No matter your creative background, starring in your first feature film is a major challenge and feat. In the finished product, it may appear as though Brian Imanuel, aka Rich Brian, made an effortless transition to acting with Justin Chon’s Jamojaya, but the Indonesian rapper did go into his latest creative endeavor with nerves. The key to overcoming them? The guidance he received from Chon and also from his on-screen father, Yayu A.W. Unru.

Imanuel leads the film as James, an Indonesian rapper eager to take the next step in his career. While in Hawai’i’ working on his debut album, James struggles to create distance between his new team at his major US record label and his father who was once his manager. As those tensions build, James must also reassess what’s most important to him, finding his voice his way or adhering to the commercial demands of the industry.

In celebration of Jamojaya’s premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Imanuel and Chon swung by the Collider Studio presented by Saratoga Spring Water to discuss their experience working on the movie, including making sure Imanuel had all the tools he needed to confidently and successfully lead the film.

Brian Imanuel as James and Yayu A.W. Unru as Joyo in Jamojaya
Image via Sundance

Imanuel began by recapping the invaluable Jamojaya rehearsal process:

“We had a month of rehearsals and before that we had a few weeks of rehearsing through zoom. Justin made me very comfortable and gave me that time to be fully comfortable on screen and be in the moment, because before filming started, I was very insecure about my acting. And I asked him, I was like, ‘Yo, should I take acting classes?’ And he was like, ‘No. Don’t do that. Because if you take acting classes, it's gonna feel super performed.' He believed that he could take me there through rehearsals.”

Everyone’s path is different. Acting classes or hiring an acting coach is beneficial to some artists, but not others. What exactly made Chon recommend Imanuel steer clear of formal training for this film? Here’s what he said:

“I think if we had years and years, acting school is great. But we were trying to do this in a condensed amount of time and he's not gonna all of a sudden — because, you know, acting class, I think you gain all these tools that you put in your toolbox, but for Brian, he wouldn't have had enough time to understand how to use those tools. And I think, if anything, it would have confused him more. So the way we approached it was much more from operating from his center and where he lays naturally, and making much more of an honest, authentic sort of expression rather than something that he's molded and tried to play this person like a ‘character character.’ It starts with him, but obviously he's not playing himself. A lot of the things he's doing in the film, he's just not that way. We just had to get comfortable with him expressing himself in certain ways.”

Image via Photagonist

In addition to having Chon, who’s a very experienced actor himself, at this back, Imanuel also landed an ideal scene partner for his first on-set experience:

“I learned so much from Yayu. I think especially because he's a veteran and he's also an acting coach in Indonesia, so I got so much gain from him. What I learned from Yayu because he was such a good partner was communication [is] so important. And getting that chemistry, I think a big part of it is being so comfortable with each other to the point where — because I feel like Yayu’s a lot older than me, but the way we talk, I feel like I'm talking to another teenager. That's the kind of stuff that we talk about. We talk about a lot of stupid stuff.But I think getting rid of that feeling of needing to be polite is a really, really big thing, especially if in the movie we’re father and son. Whenever I'm around older people I always feel like I have to be super polite or do a certain thing to cover up my actual personality, but in this one, we got so close to the point that we were just able to do anything on screen. I was completely comfortable with looking him in the eye super long. One of the first exercises that we did — this was the very first day I met Yayu, Justin made me and Yayu look at each other in the eyes for a long time, and I don't even think it was being recorded or anything, or he was taking a few photos, but we were just staring at each other’s souls for the longest time.”

Yayu A. W. Unru as Joyo staring out the window in Jamojaya
Image via Sundance

Unru is a revered pro, but Chon has one particular bone to pick with him. While considering the biggest challenges of principal photography, Chon couldn’t recall much. Yes, adhering to COVID restrictions was tough at times, but it wasn’t until Imanuel mentioned the difficulty of maintaining actor-director communication while filming a water scene that Chon remembered a very specific thing that stressed him out most. He explained:

“Actually, that is the thing that frustrated me to no end. Yayu told me he could fucking swim. He told me he could swim, and so I show up on the day he's supposed to be underwater, hold his breath, and then he would dunk his head in and he would come right up and I’m like, ‘Bro! Can you hold your breath? We're supposed to think you might be committing suicide or something. He's like, ‘I can’t.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck this. Ryan, hold him down. Hold him under. Grab his suit and hold him down.’ [Laughter] But it was really frustrating. So we had to actually reshoot that because I had to be like, ‘Yo, train holding your breath for like a month before we shoot this again because it's bullshit. You told me you swim, dude!’ He’s like deathly afraid.”

Imanuel added, “Yeah, he's actually really afraid of water. He was traumatized, so I’m really surprised that he said that he could swim.” Chon laughed and noted, “Because he wanted a goddamn job!”

Looking for even more on the making of Jamojaya? Be sure to check out the full video interview at the top of this article!

Special thanks to our 2023 partners at Sundance including presenting partner Saratoga Spring Water and supporting partners Marbl Toronto, EMFACE, Sommsation, Hendrick’s Gin, Stella Artois, mou, and the all-electric vehicle, Fisker Ocean.