Firing off queries about beauty secrets is not what a male reporter, batting an eyelid, would normally do to a female subject. But since fact-checking is part of the job, let's get this done right from the beginning.
Mayura Savetsila on a vintage set at Thai Film Archive. PHOTO COURTESY OF THAI FILM ARCHIVE
Is it true, as rumour has it, that at 56, Mayura Savetsila has never once in her life dyed her hair? Ever?
"It's true. I've never dyed my hair," says the actress, her eyes sparkling just below her legendary bangs. "I have no white hair because I never did things to my hair. Just a little spraying sometimes, nothing more than that."
"No, never did that."
A gym rat?
"I've gone to the gym for 12 years. I used to go five days a week, but now I don't have time. I do pilates, I play golf, and I jog around my house. I'm disciplined when it comes to this."
And beauty sleep? Is it true, as rumour has it, that you never go to bed late?
"I do all the time!" Mayura protests with a laugh. "Eleven o'clock is already late for me!"
Eleven o'clock is considered twilight for the rest of us, but Mayura - actress, TV host, businesswoman and an eternally youthful personality who has been around since her first movie hit the cinemas in 1975 - is also a wife and a mother (a godmother, to be precise) and beauty sleep or not, she has to get up very early to prepare breakfast, look after the house, and make sure that the rest of her family wakes up to a fresh start.
"Every day I have to be a housewife first, before I go on to do something else."
Over the past 37 years Mayura has done a lot of things. Late last month, all smiling, she was invited by the Thai Film Archive to imprint her palms on Lan Dara - Thailand's equivalent of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre's handprint square in Hollywood - an honour for her contribution to Thai cinema, especially during the 1970s and 1980s.
Mayura has also been in the news lately over her high-profile departure from the popular TV game show Ching Roi Ching Lan, one of the longest-running programmes on the local tube on which she had served as co-host for 23 years. Now juggling the time between managing her beauty products, doing television roles and taking care of herself and her family, Mayura says that she's actually busier than ever - and more than happy about it.
There's a sprightly, cheery air about the actress that makes her look at least a decade younger than she actually is. And that's the image that Thai audiences have had of her since the soprano-trained teenager made her debut at 17 - as Mayura Thanabutr - in the film by recently-crowned National Artist Dokdin Kalyamarn's romantic comedy Maam Ja in 1975, in which Mayura plays a girl in a mafia ring who falls for a handsome detective.
Maam Ja was a big hit, raking in more than 1 million baht, and soon Mayura became an on-screen muse of director Dokdin. Her two other major films were Mue Puen Po Luk On (A Hitman With A Young Child) in which she co-starred again with a top actor of the 1970s, Sombat Metanee, and the 1976 film Goong Nang, a gender comedy about a teenage girl who lives in a remote island with her grandfather and doesn't know the difference between being a man and a woman.
"I was walking on the street when I was approached by a scout," Mayura recalls. "My first job was a presenter for a soap, and from there I got a chance to work with Dokdin.
"I'm not a funny person," she continues, acknowledging that the audience has always been fond of her good-humoured personality. "My face isn't funny, the way I walk and talk isn't funny, but Dokdin is a real comedic artist, and he knows how to make a simple gesture or action look funny. I always prefer dramatic roles, but I became known through playing comedy, and even when I switched to television in the 1980s, people still remember me best from when I did my earlier comedy films."
It was in 1979 when Mayura was at the height of her popularity - she was 21 and started a move to TV at a time when cinema began its slow decline - that a terrible twist of fate barged into her peaceful life. While travelling back from a film shoot, a truck rammed into her car. She was severely injured, and although quick responses and a series of blood transfusions saved her life, she had to have her uterus removed. Months later, Mayura emerged from the near-fatal smash that left her unable to bear a child.
"It changed me a lot, that accident," she says. "I started to get nervous being in a car with someone else driving, and I began to be very cautious in life.
"But I was young then. I believed that I would be OK, I would be back to normal, and my body healed quite quickly. I fought for it because I had the energy. If that kind of thing had happened to me now, I wouldn't have come out of it in one piece." Five years later, Mayura got married to Thada Savetsila, and later she adopted a son of her brother as her own.
"I didn't feel deprived of anything," she says about the fact that she cannot have a child. "I think I came to accept that a long time ago. It was a choice which I had to take, and I don't feel bad about it."
Mayura starred in over 60 movies before her migration to television was complete. She appeared in dozens of TV dramas - including Rang Heung, an earlier version of the recently controversial Rang Ngao, and also favourites such as Kao Ee Khao Nai Hong Dang (A White Chair In A Red Room) and Puying Khon Nan Chue Boonrawd (Her Name Is Boonrawd, in which she played the "rented wife" of an American GI during the war in Vietnam).
From the mid-1980s onwards, her signature bangs and perky features landed her many hosting gigs, the most memorable being the live concert show 7 See Concert and the perennially popular Ching Roi Ching Lan - a sensation when it first came on air because of the 1 million baht jackpot - which she co-hosted with Panya Nirundkul until her exit last October.
"Sometimes producers still contact me to be in movies, but maybe I don't quite get the movies made nowadays," she says with a laugh. "The honour given to me by the Thai Film Archive - asking me to leave my handprints - is touching. I was born from the movies, and even though I wasn't in any film for a long time, I still remember how it was so important to my life." Movies, and maybe the need to keep looking good despite the onslaught of time.
"That's important too of course. You know why?" Mayura says. "Because I feel grateful for this profession. My looks are what have given me a living, so it's my duty to take care of my body. It's part of the job. And I can tell you that it's quite a demanding job."
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor