wen went to the open casting after he saw the announcement in the newspaper.

“Later on, the producer told him if he had more friends that can play football and might have a career in acting, he could just invite them over for a casting.”

So Lim contacted Haris and he agreed to try out.

Refreshingly, the auditions were done during one of their football tournaments.

Haris (middle) in his role as Sanjeet Singh during one of the training sequences in 'Ola Bola'. -Photo credit Astro.

Haris (middle) sporting an early 80s look in his role as Sanjeet Singh during one of the training sequences in ‘Ola Bola’. -Photo credit Astro.

“It was just the director’s style of making the movie; he didn’t want to get actors and then teach them football, he wanted footballers and teach them acting because he didn’t want the football to be fake,” said Haris of the unforgettable casting that had landed him his first acting gig.

Shooting started in May, 2015. From October 2014 to May 2015, the cast underwent four months of football training and two months of acting training, during which Haris was not allowed to cut his hair to reflect the fashion of the late 1970s – early 1980s.

Character wise, Haris said Sanjeet was pretty much the same as him in real life.

“I always want to be dominant in a group. I prefer to be someone with strong sense of leadership and want to make my presence felt in the group.

Haris (right) in another training sequence on 'Ola Bola'.

Haris (right) in another training sequence on ‘Ola Bola’. -Photo credit Astro

“In ‘Ola Bola’, we were always advised by Chiu Keng Guan, the director, not to be so proud of our achievement in the film because he said he chose us based on our personal characteristics.  So he told us that we were not really acting, but just being ourselves,” Haris said, adding that an actor should also have good self-confidence and able to put lots of hard work to produce good work.

“I am really blessed for being part of such inspirational movie where lots of people are really moved and inspired.”

Being a 21-year-old, Haris grew up watching Datuk Aznil Nawawi.

“When I met him recently for an interview, he thanked me for being involved in such a good movie that had inspired millions of Malaysians outside. Then I said to myself, ‘Wow, how did I get involved with this and how am I here being thanked by Datuk Aznil himself?’ That really sort of moved me, and it makes me more interested in this acting industry,” he said.

The hardest part for Haris (third left)

Haris (third left) and the rest of the cast had to undergo football and acting training for ‘Ola Bola’. -Photo credit Astro

The hardest part being an actor for Haris was not being able to carry out what the director asked.

“I tried to do my best, not because of the acting but because I did not want to disappoint the director because he helped us a lot and basically some of us in ‘Ola Bola’ were nothing and he was the one who picked us up.

“So we did not want to disappoint him, and that was the hardest part for me,” he said.

“After getting involved in acting since my debut for ‘Ola Bola’, my dream is to get a lead in a movie. I am also quite interested in hosting,” he said, adding that he has strong interest to be in action movies compared to other movie genres.

That being said, his favourite movie has always been the ‘Lord of the Rings’and cites Johnny Depp as one of his favourite actors for his ability to carry out his characters perfectly as well as Shaheizy Sam and Bront Palarae.


Despite his slew of offers to host, Haris is still focusing on finishing his studies and studying for exams. – Photo credit Astro

He also loves to sing during his past time. Although he admits that he doesn’t have the talent to become a singer or have a good singing voice, he plays the guitar well.

Haris is also interested in fashion, especially with the influence of his mother, Normah Ibrahim or better known by her brand Emma Daniel, a renowned shoe designer in Sarawak, and he has been modelling for a few fashion brands in Kuala Lumpur.

On his future plans, Haris said that he is currently in the process of shooting a new drama for TV3 Slot Lestari entitled ‘Mariam Alissa’. The 13-episode drama will be aired starting this August.

“After the shooting, I will be taking a rest from dramas or movies to prepare for my final examination in September. Nevertheless, I will still work for commercials as that only takes one or two days.

“Next year, in September, I will be furthering my studies in manufacturing engineering,” he added.


Haris with his mother, entrepreneur and shoe designer behind ‘Emma Daniel’ shoeline, Normah Ibrahim.

Although Haris has received lots of offers as a host, he has rejected most of them “because I am still studying and cannot commit to such offers yet.”

So far, he has gotten an offer from RTM to host a cooking show and a travel agency to become a host for their travelogue. “They thought of sending me to Australia for shooting and promote travelling there,” he said.

He advised aspiring actors to be brave enough to try their luck in acting.

“Never have doubts or have anyone telling that you are not good enough. You just need to practice. Every experienced actor when asked about their homework they would say practice in front of the mirror. Although it seems to be the oldest method, it is also the most effective. Also, do not be afraid to go for auditions because you will never know when the right time comes.”


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