Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm on balancing the best of all cinematic worlds
He started his acting career at the age of 50. Currently 55, Vithaya Pansringarm has starred in more than 10 films so far — a majority of them from Thailand. However, you might recognise him from his work in The Hangover Part II (2011) and more importantly, for his role opposite Ryan Gosling's in Only God Forgives (2013).
On his second visit to India, his calm demeanour armed with impeccable English makes him delightful. After the screening of his latest film, The Last Executioner, at Jagran Film Festival, the actor chatted with us about life and cinema...
Q. Do you rehearse a lot before a shot or just go with the flow?
A. I don't rely much on workshops. To me, it's all about catching the right energy. Sometimes actors tend to judge their role and ask themselves whether they'll look good or bad on the screen. I don't do that. My job as an actor is to execute the character in however I can. If the role requires me to be a killer, I'm that guy. If it wants me to be a saint, I'm that guy as well.
Q. Speaking of killing, your character in Only God Forgives did a lot of that.
A. (Laughs) I know! But there's something much more interesting that happened back then. I was cast in the film three years before the film even went on floor. And I was patiently waiting! By the time the director (Nicolas Winding Refn) got back, I was 103 kg. One look at me and he said, “You're too big to be an ex-boxer!” So for the next nine months, without knowing whether I'd be recast or not, I hit the gym twice a day and lost 23 kg. I was willing to lose weight but I wasn't willing to lose the chance of working with someone like Nicolas.
Vithaya Pansringarm and Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn's controversial film, Only God Forgives
Q. And how was the experience shooting that epic fight scene with Ryan Gosling?
A. Since almost all the fighting shots were done at a wide angle, there was not much space left for camera tricks. We had a slew of well-choreographed sequences — involving the art of avoiding punches (laughs a bit) — but I got hit quite a few times. Although the fight scene lasted merely 2.5 minutes in the film, it took us three nights to complete it.
Q. Was Gosling a supportive co-actor?
A. He's fantastic! I'm more than grateful to have had the chance of working with a talent like him. What I like the most about him is that he's this huge Hollywood star but on the sets, he's very professional and down-to-earth. He's an A-list and I'm a no-list. Yet, he doesn't see the difference. Fortunately, I can call him a friend today.
Q. What made you sign up for The Last Executioner?
A. The story. It's about this real life guy who was the last prisoner executioner in Thailand to use a machine gun. The biopic shows his musical side and how conflicted he was to have a job that made him kill criminals for a living. As an actor, I seek challenges so when the script came my way, I pounced on the role.
Q. In your last two films, your characters either kill people or sing.
A. (Laughs) I'd say, the things I learnt as a young man thinking they are of no use... those are the very skills that have helped me as an older man. I always liked to sing and play the guitar. I just didn't knew they'd come handy someday.
Q. Do you consider moving to Hollywood anytime soon?
A. When I started out — as you know a bit too late — my idea of success was to be able to go to the convenient store and buy what I liked without a worry. But today, after travelling to some of the finest film festivals in the world with my films, I think I've received much more than I expected. To answer your question, Hollywood came looking for me and I'm always looking for good films.