Q&A: Ananda Everingham

Star and producer of Laos' first commercial films in 33 years

Ananda Everingham is fast becoming one of Thailand’s most prolific and popular film stars—and he's not even Thai. His Australian father, John, a photojournalist based in neighboring Laos in the 1970s, was one of the few members of the foreign press who stayed behind when the government turned Communist in 1975. He was kicked out of Laos a couple of years later, only to return--scuba diving under the Mekong River--to bring his Lao girlfriend out to Bangkok, where they married and, in 1982, had a son. A year later, a television movie starring Michael Landon told their story. By 14, Everingham had acted in his first film and since then has appeared in a steady stream of Thai movies and television. His leading role in the 2004 Thai horror movie “Shutter” put him on the map and in 2007 Everingham appeared in four films. The Hollywood Reporter’s Joel Gershon caught up with Everingham on the eve of the June 6 Thailand release of “Sabaidee Luang Prabang,” (Good Morning, Luang Prabang), the first commercial film made in Laos in 33 years.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did your career start?
Ananda Everingham:
I grew up in Bangkok and went to international school like every “luk krung” [interracial Thai] kid. I got in a lot of trouble and fights, got into bad things, the wrong crowd, and was kicked out of school and sent to juvie. I ended up waiting tables in my dad’s restaurant while waiting to be shipped off to Darjeeling for boarding school, because Dad thought I needed discipline and that Bangkok was the wrong environment for me. It was kind of funny, I hit rock bottom when I was 14 [laughs]. The rest is a big cliché. While I working at dad’s restaurant, a guy walked in, and said, ‘Hey come over here, do you want to be a movie star?’ I thought, ‘Well, it’s better than going to boarding school.’ That was it, and it all happened within two weeks.

THR: Ever see the movie on your parents starring Michael Landon?
Everingham: The story only resurfaced when I got into the industry, and that’s how they started promoting me. They fucked it up, though. It’s a good movie, but dad hates the film with a passion and he never let me watch it. I secretly got a copy, and I think it’s a good TV movie, but it’s really distorted, diluted and one dimensional about dad swimming across the river driven by love. I guess he wanted it to speak more about politics and the real situation there, such as the CIA’s secret bombing mission in Laos.

THR: Were you restricted from going to Laos growing up?
Everingham: The first time I went to Laos was about seven years ago because our family was blacklisted. It was a big deal. Seven or eight years ago, “60 Minutes” came to Thailand and wanted to do a segment on Laos. They spoke to dad and he told his story. So the first time I went there was with a TV crew, and it was not the most intimate experience. I went back a year later with mom. She got emotional, she went back to see the house she grew up in. That was tough. Just recently I went back again. I did a motorcycle trip from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. And went back to my mom’s house and it got to me. I met with my relatives, including one who was 98, who couldn’t see so well, but she went on and on and on about my mom and she said ‘Don’t forget to bring mom back to Laos.’ And I admit, I teared up.

THR: Do you feel more Thai, Lao or Australian?
Everingham: I definitely have an identity crisis. I’m not Australian; I’m not Thai at all. I sort of feel like I fit in when I go back to Laos, maybe it’s the nature of the people there. When I went to school in Australia, I didn’t feel Australian. I had issues of fitting in. And Thais treat different people differently.

THR: How did “Sabaidee Luang Prabang” come about?
Everingham: I did the film because it felt like we could make history with it. After I read the script, I fell for it. I thought it was a good idea; it’s something like (Richard Linklater’s) “Before Sunrise” (1995) and “Before Sunset,” (2004). It’s a very talky film. But it wasn’t like you can find a script, go to Laos and shoot a film. Many people have been trying to shoot films in Laos. You have to go through the system, you have to send the script to the government, it has to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture and everything has to be correct according to the Laos government.

THR: What changes did the Laos government make?
Everingham: The film became a lot more ambiguous, which is actually good. At first, it was an all-out love story between a Thai guy and a Lao girl. They requested that they change the Thai to a Lao character, which sort of fucked up the film at first because it was supposed to be a love story between two different countries, and each character is supposed to be representing the country. So then we had to think up a way to tell the same story so that we could still have the same impact as the Laos-Thailand love story. And so what we did was make the character basically be me. I’m Lao, I grew up in Thailand, and I’m not Thai at all. So there were certain things we had to change in the script, and ultimately it became me, a Lao-Australian kid who grew up in Thailand, and goes back to Laos for the first time, falls in love, and it became a road movie.

THR: So you decided to go along with the officials?
Everingham: We didn’t give in like, ‘Oh let’s just get this thing done.’ We respected the guidelines; we rewrote certain parts of the script. I don’t want to put them down or anything like that. It’s their first film in 33 years, they want to get the right presentation and be seen in the right light, which I understand. They’re a communist country. They wanted it to be a bit more commercial, so they wanted more scenery, and they wanted us to feature certain things, which is fine. It didn’t really mess with the content of the film so much, as much as it was a logistic thing, since we had to really move around and with 13 days to shoot, which made it a bit tough.

THR: How did you become a producer of the film?
Everingham: It was one of the conditions of me being in the film. They approached me about the idea of making a TV film and I thought that there was more to it. I said I’ll be in the film but it has to be a full feature released film. So those were my conditions before the film was even shot. Because it’s a sensitive subject between Thailand and Laos, and I wanted to treat it sensitively. We didn’t compromise on the production value; we compromised on the shooting time. You really need a minimum of 20 days, and we shot it in just 13. We worked day and night, and we had a full production lighting crew and everything. As we were rolling, I could see people gathering around the grip team and lighting crew and asking to have photos with them. It was fantastic. Everybody worked for peanuts and had a great time.

THR: Do you expect the film to be distributed around the world?
Everingham: We shall see. I think it has potential. It’s a landmark film. I don’t think it has to be an art house film with raving reviews, or something suitable for Cannes. I was just thinking, let’s just make this film; it’s a political statement in itself. And if the producers [Sparta, a Thai company, and Lao Art Media] make a little money from the film, it proves that maybe we can make a little film industry in Laos. And if we can accomplish just that, that’s all I want.

VITAL STATS: Ananda Everingham

Nationality: Australian
Birth: May 31, 1982 in Bangkok, Thailand
Selected filmography: “Me... Myself” (2007); “Bangkok Time” (2007); “Pleasure Factory” (2007); “Ploy” (2007); “Shutter” (2004); “Ghost Delivery” (2003); “303 Fear Faith Revenge” (1998); “Anda kub Fahsai” (1997).
Notable awards: Pusan Film Festival, Star Summit Curtain Call (2007)