Ananda Everingham is noticeable, very noticeable in fact. At our lunch before the interview people came to the table to say hi. Ananda is also cool, in a way he almost exudes a Johnny Depp-ish vibe – laid back and personable.
The Thai actor and producer was noticed during lunch and he was graceful with everyone. Nothing it would seem can throw him off, and we tried. The first question to him was “Are you sick of people asking you about Shutter?” Ananda laughed. “That’s a good question. It’s been 15 years and people still speak of the film.” He nailed it. But the movie was something quite spectacular, from the story, the acting, to the clever editing, this horror was at the top of the list when Thailand’s film industry was mass-producing the genre. It did so well that it was remade in 2008 starring the rather bland Joshua Jackson.
“I think the film found something special, some universal connection with the audiences of the world. It had the top box office in Southeast Asia, and Rio!” Really in Brazil? “I remember meeting some Brazilians in Bangkok some years ago and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re the Shutter guy!’ ” And he is the Shutter guy; who can forget his facial reactions throughout the film? “I don’t know how much acting there was in Shutter,” he confesses. To show his point he made different versions of looking frightened. “I think a lot of people don’t know this about horror films. The main acting technique is just breathing deeply and slowly and doing everything in slow motion.” Slow motion or not, Ananda’s skills made it look easy.
Surely, the desire to be in front of the screen came to him when he was young. Well, not really. Ananda’s journey to the movies was a ‘serendipitous’ one, his word. One thing in his life lead to another and here is where he found himself 30-odd films later.
That’s the quick version, the extended cut of his life would include growing up and not liking school very much followed by getting into trouble. “I was this kid that didn’t quite understand the structures of school and education, even though I was fairly bright.” He thought weekends weren’t long enough so he took liberties with his schooling hours. “I would take Mondays off. I would take the bus to school but I would not walk into school.” Having this cavalier attitude towards school, he soon crossed paths with other kids who shared his dislike for the education system.
“I was introduced to drugs, eventually I got kicked out of school for fighting and this was over a very short period of time, maybe three months.” The spiral continued when he was picked up by the police for drugs and was sent to juvenile school. “I was stuck in juvy and I had come to the end of my rope, I had taken it too far. I felt like I needed to prove to my parents and the people around me that I was still somebody of value.
His father had a solution, the boarding school he had in mind wasn’t just any institution but one that was in Darjeeling, India, up in the Himalayas where there was nothing there to distract him. He accepted his fate, but apparently fate had other plans. While waiting to be sent off to boarding school, Ananda worked at his father’s restaurant when one day a customer called him over and asked him if he wanted to be a movie star. A little creepy yes, but the results were thankfully positive. “I had no ambitions being involved in a public career but at that point anything that could keep me in Bangkok, I was willing to do. He told the man to speak to his father who said yes, thinking that perhaps work would help straighten his path.
He learnt on the job and he worked very hard because ultimately he wanted redemption, and he was cast in his first film a year later at 14. “I was very lucky I got in with a group of serious actors and they became my mentors. I had to prove myself, I overcompensated, I worked harder than anybody else, not because I wanted to be a movie star, my motive at the time was just to prove my worth.”
“I didn’t do it because I felt like I would be an actor in the future, I just felt like I had wasted so many people’s time and energy being this punk kid, I just wanted to prove myself someway.” Working as hard as he did, as hard as he still does, Ananda found a way to overcome whatever limitations to master his craft and career in Thailand. But there was one minor stumbling block. Ananda can’t read Thai.
“The scripts are in Thai and I don’t read Thai so it is a bit of a hassle, not just for me but also for the person who has to read the script to me,” he says. But he has a system that seems to work for him. He has someone read to him his lines and have them rewritten phonetically or in ‘karaoke language’ as he puts it. This has had an interesting effect as it turns out.
Ananda found it useful not really knowing the exact lines delivered by his cast mates; his reactions to them became more spontaneous and that improved his acting. Not knowing the nuances of a scene when filming starts would give anyone the heebie-jeebies, but Ananda uses that nervousness. “It’s fun to have the nerves, I love that part of it too, waking up with that pit in my stomach and I feel the cold sweat coming on, it’s like s**t, they are about to roll camera. Take a deep breath man. It’s fun!”
His nerves subside once the filming starts and he analyses his performance after every take. “I watch myself incessantly when I am on set. I will do a take and watch myself, unless the director tells me not to.” There are actors who cannot watch themselves in the cinemas and Ananda is one of those. His reasons however, aren’t as straightforward as spotting a performance mistake that cannot be changed, he finds that he can’t get his worth of entertainment from it. “Because I was thinking about shooting the scene, you’re not being objective about the film, which then does nothing for me.”
“When it gets to the cinema, I feel like my process is over. For me it is quite cathartic, I don’t need to watch the film to have a sense of fulfilment.” Ananda does concede that giving it a few years, he may feel differently about it. When a movie of his does show on TV, he said he would sometimes watch it. Out of the 30 films he has made, Ananda confessed that he has only seen maybe three, from beginning to end.
Since the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians and a more TV series that has Asian leads, many actors in the region would see it as an opportunity to get their foot in the door and tap into an international arena. “I’m very proud of the people in Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m super proud that it’s the number one at the box office. But I’m quite patriotic when it comes to the Thai film industry. I might look at it differently because I’m not solely motivated by money, fame and exposure.”
And he has been asked if he has Hollywood dreams. He is bilingual, he looks both Asian and Western, so why wouldn’t he? “For me it doesn’t fit, it feels alien to me. I’ve never had that motive but that’s a personal point of view. As a whole, it’s a great time for Asian actors who feel like they want to pursue their career outside their countries.”
What would be his next career move? Is he ready to go behind the camera? “I have such a great respect for the craft that I don’t think I would be able to do it if I don’t have something important to say,” he says, noting that when he does find his voice or a story that he is passionate about then he may consider the director’s chair.
It isn’t like Ananda does not have his hands full at the moment. His production company, Halo Production is finally making progress with new TV shows and films. Ananda also had a movie that just came out – Khun Phan 2, a sequel to the 2016 movie in which he plays a World War II police officer with superpowers. “He is like a Marvel superhero,” says Ananda with a wry smile. “The first Khun Phan was screened in New York recently and I read a review where the guy said, ‘It took me a while to actually understand how weird this film actually is’ – it’s sci-fi meets Spaghetti Western.”
It’s a strange craft this acting business, muses Ananda. And based on his stories, it seems to be a challenging and rewarding one too. For him his career follows the ebbs and flows of life; he is along for the ride and watching and experiencing each adventure in awe and enjoyment. “Each film and each experience is a new one and I can’t dictate it. It’s freeing in a sense.”
Getting ready for the next adventure and not knowing exactly what to expect keeps things new and for Ananda, it takes away complacency. “When I was in my 20s, I wondered what I would be in my 30s. Now in my 30s things are completely different, the characters I play are different and everything is new again. This is exciting, makes me think when I hit my 40s how would things evolve again.”