An offer he couldn't refuse

Krissada 'Noi' Sukosol Clapp broke his showbiz hiatus for a gritty period gangster film full of skull-bashing and male bonding. He chats with 'Brunch' about that film, his new business passion and whether the Pru star will ever get back into the studio

Krissada "Noi" Sukosol Clapp seems like the last guy you'd expect to see using a cleaver for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with cooking. Gangster he is not, at least not now, as we meet at Caffe Sonata, a retro-style coffee shop tucked away off Phra Athit Road, once a bustling centre of activity in old Bangkok _ illicit and otherwise. The shop is a throwback to years gone by, with vintage furniture and photos from Hollywood's golden age on the walls. You'd almost expect a Brylcreem-haired, Brando-attitude tough guy to walk in, demanding obeisance or else.

It's a fitting setting for a chat about Noi's latest film, Antapal (Hoodlum), a gritty action film due out Thursday that explores the exploits of Thai gangsters in the 1950s.

Soft-spoken Noi, 41, has a secret he's a bit shy to admit: he's harboured a fascination with films where guns equal glory for as long as he can remember. "It's every boy's dream to carry a gun and ... play a gangster. Every actor secretly wants to play one, like [Robert] De Niro or Daniel Day Lewis have," he says. "Finally, I got my chance."

MOB MENTALITY

Antapal, directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri, is based on a true story about a Bangkokian Mafia that was formed during a time of social and cultural upheaval in Thailand. Young people were listening to Elvis and aspiring to be like James Dean, breaking from cultural norms and, in the case of the men at the centre of this film, breaking the law with a wild disregard for anything in their way.

Kongkiat is not relying on mere nostalgia for this one. Unlike Nonzee Nimibutr's 2499 Antapan Krong Muang (Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters, 1998), which was based on the same group, Kongkiat took a realist approach and the effect, Noi says, can at times be unsettling.

"It might not be what the audience is expecting. It's more Daniel Craig than Roger Moore," he says, referring to the former's James Bond films which tend to be more violent than their kitschy predecessors.

"[Kongkiat] wanted a raw portrayal of that era. The fight scenes weren't beautifully choreographed like they are in kung fu movies."

Noi says that some of the scenes were so intense that he found himself on the verge of throwing up or fainting after filming them.

"In the first action sequence, I fight 15 guys, kill one with a meat cleaver and fatally stab another with a giant crab claw," he says. "When I came home with a black eye one day, my brother [Suki Clapp] asked me how many people I had killed that day. I lost count!"

The affable and soft-spoken Noi says that "becoming" Jod, the character he plays in Antapal, involved a complete transformation, beginning with his appearance.

Noi says he approached the role as he did performances with his former band Pru, the popular Thai pop band for which he was once lead vocalist. "With the right outfit, I became another character on stage," he says. So he hit the gym first.

"I wanted Jod to be ripped and muscular like a muay Thai fighter so that he looked strong and the fight scenes were believable. I grew my hair out to suit the popular style of the time and wore dark contact lenses, which gave me a sterner, more menacing look."

With the exterior down, Noi then began exploring the character. What he discovered intrigued him, even to the point where speaking about him now he displays more than a hint of sympathy.

''He is a conflicted character and I found him challenging to play,'' Noi says. ''He doesn't want to be a gangster, but he happens to be good at it. While he helps his friend, Dang Bireley [played by Somchai 'Tao' Kemklad], run their gang, he dreams of getting out of the business. But he can't because of loyalty and the sense of responsibility he has for these people who he cares about.

''He believes in honour.''

Honour? A gangster who deals in bullets and brutality?

Noi presses the point. ''It was a time when gangsters sort of ran the show. You had to pay them to operate a business. They became so spoiled they would just shoot people in the back if they wanted to. These men had no honour,'' he says. ''But Jod believes in the old ways, of giving people a chance before killing them. But he sees that things are changing and that he has to adapt to survive.''

Jod's deep friendship with Dang is one of the cornerstones of the film and another element that intrigued Noi. The friendship is as deep as it is, Noi says, because in the dangerous world these two operate in the stakes are literally life and death.

''It's like being a soldier at war _ you watch your brother's back. You might not believe in the war, but you still fight for the people you're with. It's like in the movie Black Hawk Down, the Eric Bana character, the coolest one in the film to me, he loves to fight and he explains why. People ask him if he's a war junkie and he says, 'It's about the men next to you and that's it.' I think it's similar for Dang and Jod.''

As gruelling as the fight sequences were, Noi found the scenes featuring the two friends and showing their depth of feeling for one another even more difficult.

''I have a great scene where I'm with Tao in an old movie theatre in Chachoengsao. Tao's character has to go into the monkhood for his mother and I tell him that I'll take care of things,'' he says. ''It was meant to show how much we respect one another. It is hard to pull off that kind of scene.''

That mutual respect extended off-screen.

''Who would have thought I'd be in a gangster movie starring Tao Somchai and myself? We're both from such different worlds, but we were brought together for this,'' he says. ''Tao is a true superstar. I didn't start in the business until I was 30. Tao has been around since he was 13 and remains popular. That's not easy in showbiz and you have to respect that.''

Likewise, Tao told Brunch, ''Personally I was a fan of Pru before I got a chance to work with Noi on this movie. He does Jod justice and does a profound job of getting into the character. The friendship we portrayed in the movie became real as we realised how much we had in common and that shows on screen.''

ACTOR AS HIRED GUN

Noi has played a diverse number of rolls, including a starring role in The Adventure of Iron Pussy (2004) and in Chookiat ''Madiew'' Sakveerakul's 13 Beloved (2006), for which he was named best actor at the Supanahong Awards. His CV might not be extensive, but it seems that he has been strategic in his choices.

Not so, says Noi _ it's often a matter of taking what he can get.

''Darryl Hannah said something like being an actor is not like other jobs where if you lose your job, you can apply for another one. Actors have to be patient unless they produce or direct themselves. So I know how lucky I am when I'm approached to do certain films.

''I know I'm difficult to cast because I look farang and my mannerisms are farang. My Thai diction is also not great. So when a director approaches me, I know that they must really think I'm suitable for a particular role. I must pay back that trust as best I can.''

Such a role has yet to be forthcoming, which explains why Noi is unsure of what he'll do next.

''Right now, I've been asked to appear in a student's film and I might do that. It's not commercial.''

Noi says stress alone can be enough for him to pass up a film opportunity. Recently when a production starring Ryan Gosling was shooting in Thailand, Noi was asked to come in and audition for a role.

''I don't know what the role was, but I didn't go,'' says Noi.

''I was too nervous. That's my weakness. It's unfortunate but that's the way I'm built. I didn't want to put myself through that stress even though it's a good opportunity. I might have in my twenties or thirties, but not any more. I just want to be happy.

''Sometimes I feel glad that I haven't been active in the business for a few years.''

FROM HEARTTHROB TO HOTELIER

Noi's group Pru was disbanded five years ago and his last movie Luang Pee Teng III (The Holy Man III) came out in 2010.

Has all the time off dulled his passion for the industry?

''It's important to have passion for many things at the same time. You don't want to depend on only one thing. I know I'm luckier than most people because I get to sing and act occasionally. In terms of my abilities, I see myself first as a songwriter, second as a stage performer, third a singer and fourth an actor. I think that's what Boyd Kosiyapong or Pod Moderndog would tell you.''

Noi leans forward as if relaying a secret: ''Right now my focus is on my family and personal life. I felt bad that I had hardly contributed to my family's business in the past. I know I'm lucky that I've been able to do what I wanted because of my family fortune.''

Noi's mother is Kamala Sukosol, heiress to the Siam City Hotels and Resorts chain.

In a past interview with Brunch, his brother Suki said much the same thing. Both brothers realised in recent years that it was time to go back to the family business.

Noi says: ''I don't want people to think that we are lucky because we have money. Most people forget that half of our family is American. My dad grew up in a middle class family in the farming state of Indiana. That's where I learned values that are important to me _ never to lie, to keep my word and to work hard. When we were abroad, we waited tables.

''I know I can always turn to my family if my back is against the wall, but I have hardly given anything back to them yet because I was busy doing what I loved, singing and performing and acting. Now I want to start doing something for them.''

Noi has been the driving force between turning their family's property near Krung Thon Bridge into a boutique hotel, The Siam, surrounded by palaces and temples and itself filled with priceless antiquities.

Noi says that his interest in the family business pleased his mother. To complete the project, he put singing on hold, despite having a solo album near completion, requiring only final vocals.

''I haven't bothered to finish it. I don't feel like going in the studio. My passion isn't there. My passion is with the hotel, helping my family.''

The Siam is truly a family affair, Noi says. ''Suki oversees the construction and my sisters deal with finances and marketing.''

Noi is in charge of design, working closely with American architect Bill Bensley. He says it's not all that different from writing songs or doing films _ it's about storytelling.

''And the only thing I can hope to achieve is to give the hotel a soul. A song with a soul lasts forever. Without one it's just a one-hit wonder.''

COMEBACK IN THE CARDS?

When The Siam is finished, will he get back to that nearly complete solo album?

He smiles, but it's not a question he's keen to answer.

''Before Pru split up, I had songs I wanted to do. It wasn't until last year that my brother [Suki, fellow Pru member] said he wanted to go back into music. I told him, 'Yeah, let's do Pru again, but let me finish my solo album first,' because I already wrote some songs and they might not be a good fit for the band.

''I've done 11 songs for my solo album. I cannot write Thai lyrics, but I did get help from the likes of Boyd, Nitipong Honark, Stamp, Poh Yokee Playboy, and Boy Tri to help me with that.''

Noi says that any return to music would involve adapting to the new paradigm in the business.

''It's funny, music started with vinyl, then cassettes and CDs and now nothing, just air. It's hard to sell records in the old way,'' he says.

''Since I left the music business five years ago, so much has changed. People listen to singles not albums. I'd have to start over.''

To deal with the drastic changes in the business, Noi says nothing short of reinvention would work for him.

''I'd have to approach it as a new artist, as if nobody knew me before,'' he says. ''But I believe in my songs. No matter how much the business has changed, if you have a damn good song, it's going to work.''

So is it a case of just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in?

''I can't promise a comeback any more. I almost feel like I'm lying to my fans. I hope I can finish the album once the hotel is finished. It's ready, but I just don't have the passion to sing them now,'' says Noi, with a big sigh.

What might rekindle that passion?

''Good question and I don't know the answer yet. It's not a closed chapter, though. I really like the songs I wrote and I want to share them. Some artists might say they don't care how much they sell or how many people listen to their songs, they just love the music. I don't think that's true. If you write a song, you want to share it.''

And his desire to share his songs might just be what gets him back in the studio to finish his album.

''I wish I had my brother's skill for wrapping up discussions like this with a great punchline. He's like Bono or George Clooney in that way. I just want to share my songs with my fans. I know that as a Cure fan, I'm always waiting for their next album. I don't want to sound corny but sometimes you have to do it for other people as well,'' he says. ''And you do it because God or your parents gave you talent and you don't want to waste it.

''OK, some people might not believe in my talent, but I think some do!'', he says, laughing.

He's not sounding corny at all. In fact, this sounds more like tough guy Jod than humble Noi. Could the character have seeped into him, perhaps?

''Well. I guess that's why I was so happy they gave me a role I could connect with. It was meant for me.''

Photos by Patipat Janthong and courtesy of Sahamongkol Film.

UNDERCOVER AT THE MAKING OF A THAI MAFIA MOVIE

How did you land the role of Jod?

I got a call from P Pooki [Sukanya Wongsathapat] who runs Baramyu, which produced 13 Beloved [which also featured Noi]. She told me about this gangster flick taking place in the ['60s Thai gangster] Dang Bireley era and told me that the director had me in mind for a part. The part they initially wanted me to play wasn't Jod ... But to make a long story short that was the role I ended up with and I soon realised what an awesome role it was. There are so many dimensions to it.

What was it like working with Somchai 'Tao' Kemklad?

He's professional and you can tell he's been in the business forever. He knows how to work with the camera. He has a bad boy persona, but that's not who he is. He's a macho, 'Let's do it! I'm ready' kind of guy. That's very different from my technique. He's very gung-ho, but it works. The camera loves his face. He has a lot of charisma. It's fun to experience that.

On working with costar Pongpat 'Aof' Wachirabunjong.

There's a scene where I get into a knife fight with another gangster. I had rehearsed the scene with another actor who was cast to play the role. When it came to the day of shooting, I received a call on my way to set and was told Phi Aof was waiting for me. I was really nervous because I think he's the best actor of his generation. He's amazing. He's enigmatic. Everyone knows that. So I kept thinking, 'Gosh, I'm gonna kill Aof Pongpat!' I was excited and honoured to be given the chance to be in a scene with him and kill him. Acting with him is on another level. I had thought it would be so much pressure but the give and take that he provides during the scenes makes it so much easier. That's what great actors do. And between takes he is able to just be Aof Pongpat and joke around. He loves antiques like I do so we talk a lot about that.

What was it like to work with Kongkiat 'Khom' Khomsiri?

Khom is totally different from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who directed me in The Adventure of Iron Pussy in 2004. Khom likes to be involved in every detail of the film, including the acting. Apichatpong trusts his actors and lets them do what they want to do. He provides overall guidance. Khom wants you to hold a fork or a spoon the way he imagines. For example, if I stabbed a guy with one thrust, he would tell me to do it again with several thrusts. That's the kind of detail he pays attention to. When we were shooting one scene, he thought I was breathing too hard. I said that was because I just fought this guy. Still, he says he wants me not to breathe so heavily. Then there was another funny time when I was fighting and he would ask me to make more noise and he'd specify what he wanted: 'More 'Eeerrrrrhhhhhh!' less 'Waaaaahh!'

What were your most memorable scenes?

One of the scenes I enjoyed most was the one in which Tao decides to get ordained and has to tell my character, Jod. And then there's the scene where I get to stab and kill Phi Aof, which is another of my favourites. He's one of my favourite actors and a legend in the industry. Acting with him in that scene is something I'd like to tell my kid about one day. I also enjoy all the action sequences. There are also many scenes that I wasn't pleased with but I guess that's the nature of being an actor. You always feel you could have done better. I saw the actor Zac Efron interviewed the other day and he said actors act out every scene three times. The first they do it is when they read the script and figure out how they're going to approach the role. The second time is when they actually do it and find out it was nothing like what they had prepared for. The third is when they drive home and mentally go over all the ways they could have done things differently. So there were many scenes that left me asking myself on the drive home why I didn't try this or that why I couldn't get into the moment.

What do you like most about acting?

Acting offers so much. There's the atmosphere and experiences. And there's also the opportunity to work with people you might not otherwise meet. For example, Luang Pee Teng III [2010] is a Thai comedy that some Thai people didn't think I would do. I did it because when I was a kid I saw Der Dok Sadao and never thought I'd get the chance to act with him. To me, he's a legend. Who would have thought Der Dok Sadao would act with me? Thai comedy is our most original form. These comedians are really good actors. Our romantic comedies are sometimes influenced by Korean or Japanese movies. And our dramas are sometimes influenced by the West. But Thai comedy is very specific to this country. That's it.

What else do you like as a fan?

Ahhhh. I'm a father now, so I don't get a chance to see many movies any more. I used to be into the whole art-film circuit. But my favourite movie that I can go back to every time is The Bridges of Madison County with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. It's the pacing, music and location, which is where my father grew up. Lately I've been watching edgier movies as well, like David Fincher's. The last great movie I saw was Drive with Ryan Gosling.

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