Four years ago, Thanapob “Tor” Leeratanakajorn debuted in the Thai entertainment industry as Pai, a lead character in Hormones The Series, one of the country’s most successful—not to mention, controversial—teen series. The show was a hit, springboarding the young actor into the kind of overnight fame other teen actors in the country can only dream of. But there was a catch: despite taking on many different roles in the years following his stint on the hit show, hecould never fully break free from the shadow of Pai.
But 2017 is set tobe completely different for Tor. He kicks off the second half of the year with what could be the role of his lifetime, portraying a fictional autistic teenager who’s gifted with Godlike badminton skills in Side by Side, a show that’s part of GMM’s newprimetime bait, Project S: The Series. His performance has been praised by critics and itseems like Tor has finally found the new springboard that could elevate him from teen star toserious actor.
How did it feel like when you first saw yourself on the screen?
I was wowed. I thought to myself, “is it really me?” Since the first episode I felt that whoever in the screen wasn’t me but I couldn’t know for sure because it would sound like I was imagining things. After the feedback, people seemed to think so. I was happy that the audience didn’t judge the performance because of who I was. It is hard for actors when audience has the certain “image” of you even though you have played many roles. It’s hard to be considered as an actor but that’s what I wanna do so this role is what I want.
Can we assume that you took this role as a way to transcend yourself from a teen star into a real actor?
The truth is I didn’t pick the role by myself, it was a challenge from Boss [Kuno, the director of the series] because he knew I like to challenge myself. I had no clue what role I had to play until the script was done, and I was like…really?
After months of research, what have you learned about autism?
I’ve learned all the basic aspects—from physical to emotional state to their ability—to understand the core idea of autism, and how to portray it. Normally, when preparing for an acting role, I usually try to understand the character deeply. However, I have realized that only understanding isn’t enough, it still looks and feels unreal. So I changed my perception—I wouldn’t want to “understand” autism, I wanted to “be” an autistic kid. From there, I had accumulated that I could become autism in my daily life as if it’s my second nature I could switch on and off whenever I want.
What is the biggest misconception Thai people have toward autism?
They usually mix “autism” up with “mental retardation.” Even when the series had started, some people commended me, “you do look retarded!”. Of course, I knew they didn’t mean it that way, they just wanted to express that I did act literally like an autistic person. [I’ve learned that] we define anyone who is different from us as retards. I wish after watching the series they can be more openminded. I wanted to express how beautiful, innocent and talented [autistic people] are. They didn’t choose to born this way, and knowing how bad people look at them only make them feel worse.
After this, what type of role that’s still be able to challenge you?
Any character can be challenging if you put your efforts into it. Some people said, “It’s easy to play an autistic character and get praised because I can do many things to mind-blow people.” The truth is characters of ordinary people actually allow you to play even more. If you really invest in the character, rather than just reading the script out, you will realize every role has its own charm.
Do you see your career differently when you are older?
Of course, I do. Now I know what I want to do. The most important thing in the acting career is acting. If you don’t perform well, you will never get other jobs. Never stop learning and never think you are already the best one because when you do, that’s the end of your career. Someone has taught me that, even though there are plenty of rising stars mushrooming every day, they can be needle mushrooms. If you are a big-head shitake, no one can replace you.
What would be your highest achievement as an actor?
There is no such greatest achievement because this career has an endless path. I believe there will be a peak—the role that you consider as your legendary piece—but then you move on to the next one. I don’t have mine just yet, but I have always been trying to shoot Pai up with every new character I played. I haven’t yet succeeded, but I really hope this one will.