Interview: Vithaya Pansringarm from "Only God Forgives"
Actor Vithaya Pansringarm has pretty much just began his rise to fame in cinema. His biggest role to date is opposite Ryan Gosling as the vengeance seeking Chang in “Only God Forgives”. This memorable character undoubtedly has struck fear in all who watch the film. Movie Room Reviews had the wonderful opportunity of asking Vithaya about this role of a lifetime.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: I watched this movie, Only God Forgives, a few weeks ago, and it's such a great film. You starred as a police officer named Chang who chases after Ryan Goslings character. I wanted to ask you what's your take on the character of Chang? Who is he, and is he a bad guy or a good guy, you think?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Yeah, he's a good guy who's bad. [laughter] He's God. He is an Angel of Vengeance. He is the angel of the city. He's somebody we see as the God that protects the city, and the people of that country. In Thailand, we believe that's God that protects our land. I said to myself, this character is almost like he's a policeman. Already, in his job he's protecting his people anyhow, but because he has this spiritual power that kind of chose him and make him either believe in himself and everybody starts to believe that he is God. He's somebody who has a trance. That's one thing in Asia we believe about people who have trance. So, Chang is somebody who has a trance and has the energy that comes through him, and he has the responsibility to be the executioner and the protector of his society.
MRR: You played him brilliantly I feel like, and he's such a scary character, but the same time, if he was on your side, it would be awesome.
Vithaya Pansringarm: Nick doesn't want a lot of acting on the face. He wants me to use the inner energy. That's what term we use. As for martial arts, it's almost the key, the energy within and because he knows that I’ve been involved with martial arts for 28 years, and he said, "Well, that would be perfect if you used your martial arts skill in terms of just the energy part of it." That's why, even the weapon, which was originally supposed to be an axe, we changed it to the sword because I've done Japanese fencing for 28 years. So, for me handling anything like a stick or sword, I'm comfortable with, and that's why, when I'm holding the sword or using the weapon, that you can feel that energy.
MRR: How difficult was it in the film to do your character because of the lack of dialog in the film?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Very challenging. It's speak without speaking. Of course, it's hard enough, but again, it also gives the audience the opportunity to create their own, almost like imagination or their own creation about the character. What is the guy thinking? I think the only hint about this character is that... Okay, he kills somebody and then, he goes and sings. It's such a contrast, right? But, actually, again, when you think about it symbolically, it's almost like he also wants to purify himself. Singing is the way he purifies himself or get out of his trance. And again, it's almost like he has this sympathy or he has this sadness that he had to let go of all the things that he did. So, that's also for me, we tried to create this feeling, and so, when he sings, it's almost like he's not enjoying it. It's just part of his ritual. And of course, and the thing about it, how Nick creates this character, or we, when we created it, it's like you cannot see in other films because you would never see this character in other films except Only God Forgives. It is a character that will stay with this project and it's a symbol of the movie.
MRR: Alright. Well, you spoke about how you had done martial arts. I was gonna ask you what skills you needed to acquire for the role especially for the fighting scenes. It sounds like you already knew what you were doing, huh?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Well, the fighting scene was tough because even though, I've done kendo for a long time, I'm shooting this film when I'm 53 years old, I'm not a young actor anymore. Plus, before this Only God Forgives project, I was very overweight. I was a 103 kilograms. I'm a big Thai, for a Thai man, I'm a big guy. I'm 5 foot 10 and 100 kilograms. So, when Nick said, "Hey, you know what, you need to be an ex-boxer." The next thing I knew I was in the gym, for nine months, just to drop 20 kilos for this film.
So, that is martial art because it's discipline. And to me, I cannot miss the opportunity to work with Nick (Winding Refn) or to work with Ryan (Gosling) or KST (Kristin Scott Thomas). So, I said to myself, even before they signed me for the movie, I said, "Whether I get it or not, I'm going to do my best." So, eight-and-a-half months in the gym and then, when Nicolas saw my commitment level, he gave me two trainers, so another three months, now that's when the Thai boxing began.
MRR: Well, let me ask you something, who would win in a real fight... You or Ryan Gosling?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Oh, he would beat the hell out of me, for sure.
Vithaya Pansringarm: And don't give me a broomstick, then I'd beat him.
MRR: The film has a lot of violence in it, and how do you feel about violence in film?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Okay, nobody likes violence. Okay, but in this film, especially my character... I can only talk about my character because... This is the question that a lot of people ask me about, "What do you think about the violence in our country and about your character?" My next project is a Thai film called, "The Last Executioner," and it's about an executioner who works for the government, who's the last person to use a machine gun to execute in Thailand before they changed to lethal injection.
Now, I read his biography. And you think it's violent? Yes, but it's all about responsibility and duty. Same thing with Chang's character. If he's a God of Vengeance, he's an Angel of Vengeance, he has to protect his people. Yes, he has to use his power, his strength, to protect his people. So, the violence that happened in the film didn't come from anger, hate, jealousy, it's responsibility and duty. That's different. Punish people who did bad things. He didn't go out and kill innocent people.
So, it's violence with reason. In America, you have the Law of Execution in a few states, but one thing about Buddhism, is sometimes people need to see the result of what they did. It's all about karma, right? You do good karma, you get good results. You do bad karma, you would get bad results. So, in the movie, in this film, the violence shows that you get bad karma when you did something bad. Billy killed a girl, so, he deserved it, and he knows it. When he meets Chang for the first time, already it seems like they know each other. His time has come. See Billy, Julian and Crystal commit karma in America, but they cannot escape it because, as long as they're still in the universe, they cannot escape the bad karma that they committed.
MRR: Wow, that's a great answer. Thank you.
MRR: I may be wrong now, but you seem relatively new to the acting game. When did this spark inside you? How did you get started?
Vithaya Pansringarm: Six years ago it started from a short film, an eight-minute short film. I had my own business, my wife is American, she's a ballerina from New York. We moved to Thailand 27 years ago, we opened a dance school, and we enjoy ourselves. I have a lot of students in my school. And then one night, I went to a party. Then one cameraman saw me and said, "Hey, would you like to act as a policeman in my eight-minute short film?" So, that's how I started. I acted in his film and the next thing, he got this big job with the Millennium Films, and they were looking for one character in the film that they couldn't find, so, he called me and said, "Hey, you know what? Would you like to come and cast for this character?" So, I went. The casting directors in Bangkok got to know me. And then I started doing a small role like a character actor, few scenes, no significant scene at all.
But for me I feel like, it's a big jump from new in the industry and then, to have an opportunity to work with Nick and with Ryan and KST, I would say, almost like a Cinderella story for me.
MRR: Alright. I feel like your story is, now that you tell it, it’s a very unique story because, I think a lot of people work so hard to get in the acting business, and I'm not saying you didn't work hard, but I'm saying that, it almost came to you as it should be, you know what I mean?
Vithaya Pansringarm: It's challenging, because I worked very hard to really show that I can do it, you see. Like I said, if the project comes and I try to take it, I just put every effort that I have in it. That's how it happened and creating the character as well. I had a fine arts background, okay. I went to art school. So, for me to meet artists like Nick, it's great because we can be as crazy as we want to be. We can be as creative as we want to be but, for me, I feel like he's so creative and I have to catch up with him, you see. I have to try to read his mind. Try to understand his creation and if I understand that, we speak the same language and that's why I think he really enjoyed working with me. It's a big learning experience with Nicolas. He's so talented. He knows exactly what he wants and he does a lot of takes. 15, 20 takes for him is normal.
MRR: Wow. I spoke with Nicolas last week and he was very interesting to talk to. So, I can appreciate his work effort and his creative ability.
Vithaya Pansringarm: Cool. Definitely, I think he's a genius. People might think he's a little bit different but I think for me, I think, we need a director like this in the movie world now because he creates something that is unusual, unique and different.
MRR: Alright. Well, thank you so much for talking with me today. The new Blu-ray is out now and everybody can go see it and pick it up. Vithaya, thank you so much for talking and I appreciate it so much.
Vithaya Pansringarm: I just want to tell my fans also thank you to all the fans in the US for welcoming me and really appreciate all that comment and compliments and feedback, that for me is priceless.
MRR: Well, you did a great job in the film and I can't wait to see you in more.
Vithaya Pansringarm: Thank you very much, Nick.