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Ananda everingham on movies, politics and becoming a Thai

He's one of the Kingdom's biggest stars, but for years he had to apply for work permits just to stay in the country he was born in

  • Published: 22/08/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Brunch

How does one even start to account for the myriad contradictions of Ananda Everingham? He is one of Thailand's most beloved screen actors, but his mother is from Laos and his father Australia. He considers himself a characteristically shy person, which flies in the face of his penchant for landing leading roles in big-budget thrillers and epic romances.

He was a one-time juvenile troublemaker who also found time to indulge his early love of English literature and the absurdist fiction of Albert Camus. And while he has benefited from years in the limelight, he has yet to be cured of his persistent fear of public speaking.

"The only reason I'm still doing this job is because I love the people I work with. But I'm not naturally gifted as an entertainer. I know my craft as an actor, but I don't know how to entertain people and I'm not good at being in the spotlight. To this very day, I still have stage fright. Whenever I have to get up on stage, be myself and talk to an audience, I can't think straight. I want to jump off stage."

But if his recent output is any indication, he has yet to show any symptoms of being overtaken by his anxieties. Within the next year, the 28-year-old actor is set to appear in at least three films, one of which also bears his name in the production credits. And with these films, Ananda offers new reasons not to relegate him to any genre or clique.

In the upcoming Chua Fa Din Salai, or Eternity _ premiering this September _ his character navigates the scandal and taboo of an illicit romance, set against the backdrop of political strife in post-war Thailand. Ananda describes the film as a love story concerning the "clash between human instinct and our cultural boundaries", mirroring the structure and basic components of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. And his other two upcoming pictures, Insee Daeng, or Red Eagle, and High Society, could hardly be more disparate in style, thematic elements and budget size. The placid production of the independent art house film High Society allowed Ananda to sharpen his skills both in front of the lens and behind the scenes; the manic and demanding location shots of the action franchise entry Red Eagle nearly sapped his physical capacity as an actor, causing him to question if he'll even consider returning for a possible sequel.

"It [High Society] is a very personal film because I'm playing myself, but it includes my director's past and his story. I helped out by producing and finding him investors from Thailand for the second half of the film. It was a relaxing, laid-back film, and I'm a close friend with the director.

"Red Eagle is along the lines of Batman or The Bourne Identity. I've always been a big fan of the director Wisit Sasanatieng. He made this great film, [a Thai western] Tears of the Black Tiger, which is one of my favourite Thai films. And every kid dreams of getting dressed up and playing a superhero. However, when we actually started filming, it was torturous. Running around in Bangkok weather with a centimetre-thick rubber suit, it was like wearing a portable sauna. It was the hardest film I've ever done in my life."

Ananda's unmistakable artistic versatility is complimented and bolstered by his intense focus on character and symbolism. And his sturdy commitment to underground filmmaking, juxtaposed with his involvement with national ad campaigns and blockbuster pictures, demonstrates a clear desire not to be typecast. "I try not to get stuck in a genre and I don't want to be stereotyped. I don't want to be seen as the action guy or the comedy actor or even the cool guy. I like it when my personality has nothing that associates with the characters I play."

Ananda's towering profile, substantial filmography and paparazzi-combed private life frequently mask what he contentedly describes as his ''loner'' and ''freelance'' persona and work ethic. Even his childhood tastes and creative inspirations were drawn from a self-instilled thirst for equal doses of exotic excursion and innovative thinking, with little influence from those in his own age demographic.

''Many of my own influences were found on my own time. I was kicked out of school when I was 13, and from that point on, I was home schooled and self-educated. And when I started getting into music and films, a lot of it came from people who were twice my age.''

Ananda fondly recounts listening to the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground, unwinding while reading Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf and sipping whisky atop Nepalese guesthouses. He also absorbed what he calls the ''magic quality'' of American cinema of the 1940s and '50s. And while admiring the grace and ''golden era'' authority of such legends as Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, Ananda lists Daniel Day-Lewis, Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet as his idea of model performers.

And in his enthusiastic consumption of literature, Ananda stumbled upon another unexpected method of honing his technique as an actor. Since reading Vladimir Nabokov's controversy-courting classic Lolita, he has used the novel's detached examination of character as a creative prism through which he

jlinterprets his own on-screen roles.

''That novel made a real impression on me. I just like the language so much; it's not your typical English literature. It has that same character narrative you get from a film; it's from a singular point of view, and you really get into the Humbert Humbert character. That passion translates to the way I look at the characters in my films. Humbert Humbert is this character that the author has no sympathy for.

''And that's how I look at my characters. When I look at my scripts, I take away my preconceptions of a certain character and try to understand him from his point of view, whether or not I sympathise with him.''

But for all his multicultural background and transatlantic influences, there was, until recently, still one vital piece of Ananda's identity that remained elusive: Thai citizenship. For years, one of Thailand's biggest movie stars was not technically Thai. Although born in this country, the Lao-Australian actor has spent most of his adult life operating on annual work permits and visas, without any formal acknowledgement of residency.

''Usually when I went to get my yearly visa, there'd be a thousand people queued up at the office. [When I was 20], I actually had to start my own company because I couldn't get a visa under my father anymore.

''But now I'm officially a Thai person; I've always felt like a Thai. I got it about three or four months back. I always thought the process would be a lot harder because just obtaining a yearly work permit in Thailand, you need a very thick stack of papers. I've always had hassles just getting the visa. As it turns out, [applying for citizenship] only required about six or seven pieces of paper, and I got it in a week.

''For me, it was a fluke. I never thought I'd get citizenship because the process of getting permanent residence and all that sh** takes a long time. There's also a screening process that isn't exactly unbiased.

''And now, I can own land, I don't have to buy property in other people's names, and citizenship's great for tax purposes,'' Ananda adds with his usual measure of smirking playfulness.

For all the fame and critical acclaim he has received as a Thai actor, many have wondered whether Ananda has plans to seek out what few Thai actors have been able to taste _ mainstream international success.

In his genre-strafing, niche-flouting work, he has managed to combine in himself the Eastern deftness of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and the Western edge of Colin Farrell, with a GQ-ready tinge of Orlando Bloom's look. The average outside observer or avid agency representative wouldn't have to be prodded too much to imagine Ananda as a potential crossover triumph; an actor who could do for dramatic filmmaking what Tony Jaa did for the global martial arts film market.

However, Ananda is reluctant to pursue such a goal, swayed by his own apprehension about inflating his already considerable celebrity, as well as expanding the parameters of the Thai film industry.

''When I travel to different film festivals, I get a lot of offers from international agencies. But I'm a shy person. I like my privacy so much that I can't imagine myself being more recognised than I already am. The idea of being this ambitious actor who's trying to make it big outside of his own country just doesn't appeal to me.

''Every time I'm approached, it's always about name-dropping, like, 'we'll get you a meeting with Harvey Weinstein'. And that's the stuff that makes me really, really awkward. I think I'm at the limits of where I want to be as a star, in terms of recognition.

''I'm also more focused on the local industry. There's a lot more that needs to be achieved, and I'd like to be a part of getting the government involved in the film industry. But the people they have in charge of the Ministry of Culture are ignorant of film itself. You need someone who's fairly adept in this field to create the funds and allocate the money.

''A lot of the money is allocated to bringing foreign production into Thailand, but that doesn't actually help the younger generation. As for the people of my generation, and the generation coming up right now, I don't want to say the quality isn't there, but it feels that way. We don't seem to have any up-and-coming directors, so we need to develop that.''

After firing a small salvo at the lack of support for the local fim industry, Ananda's criticism of government extends beyond the Ministry of Culture's

jlfavouritism and ineptitude. In the months following Bangkok's April and May protests, he has tapped into a fresh vein of outrage.

''I've always been strong-minded when it comes to politics. I try not to get involved though, because it's such a messy industry. It's sad that we have people at the top exploiting people down below, and I see this on both sides, red and yellow. I don't think the people at the top have respect for the people they are actually working for, and I hate how there's all this rhetoric about democracy when it's so apparent that the ones screaming 'democracy' don't seem like they understand anything about democracy.

''All these civil processes are meant to start from the ground and then move up. I think the only way to solve this now is to reform education, because I have no faith in the politicians we have now. It's always been about seniority and not about whether or not you can do the job.''

And even with such a vast array of personal interests _ ranging from '60s British blues and 1940s BSA motorcycles to foreign treks and political discourse _Ananda is still particularly keen on developing his film talents away from the leading man's glare of publicity.

''Once things are a bit more stabilised in my life, I'll try to move towards being more behind the camera. I think I make a fairly good producer now, but I'd like to direct. We have plans for it next year, but we'll see. I'm in no rush. I'm not saying that I'll leave acting completely, but maybe I'll just share my time.''

About the author

Writer: Asawin Suebsaeng
Position: Reporter

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  • prasat

    Discussion 3 : 22/08/2010 at 08:46 PM3

    It's highly doubtful if Ananda would be where he is today without the connections of his famous father, who's career has been built upon lies and fraud.

    This was the man who told the world he swam the Mekhong River to rescue his Lao wife. This turned him into an international celebrity. Then years later it was revealed to be a pack of lies.

  • sombat

    Discussion 2 : 22/08/2010 at 06:10 PM2

    Thailand needs more people like Ananda or Apichapong that think out of the box and can eventually kick the machine... Time for a change... the air of this country has become unbreathable!

  • Alan Parkhouse

    Discussion 1 : 22/08/2010 at 11:59 AM1

    Great story Asawin. Very well written.


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