Thai actor, singer, and entrepreneur Thiraphat Sajakul discusses his latest film, life balance, fatherhood and how he navigates the entertainment industry.
Thai actor, singer, and entrepreneur Thiraphat Sajakul, popularly known by his nickname “Tui”, is familiar with the vagaries of fame with nearly three decades in the collective glow of the celluloid, the small screen, stage lights and legions of fans. His latest venture with Hollywood – Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives – has profoundly impacted him. The film translated the emotional and adrenaline-fuelled true-life rescue of a football team and their coach from deep within a flooded cave in Thailand’s mountainous north.
“An opportunity of a lifetime,” declares the 49-year-old Tui. “Working with Ron Howard is a dream for everyone. That moment when I did the Zoom casting in the middle of the pandemic will stay with me. I have played many roles, but Captain Anont, who led the Royal Thai Navy SEAL team in the rescue, is special. He is not a fictional character. I needed to understand his perspective and empathise with his difficulty in remaining logical and unemotional in a difficult situation and convey this to the audience who would not get a wide-angled view of the navy captain. I had to distill it for them. I met Captain Anont – I needed his blessings – to craft him. I also went to the cave.”
The canvas given to Tui was small, but his layered portrayal and fine brush strokes brought across the quiet strength of the navy captain. “This project was way beyond my dreams. I gave my best to this role. To play a real-life hero is special. Thirteen Lives is not just another Hollywood movie with an A-list cast. It’s special; it’s about my country, real heroes, an event, an impossible situation. This movie will be there forever.”
The inner businessman in Tui appreciates the long-term impact of the film on Chiang Rai’s economy as a tourist destination. The son of Wanasthana Sajakul, a politician and a businessman, Tui credits his father’s advice to pursue an economics degree and an MBA for his business acumen.“I’m thankful for that. It opened my mind to the bigger point of view, to understand the odds and the money around. You can enjoy what you do but understanding the ecosystem around it and the money metrics is important. That learning gave me the distance to step aside and understand why something works or doesn’t. That point of view gives you a powerful choice and expands your mind: you do something not just because you enjoy it, but the economics of it make sense too.”
So, is he first a performer or a businessman? “I have stopped labelling myself. It’s up to others to call me what I am from their point of view. I enter a ‘room’, and I am ‘that’ till I choose to leave. I flow with the energy of life. Acting is one scene, music another and business another. It’s all me at that point in time. I sit in my director’s chair, and it’s up to me to say ‘lights, camera, action’ and ‘cut’ when I need to and change the room.”
In between ‘rooms’, Tui stops to take a deep breath, meditate, and pause, “To stop the mind from moving and to recharge.” Beyond fame is life as an actor that would put even the strongest through the wringer. “It’s not easy moving in and out of characters. That first step is hard every single time. It’s like learning to play the guitar: first, your fingers are sore, you feel the burn, and then you begin to strum the chords, and the melody follows. You have to be in that character’s sphere to be ‘in’ that person. You can call it art, a movie, a song, a performance, whatever you name it; it’s really about communicating the energy.”
With two music albums (Teerapat and Phleng Man Pha Pai) and scores of credits as a singer, model, and film and TV actor, Tui has acquired many ‘labels’, and walked in and out of several ‘rooms’. In the works is a music project he doesn’t want to speak of yet, and a film series he’s is in talks about. Asked to choose one, film or TV series, Tui declares, “A film is like a song, a TV series an opera whose plot keeps evolving. Both are equally exciting but in different ways.”
After Thirteen Lives Tui is basking in the success of the Thai rom-com Don’t Touch My Dad, a TV series about a single father trying to control his teenage girls. The conversation segues into Tui’s perception of parenthood. There’s an intensity in his voice as he speaks of his 12-year-old son, Titan, who lives with Tui’s former wife, Natasha Plienwithi. “What he wants to be is up to him, his passion, his point of view. I followed my passion; it would be fair to let Titan have that freedom to create his ‘movie’. I know my game; he needs to find his. He has his matrix, his view of the world. His dreams are different from those of his parents. I’ll always be there to guide him as a coach.”
“I have no doubt he will find his melody, his beat, his game. Like I found music sitting in the back seat of my mom’s car listening to the Beatles, Elvis, and rock ’n’ roll. It just downloaded into the ‘vinyl shelf’ of my mind. Titan will have his own vinyl shelf. Understanding your coding and constructing your own operating system is essential to who we are as humans.”
“To my son, I say, start the day with gratitude, keep it simple, respect the laws of nature, be compassionate and craft the energy of your sphere, understand its quantum field and then begin painting it in your colours. Look at life as a chef and cook something that is you on a plate.”
Reticent about his several community initiatives, Tui will only say this; “It is important to leave the world a better place. I prefer to do my part quietly. I know what I’m doing, but don’t want the result of my activities to be ‘the end’ instead of the starting point of something new. My advice would be to turn on the light in your heart and let it come from within.”
And dealing with a lack of privacy as a celebrity? “My interactions with people, whether fans or not, are about exchanging energy. I appreciate that chance to make connections. My son sees all this from his ‘backseat’ in the car, and he can choose the direction he wants to take.”
Tui speaks in analogies of operating systems, frequencies, human coding and energy flow, the mind’s processing power, and the world taking the leap from the binary into the quantum. Quantum physics fascinates him, as does spirituality and meditation. His day begins with it. He takes a break by meditating, too: “I take a break with my mind, slow down and float instead of swimming.” Life, he says, is about constantly “upgrading your operating system and clearing out the cache, deleting the trash. That’s self-improvement.”
For more Society stories click here.