Ten years ago, Sukrit “Bie” Wisetkaew made his first visit to GMM Grammy Place — the bastion of Thailand’s pop-music empire. Hours later, the teenager left the high-rise building with little hope of his dream ever coming true.
Bie with some of the child stars from The Teacher’s Diary.
“I went up to the 33rd floor, just to have a look around Genie Records and asked the security guard how many demo tapes, on average, were sent to the music label every day. He replied around 1,000 per month. I remember calculating therefore that the odds in becoming a recording artist were around 5 to 12,000,’’ recalled Bie, who was then a freshman at King Mongkut’s Universtiy of Technology Thonburi.
The odds were slim, but Bie managed it. In the third year of his engineering degree, the Chiang Mai native entered the popular TV talent contest The Star — the Thai version of American Idol. He shone. His combination of looks, honesty and charm earned him his big break, with the popular vote putting him in the runner-up position. From then on, Bie became known as “Bie the Star” and his first single, I Need Somebody, was a smash hit that catapulted him into the status of the country’s top pop-dance idol.
He has since branched out into acting, mostly on TV and theatre. This month, however, sees the 28-year-old taking his acting career to the next level. Firstly, his movie debut in GTH’s Kid Thueng Wittaya (The Teacher’s Diary) opens this week. Bie is also anxiously waiting to see if the English language version of Thai musical Khang Lang Pharb (Behind The Painting) will be given the green light for Broadway.
Bie’s rise has shown that a smart strategy and constant push for bigger career challenges can really pay off.
“Having done TV and theatre, I longed to act in a movie, and starring in a GTH movie makes me feel like I have won the lottery,’’ said Bie, who’s a big fan of many of the studio’s movies, including Fan Chan (My Girl), Maha’lai Muang Rae (The Tin Mine) and Seasons Change.
On the big stage, he has performed in three musicals: Banlang Mek, Khang Lang Pharb and Rak Jub Jai. If all goes according to plan and Bie does go to Broadway, it is sure to bring a welcome challenge to his professional career. The trade-off, however, is that working in the US would definitely make him homesick.
In The Teacher’s Diary, Bie plays Song, the sole teacher of a floating school on a lake of a dam in the middle of nowhere. A diary left behind by the previous teacher keeps him company and he reads it every day. Song falls in love with its owner, Teacher Anne (Chermarn Boonyasak), without ever having seen her face.
The film’s producer Jira Maligool was actually inspired by two true stories. One of his friend discovering a diary at his desk upon taking a new job and later meeting and marrying the owner, and the other of a floating school without electricity, tap water or telephone connection in a scenic reservoir in Lampoon province.
“I was fascinated by the teacher’s dedication in giving the kids a good level of education and how reading a dairy could make one find love. Merging the two stories made for a solid romantic plot,’’ said Bie, who himself went back to school with an acting coach who advised on each scene during the film’s two-month shoot.
Movie acting has to be realistic, his coach told him, adding that it didn’t require any the larger-than-life acting approach used in theatre productions.
“The first few scenes were the most difficult for me as acting for a single camera was something new. I also had to tone down the acting and my voice projection,’’ he said.
The March screening of the romcom coincides with last year’s release of GTH’s horror-comedy, Pee Mak, which became 2013’s biggest blockbuster.
Bie says, however, that he does not feel any pressure about how Kid Thueng Wittaya will fare at the box office, after its premiere yesterday.
“Exact [the TV production house that makes The Star and the dramas that he stars in] produces many soap operas a year and so they’re focused year-round on ratings. GTH normally makes one big movie production a year, which makes it even more exciting to see the response from moviegoers. It’s like waiting for New Year to come, so why not celebrate the occasion instead of getting stressed?’’ laughed Bie, who added that he is looking forward to acting in more movies.
But the real big test for Bie is still to come. He admits that he’s keeping his fingers crossed that investors will give the go-ahead for Takonkiet Viravan’s English version of Behind The Painting, an adaptation of one of Thailand’s most beloved novels about the doomed love of a young man and an older woman. Earlier this month Bie was in the US to deliver a run-through of the whole performance at a theatre in New York.
“Before the run-through, the whole production team and I were really excited,’’ he recounts, adding that he had butterflies in his tummy before performing in front of the investors.
“My English-speaking colleagues said it was good to be excited and they couldn’t wait to go on stage. I told them that I was really nervous, especially with having to perform for an international audience.’’
So it was back to school for Bie again, this time to take English classes and learning to "tread the boards"; this Bie believes has been one of the toughest challenges so far in his career.
His superstar status in Thailand doesn’t necessarily guarantee he makes it on the international stage, and he’s mindful that he needs to prove himself as a professional theatre actor.
While his acting career has already taken him far, Bie admits that he much prefers singing, as becoming a pop star was his childhood dream.
“I wanted to become a singer like Patiparn Patavekarn and Jason Young, who came to perform at a concert at my school. Up on stage, they interacted with the audience and it really made my day when they smiled at me and reached their hands out to me,’’ he recalled, when he met his idols as a prathom student.
It is perhaps this reason that the unpretentious superstar is also approachable with his fans and his charming stage presence and modest personality makes him one of the country’s most loved entertainers, who has won “Nine Entertain’s most popular star award” for six consecutive years.
With many of the soap operas he appears in being aired on Chinese TV, Bie also has a loyal Chinese fanbase that travel to Thailand to attend his concerts and musicals as well as his recent movie debut.
“If the investors like Behind The Painting, the musical will open in other cities before going to the Big Apple, so my plan for the second half of the year hangs on the decision of the investors about making it a Broadway show,’’ he said.
And if Bie makes it his fans will surely miss him.