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Living in another mindset

Actor Nopachai Peter Jayanama talks about his career, his admiration for director Pen-ek Ratanaruang and why he's pick about his parts

He may have swept the round of Thailand's movie awards for his role as a hitman who sees the world upside down in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's 2011 thriller "Fon Tok Khuen Fah" ("Headshot") but life hasn't really changed that much for actor Nopachai Peter Jayanama. In the absence of a new project to keep his talents occupied, he's gone back to work at his graphic design company, Monkey House, which he runs with long-time girlfriend.

To Peter, picking up several Best Actor statuettes doesn't mean being the country's best actor. "I see it as a prize for the whole movie," he says. "Great acting doesn't just come solely from the actor's talent, it relies on a good script, the filmmaker's aptitude for direction as well as the cinematographers and all the crew.

"Landing a part in a project doesn't come from my own choice. It's the director who chooses the actors not the other way round."

Other actors make money from doing all kinds of movies along with TV dramas, presenting commercial events and game shows, but the 38-year-old says that life is not for him.

"I'm not that kind of fun person, so I'll mess up their work. It doesn't mean that I don't want to, I tried many times but it didn't work," he says.

His portrayal of the brave romantic warrior Phra Rajamanu or Boonting in "Tamnan Somdet Phra Naresuan Maharaj" ("The Legend of King Naresuan") through a troubled husband in Pen-ek "Nang Mai" ("Nymph") and the hitman in "Headshot", have earned him a reputation has a serious actor.

Peter, who is half-Thai and half-German, made his screen debut in a TV commercial before being picked up by Kantana Productions for a few TV dramas. He thought of those appearances as little more than a good job, a way of earning money while he continued his studies at Sukhothaithammathirat open university.

"I've never really believed in systematic education and I was lucky that my family didn't force me into it," he says. "Even my graphic design skills didn't come from studying. When I left school, I went straight to work in a design studio. They were short of staff so I picked it up from there."

Although he considered acting as a sideline, he was fortunate enough to train with such mentors as the late director Numchoke Dangput as well as Patravadi Mechoodhon.

A shy introvert who lacks confidence, Peter says acting was quite against his personality, at least in the beginning.

"But when Numchoke told me that I had the potential to be an actor and he taught me to comprehend acting, I started to enjoy it."

He made his name with his big screen debut "Angulimala" the controversial fantasy-adventure-drama film based on the Buddhist-scripture story.

He was then cast by MC Chatreechalerm Yukol, aka Than Mui for his "Naresuan" project, which began in 2003 and finished filming this year. As Phraya Rajamanu, an aide to and childhood friend of King Naresuan, Peter was forced to play a lighter role than he would have liked.

"It took a lot of effort for me to play such a romantic character. It's far more stressful than doing dramas like "Headshot' or 'Angulimala'," he says seriously.

However, he admits the "Naresuan" project has paid off in terms of experience.

"Than Mui has made me believe that we can do anything we want in this world if we just work hard on it. Prior to the project, I was always scared to try new things. But he's never let me back off. Whenever I told him that I couldn't do something, he just said, 'let's try to do it first, then I will help you to improve it'."

Bonding with co-stars Lt Colonel Wanchana Sawatdee and Lt Col Winthai Suvaree also changed his life.

"They are friendly and sociable people while I was much more closed. As military culture demands, they took care of me while we were shooting the film at the Surasee Military base in Kanchanaburi Pronvice and their generosity taught me to open myself to other people," he says.

After "Naresuan," Peter received several offers, both for TV dramas and movies, but only three appealed: the two with Pen-ek and another project with Sarunyoo Jiralak. "Together Wan Theerak" stars Princess Ubolratana and Saharat Sangkhapreecha and is being released soon.

Before accepting any project, Peter insists on reading the script and talking with the director. If he feels he won't be able to interpret the part as well as he would wish, he will turn it down.

"It's not an ego thing. I just believe that if I take on a project when I'm unhappy about something, I won't be able to do good work and the worry will stay with me forever," he explains.

Pen-ek, he says, is his favourite director. The actor even once approached him for work. During the press preview of "Ploy", he introduced himself and told the director that he was desperate to be in his film. Fortunately for the film world, Pen-ek took note.

Unlike many actors, Peter has complete faith in what the director wants of him and works hard to be in character.

"The director sees the whole picture. He knows what's best on the set. Many times that the actor's interpretation is different from the director, but if he wants us to do it his own way, I won't argue," he says.

From a reluctant actor, he now hopes to continue in the movies for as long as he can though he's happy to fall back on his graphic design career during quiet times.

"I stop doing everything when I have a movie project, I enjoy the preparation to play in a character and the sadness moment for me is when the last day of the shooting comes round and I know I will no longer play that character," he says.


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