Nicholas Saputra: Caring for Nature

Colours talks to actor and traveller Nicholas Saputra about his travels and his concern for the environment.


The past two years have been especially busy for Nicholas Saputra. While most of his time is spent filming or promoting his movies, this year the actor aims to spend more time exploring Indonesia and the world. To him, filming is akin to emptying a cup, which subsequently calls for the empty space to be refilled. Travelling is therefore a vital part in the life of an actor, especially for Nico, as it is considered a way to recharge one’s energy and seize inspiration.

“An actor has to have a lot of knowledge, because we have to be ready to be assigned any character. To me, the ability to observe human character, expression and reaction can be earned from one’s travels, whether on a train, on a bus, or anywhere else,” Nico said. He admits it has become increasingly challenging to travel around Indonesia without being recognised, since more people are familiar with him as a public figure. But that freedom is something he is still able to experience when travelling abroad or in Indonesia’s more remote areas. “When people don’t know who we are, people are more honest in evaluating our character and in respecting one another. It’s a more sincere interaction,” he said.

Exploring the world of conservation
“Travelling is good for the soul. When you’re travelling, you become a more open person. You realise there is not just one type of human being. There are diverse cultures. The same applies to the nature around us,” he said. It was this spirit that eventually led Nico to being more involved with the world of conservation in 2005, after the tsunami that hit Aceh.

Nico, who famously played Rangga in the movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta, has been a part of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since 2008, during which he introduced classrooms and a travelling library to the area of Raja Ampat, Papua. Today, he remains active in forest and orangutan conservation efforts in Indonesia. “When we’re visiting a place, enjoying its beauty, we automatically feel a need to protect what we’re seeing; because such beauty and nature are both related to one another, they cannot be separated. Conservation is important in maintaining that beauty, to ensure its sustainability,” he said.


Last year, Nico also released a documentary film titled Save Our Forest Giants in partnership with the European Union. The six-minute piece was filmed in Tangkahan, part of Indonesia’s national park on Mount Leuser, North Sumatra, and explores the threat to Indonesia’s population of elephants, which are slowly losing their habitat. To him, conservation has to be based on the people, which means involving locals every step of the way. “I’ve always noticed that environmental issues are inseparable from humans. The benefits work both ways; both sides have to be able to achieve balance and harmony. It’s tough, but we need to try,” he said, adding that humans are instinctively connected to nature, animals, plants and others. “We have pets, we love growing plants. This shows that we are instinctively able to coexist with animals and other creatures,” Nico explained.

After a decade of exploring the world of conservation, what exactly does he see as the biggest threat to the environment? “Ignorance” is his blunt answer. “Ignorance results from a lack of knowledge. Through travelling, we get to see and feel more for ourselves. If we don’t get out of the big city, we don’t know how to appreciate water sources. Try visiting the forest once in a while. We’ll get to appreciate clear and clean water,” he said. “Being a city-dweller does not mean you don’t need to care about the environment out there, because the truth is, the city does not have anything. Water and food sources all come from places that are far away from the city. All of these things are connected.”

On one hand, there’s an increasing awareness among young people today of travel as part of their lifestyle. But Nico has other concerns in mind. “No matter what, tourism brings damage, although it can still be measured. This is where conservation efforts become important, to balance exploitation, improve eco-tourism and people’s awareness to protect nature,” he said. To him, travelling is more than just about going on a vacation and having fun; it needs to be done with responsibility.


When did travelling become an important part of his life? Nico claims he has wanted to see the world since he was a child. “When I was little, I loved watching films, and when I saw something, I immediately wanted to experience it for myself,” he said. His travelling experience started with family vacations, but the first time he truly felt the essence of travelling was in his first year of high school when he took a trip to Bandung with a number of friends. After high school, he travelled solo to England for a month. He has never looked back since.

Despite his many travels over the years, Nico says there are still plenty of places he would like to visit. At the top of his list, in Indonesia he would like to see Togean and Gorontalo, while also hoping some day to travel to South Africa and the ‘Stan’ countries.

“I once lived in a remote village in Flores, and I’ve been on a boat that nearly capsized. I used to be quite spontaneous. I could pack my things and be on my way to Latin America. I would get accommodation for my first and second nights, and the rest of it I would set myself free. Now I’m not nearly as daring, although I remain open to any possibilities,” he said with a laugh.

Nico’s views on the meaning of travel have evolved along with his ‘style’ of travelling. Travelling, to him, has become a way of sharpening his sensitivity as a human being, something inseparable from nature – from the world.