'Grandma Dies' actress, 78, on how she handled emotional scenes: 'I imagined my own end'


By AGENCY

Director Pat Boonnitipat (left) and leading actress Usha Seamkhum of hit Thai film How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies. Photo: Desmond Wee/The Straits Times/ANN

She tackled crying, dying and even a semi-nude scene with much aplomb.

It is hard to believe that How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies is Thai actress Usha Seamkhum’s acting debut.

The 78-year-old, who plays the titular matriarch Amah in the hit Thai tearjerker, is “very talented and gifted”, its director Pat Boonnitipat said of his leading lady.

The Thai filmmaker was full of praise and affection for Seamkhum when The Straits Times met the pair at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on June 24. They were in Singapore for a fan meet held at GV Suntec City that night.

Throughout the interview, Boonnitipat, 34, would hold and squeeze Seamkhum’s hand. In return, she would occasionally stroke his arm and smile at him affectionately like a doting grandmother.

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies depicts the relationship between cancer-stricken Amah and her grandson M (Billkin Putthipong Assaratanakul). M, who had never cared for his grandmother, volunteers to be her caregiver with the motive of inheriting her house. But as time passes, he develops genuine love for Amah.

Boonnitipat cited an example of how natural Seamkhum was on set. “There was a scene where M had to give Amah a sponge bath. Billkin was the one who was so shy, as he had to take off Amah’s blouse,” the director recalled.

“(Usha) did not show any signs of awkwardness or embarrassment... that scene was done in one take,” added Boonnitipat.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Seamkhum chimed in in Thai via an interpreter, adding that she had a cloth to protect her modesty.

Thai actress Usha Seamkhum greets her fans after a screening of 'How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies' in Singapore. Photo: Desmond Wee/The Straits Times/ANNThai actress Usha Seamkhum greets her fans after a screening of 'How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies' in Singapore. Photo: Desmond Wee/The Straits Times/ANN

Casting Seamkhum was a “pure coincidence”, said Boonnitipat. He had auditioned more than 100 senior actresses, but none caught his attention.

He chanced upon Seamkhum in an old music video that his assistant director had filmed and was impressed by her acting.

It was the natural affinity and easy chemistry between Thai actor-singer Billkin and Seamkhum during the screen test that eventually sealed the deal, and she joked that she has since adopted the 24-year-old idol as her grandson.

In real life, the actress has three daughters and four grandchildren: a pair of twin grandsons, who are the same age as Billkin, and a grandson and a granddaughter who are university students.

Seamkhum said she shares a strong bond with her grandchildren, whom she helped raise from birth until they were about school-going age.

“We remain very close. I love them a lot, and I still hug and kiss them now – even when we’re shopping at department stores,” said the septuagenarian with a laugh.

On how a rookie like her handled the emotional scenes, Seamkhum explained that she pictured herself suffering the same pain to portray Amah’s plight.

“I imagined my own end, and how I might be in future,” she said. “Everyone will face death eventually, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Boonnitipat said: “This is her first movie, (yet) she can do intense and emotional scenes in one take. It comes so easily to her.”

'How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies', which opened in Thailand in April, has become a box office champion in South-East Asia. Photo: Handout'How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies', which opened in Thailand in April, has become a box office champion in South-East Asia. Photo: Handout

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies, which opened in Thailand in April, has become a box office champion in South-East Asia.

Seamkhum downplayed her popularity and the attention she has received, calling herself a “very normal person”.

“I did not expect myself to star in a film. Pat is a very talented director who guided me along,” she said.

When asked if she is treated as a national hero in her native country, she demurred and said she is “not famous”, but that some people do ask to take photographs with her.

As for how it feels to be considered everyone’s beloved grandmother, she replied: “There are so many grandchildren to love.”

Boonnitipat expressed gratitude to moviegoers for embracing his feature film debut, as its success took him by surprise.

“People were telling me that the movie, which is about a traditional Chinese family, will naturally do well in a Mandarin-speaking country. But when it did well in Indonesia, I realised that the story is universal,” he said.

“Everyone can relate to the bond between a grandmother and her grandson.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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