Sunday, August 2, 2009

Interview: Mai Charoenpura

Singer-actress Mai Charoenpura became a dance-music icon in the 1990s and gained notice as an actress in 2001 when she played the plotting Lady Sudachan in Suriyothai. She starred in last year's thriller Memory, in which she shared love scenes with Ananda Everingham and won best-actress honors at the Star Entertainment Awards. Earlier this year she starred in the bloody psychological thriller Meat Grinder. She's remained active with her singing career, controversially performing at a 2007 concert for the Manchester City football team for the team's then-owner, Thailand's fugitive deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with whom she's been in phone contact. Lekha Shankar recently hung out at Mai's home and sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Mai Charoenpura, the Thai diva who’s remained in the spotlight for more than two decades, is on a "high". She’s done two much talked-about films (including one with superstar Ananda Everingham), a sell-out concert with another Thai pop icon, Christina Aguilar, and a bigger concert on Saturday to celebrate the 25 anniversary of music label GMM Grammy, an international tour ahead and an exciting movie script churning in her head.

"I haven’t stopped working for the last two decade," says the 40-something artiste, looking stunningly youthful, in tiny shorts and blouse, as I spent an afternoon with her, at her well-appointed home in Thonglor. In between fondling her dog Taco, whom she calls her "boss", and hugging her mother whom she calls her "mentor", the lively actress spoke with characteristic honestly and energy, about her over-active life.

How have you juggled around with music and films, for more than two decades ?
Is it easy?

Not easy at all . Life has been no playground for me, and I’ve worked so hard, from a very young age. I didn’t have a teenage life, I didn’t complete my education, in England. But my father (well-known actor Ruj Ronnapop) was in films, and acting was in my blood. Then, Grammy discovered my music-talents, trained me, and before I knew it, my music-career zoomed!

A vibrant person like you, probably enjoys the energy of "live" music concerts?

I enjoy them thoroughly, as they’re a total release! There’s nothing like being in direct contact with your audience, and I have performed all around Europe, Asia, the US. I’ll probably be doing two concerts in Denmark and Finland in September. But I have to work so hard, and often, it’s more than six hours a day, at Grammy.

Did you do a concert for ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra , in Manchester, which led to much controversy?

Well, Thaksin has been a friend of my father’s, and the family, for many years. I was performing at Geneva, when he called me, and asked if I’d do a concert at Manchester, as he wanted to celebrate buying the Manchester [City] club. I agreed, and kept my word, although the other Thai singers backed out. Recently, without any reason, the press dug him out, and said he had given me 100 million baht! He also heard of it, and phoned me. We had a big laugh! If I had so much money, I would be driving a Jaguar, not a Mitsubishi, and not working so hard.

Your last two films Memory and Meat Grinder belonged to the ‘horror’ genre, and were quite controversial. What made you do them?

I liked the scripts a lot! I had missed out on many good scripts earlier because of my music concerts. The roles of both these films were strong, but definitely not easy. After Meat Grinder, I retreated to a hotel for a month for some self-therapy. It took a lot out of me.

What was it like acting with Ananda, in Memory?

Well, I’ve known Ananda over 10 years. We were both trained by the same master, Mom Noi. Ananda had acted in my first TV serial Kon Reung Muang which was hugely successful, where I played a girl with seven husbands, and he was my seventh husband! In Memory I played a schizophrenic, and I think I often scared him, as my emotional bank was always overflowing.

What about the sizzling love scenes?

Well, there was nothing sizzling when you had reflectors and film crew all around you! I also used a "stand-in" in some parts. But when I saw the film, I thought the love-scenes were well-conceived and designed.

So, what what do you want out of life, now?

My main interest now, is to live "well", in my life. I’ve been in the flash for too long. I’m into yoga, meditation. I also help with many charities. Whatever I am today, is because of my family, my fans, and I want give something back. After all, you’re here today, gone tomorrow -- look what happened to Michael Jackson.

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