SHE started her career as a pop singer with Grammy, reveled in it for more than a decade, then two life-changing movie roles came her way, one in Thailand and one abroad. Both have catapulted Yaya ‘Ying’ Rhatha Phongam to dizzy heights.
The Thai film, ‘Jan Dara,’ directed by the masterful M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul, featured Ying in a sensational nude scene with Thai superstar Mario Mauer.
The international film, ‘Only God Forgives’, directed by 2011 Cannes Best Director awardee Nicolas Refn, sees her in a shocking ‘turn-on’ scene with hunky Hollywood actor Ryan Gosling.
‘Only God Forgives’ was shown at the prestigious Cannes Festival this year, where the Thai actress walked on the famed Red Carpet and created a stir with her elegance, style and striking ‘Thai’ outfits.
The movie will be released here this month.
Yes, I’m totally a Bangkok-girl, and did my school and college here. My degree was in English from Bangkok University, and I’ve been working on my English ever since!
Were you a singer from an early age?
Yes, I released my first album with Grammy when I was only 16 years old, and followed it with two more albums. I loved singing and dancing on stage!
How did films happen?
I guess it was destiny! My mom Noi Phongam, was a well-known comedian, so it was in my genes. I did one Thai soap ‘Tom Yam Lamsing’ as a singer, and auditioned for many foreign films, but I didn’t get any of them! I auditioned for ‘Only God Forgives’ as early as 2011, but only heard from them a year later! By then, my first Thai movie ‘Jan Dara’ had already been released.
That was a daring role.
Yes, it was not easy, playing the role of the sexy Madam Boonleung, who was also older than me. But the director held a one-month workshop with the whole cast, which helped a lot.
How did you enact the love-scenes with Thai super-star Mario Mauer?
He’s young, very nice, and has done so many films! We ‘acted out’ the love-scenes at the end of the workshop, which made them a lot easier.
How was it working with director Nicolas Winding Refn?
All I can say is that Nick’s very intense. I did at least 30 takes for every scene! The Thai line that he repeated the most, was ‘Dee Mak, Au Eek!’ (‘Very good, do it again!’)
What’s your role?
In the original script, I was supposed to be a prostitute, but when he saw my music videos, he said “Damn, she can sing!” So, he changed my role to a karaoke singer!
Where was the movie shot?
We shot overnight only, from 6pm to 6 am. Most of it was done in Chinatown, RCA, and the Rangsit area.
What was the most challenging aspect of the movie?
That I had very few dialogues, and so a lot of the acting had to come from the ‘inside,’ including the big ‘fight’ scene with Ryan Gosling.
What was Ryan Gosling like?
Everyone drools about how ‘hot’ he is, and about his six-pack. He’s also very down-to-earth and a very funny guy! He was always clowning around to cheer us up, during the tough scenes. Thus, after that big fight-scene between us, which was exhausting, he did a tap-dance backstage to humour us!
Any nerves at the Cannes Film Festival?
Very much so, but when I’m nervous, I keep it within
and just breathe in and out! I’m used to photographers, but there were so many in Cannes. Everything is larger than life at Cannes.
I deliberately chose Thai designers, as I love them. I wore a pant-suit by Vatanika for the morning photo-shoot, and a Thai silk gown by Joe Surface, for the evening premiere.
At Cannes, did you meet the Thai actress Chompoo Araya, who was criticized for not doing the Thai ‘wai’?
Yes, we had lunch together at a Thai restaurant. She’s a very nice person, and we’ve actually done a soap opera together.
What are you working on now?
My second Thai film ‘Tom Yum Goong 2’ with Tony Jaa, which will be released soon. I enjoyed that as I love Thai kick-boxing. I have another film ‘The Second Sight’ where I play a ghost. A third film, ‘Khun Pun,’ with actor Ananda Everingham, is expected to start filming soon. I’m also working on two Thai soap operas.
Any international plans?
I’ve signed a contract with an agency in London, which keeps sending me scripts. I audition for them on tape and send back to them. I dream of being the first Thai actress to do a Hollywood film! It’s tough as ‘Asian’ roles are always conceived with Chinese or Hong Kong girls in mind.
Do you think a Thai actress can make it in Hollywood?
It’s not easy; firstly, because our English-language skills are not as good as others; and secondly, because we are not fighters.
No more music for you?
Not really. But I’m partaking in a big Grammy concert in end of August, as they are great, and the stage is magic.
What are your personal dreams?
To marry, have a family, and look after them. My father died when I was 19 years old; and my mom has been everything to me. But it’s good to have a father-figure.
What will Mr Right be like?
Strong, understanding, respectful and treat me as an equal. The reason why so many marriages break up today is because women have become stronger, but men have not accepted that.
Any advice for aspiring stars?
Be patient, never stop learning, and never give up on your dreams.