It is 9:30am in a hotel in the far, far northeast of Thailand, last Sunday to be exact. In 15 minutes I have to be onstage to give a speech, and I have detoured into the hotel's all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast.
All you can eat? There's nothing left! The ham drowns in lukewarm water. The pre-cooked fried eggs each have a neon sign above them screaming "Botulism!" The sausages remind me of a pensioner doing a cough test during his annual medical.
As I scan this motley cuisine the young waiter responsible for it all has spotted me and his eyes pop out in excitement. His face is fresher and more youthful than anything on the buffet table.
"Hey! I know you! You're a movie star!"
A movie star? I appreciate the attention and of course my mood immediately improves, but I am hardly a movie star. My one foray into filmdom was a movie called Sars Wars, an appalling black comedy-cum-horror flick made here back in 2004, but nobody remembers that pile of ...
"You're the guy from Sars Wars!" he chortles. "It's my favourite film of all time! Tell me - did you really eat that woman's head?"
Ah, Sars Wars. What an experience that was. Six years ago I was working - as I am now - at Thailand's leading entertainment company, a company enjoying a robust film-making arm.
We'd made Bang Rajan, a thrilling action drama that even got a Hollywood release at Arclight Cinemas (I was the emcee for the event - oh, if only my old Sunnybank State School friends could have been there for that one). We followed that up with Tears of the Black Tiger, which won a couple of international awards.
I was in the TV production department and one day I received a visit from two of the movie division's producers. "We're casting our latest movie, and there's a major role we'd like you to play."
My world went immediately into tunnel vision. I turned to look out the window to suppress my excitement. Major role ... latest blockbuster ... your name in lights, Andrew, your NAME IN LIGHTS. I asked for a glass of water.
This was it; my stepping stone into the glittering world of acting; free car parking at Bed Supperclub, complimentary desserts at Kuppa, extra plastic shopping bags at Carrefour at no cost ... as euphoria wrapped her arms around me in a soft embrace, I said: "Okay."
The two producers eyed one another and said: "Perhaps we should explain the story to you first."
"No need," I said with a cursory, slightly affected, wave of my hand. "I'll do it. Just send me the script."
That night I was the happiest farang this side of Silom. I envisaged my playing the part of a kindly middle-aged Westerner, a la Nicholas Cage, coming to terms with himself - and love - in the steamy oriental city of Bangkok. Or perhaps I'd be a Steven Seagal character, investigating the savage murder of a Vietnam vet at the hands of a Patpong prostitute named Nong Som, culminating in a car chase, a daring escape in a long-tailed boat, and finishing up older and wiser in a Trink-endorsed dive off Soi Cowboy. Or perhaps I'd be the sage father of a young man discovering love for the first time, offering poignant pieces of advice as my hapless son treads warily along the path of love.
Wrong on all counts.
"Andrew Biggs will play a zombie who brings a mutated Sars virus into Thailand and infects the entire country," the script explained quite clearly. "After turning into a zombie he proceeds to eat a cat, murder a woman in her bathtub and devour her head, bite and infect a pregnant woman, vomit all over a man and his girlfriend, then have his head shot off." And that, dear reader, was what I played. A bloody zombie.
Once I got over the initial shock I have to admit I kind of got into the filming, which mostly took place in an abandoned skyscraper on Asoke. The prosthetics took three hours to put onto my face and the red contact lenses made me cry constantly but I did get to work with some bigwigs in the Thai movie industry, and got paid for it as well.
Not to say it wasn't dangerous. The shoot was just like any Thai movie - lots of money on day one, and nothing left by day 20. In a single scene I was shot twice in the chest and twice in the back right before my head was blown off. They filmed the back part on day one. You should have seen the streamlined safety precautions as small explosives were strapped to my back. They even had a guy from New Zealand supervising the shoot.
The same couldn't be said for the last day of filming, where the budget had been all but depleted, the Kiwi was nowhere to be seen, and the only person attaching potential bombs to my chest was a dull-faced Thai teenager smoking a cigarette as he wired the explosives to my chest. Goodness, let's hope a sudden gust of wind doesn't send the end of your fag into the gunpowder strapped to my nipples! It was a one-take shot and he detonated it way too late, so I looked down, the explosion went off, and shrapnel jettisoned straight into the prosthetics on my forehead, missing my left eye by centimetres.
The movie had its glittering gala opening at Major Cineplex Lat Phrao. Oh all right, not so gala or glittering, but I did stand among the stars, and there were bowls of potato chips and peanuts strewn around the foyer. Much focus was on me, not for any particular reason other than I was standing right next to Nong Balloon, the current starlet of Thai cinema thanks to her cleavage that amply reflected her nickname and was never hesitant in showing it.
Sars Wars tanked after two weeks in the cinema, but it did rake in a lot of money via Video CD and DVD sales, particularly upcountry.
I am truly flattered when somebody tells me they are a fan of this column, or my books, as my writing is something I take pride in. But when I get somebody calling me a "movie star" because his favourite movie is Sars Wars, I must force myself to step over my false pride. I feel like shaking him and forcing him to watch a movie marathon featuring the likes of The Sound Of Music and Koyaanisqatsi to expand his cinema experience, thus pushing Sars Wars out of his self-designated No1 position.
Sars Wars didn't kick-start my famed acting career as I perhaps hoped it might but hey, I'm not complaining. Go to IMDb.com and there I am, a bona fide actor, who had a starring role in a movie, just like Brad Pitt, who happens to be the same age as me but who apparently went on to bigger and better things.
He did Inglourious Basterds, I did Sars Wars. Six of one, half dozen of the other I say when it comes to far, far northeastern fans.