One is an artist performing most nights at TawanDang German Brewery and veteran actor famed for his villainous roles. The other is a garment industry professional who dabbles in singing and was once a dancer.
Together they own the popular GARAGE Burger & Grill restaurant at All Seasons Place, Wireless Road, and between them, they have four grown-up children living in New York City.
Meet Poo and Joy, the dynamic and highly likeable husband and wife team from the Thailand and The Philippines respectively, who met and married while working in the US more than 20 years ago.
Here, Sahajak Boonthanakit and Joy Villanueva reveal what makes them tick as a couple and business partners - and how they handle their individual careers.
By Colin Hastings
I have recently applied for my senior citizen privileges.
You spent most of your early life overseas, right?
Eleven tremendous years in Nairobi, Kenya, and 21 more wonderful years in NYC.
What were you doing in New York when you met Joy?
Managing restaurants and clubs.
Where did you guys marry?
In Queens, by the Justice of the Peace.
Why didn’t you stay in the US?
I wanted to try life in Thailand. I am Thai and wondered why I could not get the connection. So in 1996 we came to Thailand, but still do go back to the US every year because of family.
So you’ve been entertaining audiences at TawanDaeng since it opened.
Yes, I've been there since Day One in 1999. It's been a great journey. This September marks my 20th anniversary as well as TawanDaeng’s.
How many nights a week do you perform there?
Normally six nights excluding Sundays and less if I am filming.
Have you always been a good singer and who influenced you?
You’d have to ask the audience how good I am. But I can tell you, I am a lucky one to get to do what I love. I grew up listening to Elvis, Motown R&B and a lot of Country.
Do you sing in both English and Thai?
I can sing in both but, I am more comfortable singing in English.
What type of music do you normally sing?
A variety of classic Rock & Roll and soft rock. For example, CCR, Eagles, Beatles, Elvis and the like...
How did you get into acting?
I started in Nairobi in the early 70s on stage. Oliver Twist was my first play. A couple of years after returning to Thailand, my son, Lukas, got an HSBC TV commercial and I benefited from that; I got to play his father. Casting calls continued coming in after that.
I have never had formal training, but as in life, every movie is an experience, an adventure, and a lesson.
What kind of roles are you usually given?
After 21 years, I feel I am typecast - Mafia, police, military types, but I am always hoping and ready for a role that will challenge me.
What are the best known movies you’ve appeared in?
NO Escape, Only God Forgives, The Lady, Twilight Over Burma, and Trade of Innocents.
What’s the best and worst thing about acting?
Personally, it's all a HIGH for me. I get to meet new people, make new friends, go to different places/countries, get to play different personas, and get paid to do what I love.
Of all the stars you’ve met, who are your favorites?
Pierce Brosnan, Dermott Mulroney, Dustin Nguyen, and few others.
Not in my crosshairs, but like Momma said, never refuse a good offer. I am just appreciative to be working.
What’s your next movie?
A Thai horror movie and an international film. I cannot elaborate further than that.
As a well-known actor and singer, you must be constantly asked to join a selfie or sign autographs. Does it bother you?
Not at all. I do get asked to take pictures often but, as I am not star-struck kind of a guy, I wish that people would feel the same way and simply approach me in a friendly manner.
Do you ever refuse fans’ requests?
To do what? As far as song requests, I try not to disappoint.
How much time do you spend at The Garage?
As much as possible. It's where my wife and I hang out.
What came first – singing, acting or restaurant owner?
The singing and acting have always been there. The Garage Burger & Grill came to be in 2002.
Which of these do you like doing the most?
Once again, I am blessed doing all that I love. As with my four children, I have no favorites.
Do you ever get time for a vacation?
Time is always there, but rarely coincides with film schedules.
Other than The Garage, what’s your favorite Bangkok restaurant and other hang-out places?
We frequent friends' establishments such as Wine Bibber Sangria or the Friese Greene Club where movie motivated people go. We do love to cook at home. In fact, my family has given me the nickname #halfnakedchef.
What’s next for you?
To continue doing what I do, to spend more time with family and my new granddaughter.
In a small town in the Philippines.
How old are you?
Happy to be 58.
What took you the US?
My family migrated.
Please tell us about your family in the Philippines (or US) and here in Thailand.
I am part of a huge family of ten siblings. My mother is 92 and now has 14 grandchildren, seven great grandchildren, and a great great grandson. They are all in the US. My resilient mother to this day divides her time between the US and the hilippines.
Our eldest son, who is 26, has settled nicely in NY the past eight years. He is a web engineer. Our youngest son is 19 and starting college there this year taking philosophy. My husband's family is small but, spread out in different corners of the world. His mother lives in Bangkok and is beautiful at 93. I am so blessed to belong to this Thai family.
When did you start to sing?
I started singing late, in my early 20s although I did take a semester of voice at the University of the Philippines as an elective, just for fun. I was in NY when I was involved with the Filipino community Christmas pageantry, caroling etc, and as an activist in the Marcos regime resistance. We had a satirical political comedy act that took me travelling to various states performing to Fil-Am audiences. This was when I thought, ok, I can carry a tune.
Can you play any instruments?
I strum a little guitar.
Singing is the national pastime in the Philippines, right?
You can say that. Music is part of every event in our life, from weddings to funerals.
How would you describe your style of singing?
I feel most comfortable singing standard jazz, a little R&B and Blues.
Have you ever performed in front of a large audience?
As a singer I performed in more intimate settings except when I performed the American national anthem in West Virginia and more recently at my school reunion in Manila.
Where can we see you perform these days?
On some evenings between Tuesday and Friday I jam at The Garage Burger & Grill which I co-own with my husband. It is located on the 2nd Floor of the All Seasons Retail Center on Wireless Road.
Who are your favorite singers and bands?
I have a very eclectic playlist and love songs rather than a particular singer. I love the music of Amy Winehouse, Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Adele, Lady Gaga, Jason Mraz.
What was your first job after graduation?
My first job that paid me was as a shoe salesperson in the now closed department store in Manhattan called, Alexanders.
That lasted a grueling month.
How did you get involved in the textile business?
My sister had a small factory in the fashion district in Manhattan. I was sourcing trims and accessories for her. I was a buyer before I came to Thailand.
So how do you occupy yourself nowadays?
I divide my time running The Garage Burger & Grill, working as a consultant for an apparel company, and being a wife and mother. I never forget my ME time though.
Do you still travel a lot?
Not as much as before.
Why prompted you and Poo to open a restaurant?
He has a background in this field. He managed restaurants and clubs in New York.
Do you ever go to TawanDaeng to listen to Poo?
On occasion. I try not to bother him at work.
Is he good?
In what? Haha....He is a very creative person. He sings, acts, cooks, draws, and dances...the latter only with me!
What about his acting?
He is a multi-faceted and very sensitive actor. I believe that he is underrated and type casted most times. Given his talents and a chance to reveal them, he can be very versatile.
Presumably you’ve watched all his movies?
Do you ever get jealous knowing that your husband is often surrounded by beautiful actresses?
I would be lying if I said no. However, I'd like to believe that I know where I stand, my husband loves me, and I have my strengths and beautiful traits that keep me grounded....And, who said they are all beautiful? Hahaha!
Do you guys get much time to spend together?
We manage The Garage together, so YES. Besides that, if we are both in town, we make sure we have at least one meal each day together. It's not always planned but we go on date nights every now and again. We live more spontaneously rather than get into a routine.
MY ACTING CAREER BEGAN IN KENYA:
Born in Bangkok, Poo lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for more than 10 years and New York 20-plus years. He started acting on stage in Nairobi from the age of eight for about four years.
“I returned to Thailand where in 1999 I landed my first movie role in The Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio, followed by Broke Down Palace with Claire Danes. I have since been in over 70 productions; including Only
God Forgives with Ryan Gosling and Kristen Scott Thomas, The Lady with Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis, No Escape with Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson, to name a few.
“In 2015, I received an Honorary Award from the Thailand International Film Destination Festival for my contribution to foreign films made in Thailand.
“My work also include some Thai movies such as LADDALAND, BAD GENIUS, SANG KRASUE to name but a few, as well as Thai TV soap operas, commercials and voice overs. As a singer, I have had the honor of performing on various occasions for HRH Queen Sirikit, other Royal Family members and dignitaries.”
Today, Poo is co-owner and MD of The GARAGE Burger & Grill, as well as a long-time singer at TawanDaeng.
We love to eat local, rustic food....so holes-in-the-wall are our thing. We also like to listen to music around our neighbourhood.
Other than singing and being a successful entrepreneur, do you have any other hidden secrets or talents?
They are hidden for a good reason, hahaha!! I am a pretty good cook.
What’s your favorite destination for a vacation?
I love to explore new destinations, but I do love Spain.
So Thailand is home for you now?
Home is where the heart is. Thailand is home, so is NY.
MARRIED INTO THE MOST LOVING FAMILY
Joy was born in the Philippines, migrated to the US where she met her husband, and together moved to Thailand in the late 90s. “Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to the arts, as have many in my family. I trained in dance, beginning at eight years old right up to my move to New York. It was more of a hobby and never thought of it as a career. In hindsight, I wish I had. “It is in the garment industry where I have earned a living.
“However I managed my career and my love for the performing arts, partaking in theatre/stage, singing and being part of the Folklorico Filipino Dance Co of New York. Both led to me travelling extensively – the highlight of my single life.
“My first years in Bangkok were quite a struggle. It got better when I found work in the garment industry that took me travelling once again. I got a few years’ stint singing with Ajarn Prode Tanapat at the Dusit Thani Hotel, and I was casted in a few international films/TV series – thanks to helping my husband with his casting reels. They include La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) and Bakstrom.
“I am humbled to have received the Best Actress award at the 2014 Filmfest Short Film Festival.
“I feel blessed to have married into the most loving family anyone could ask for. I feel so lucky to have an unwavering, unjudgemental support from my own family. I have amazing super fun friends near and far. What more can I ask for?
“I have done many things in my life out of sheer love and sometimes impulse. I find life exciting and dynamic so I move with it and it with gusto!”