Hi-So - Aditya Assarat interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
BANGKOK-born filmmaker Aditya Assarat talks exclusively to us about some of the personal themes behind his second feature film, Hi-So, and why he’ll never make a film as self-indulgent again.
He also reflects on his own career, the type of movies that inspire him and the lessons he learned from making the film. Hi-So is released in UK cinemas on Friday, March 1, 2013.
Q. I enjoyed Hi-So and found the film very thought-provoking. I gather it’s in part based on your own life and feelings of being an outsider. Is that true and can you talk about that a little more?
Aditya Assarat: I spent over 10 years living in the US while I was in my teens and twenties. All the time I was there, people always knew me as the guy from Thailand. Then when I moved back to Thailand, it was the opposite and I became the guy from the US. I wanted to make a movie about this feeling as I’ve found that its shared by many people nowadays.
Q. Has the success of your first film, Wonderful Town, helped make you feel less of an outsider now that you’re part of a global filmmaking community?
Aditya Assarat: I never thought about it that way, but I guess it’s true that having a film career has brought me a lot more friends both in Thailand and overseas.
Q. What are your own views on ‘high society’, the term from which the film derives its name? I understand it’s a derogatory term in Thailand? In what ways does it fascinate you?
Aditya Assarat: Hi-so comes from high society. It’s the same word as “posh” so it’s not necessarily derogatory, but depends on opinion. As far back as I can remember, it’s always been the title of the movie. I suppose because it’s a word that means something to everyone, so it’s relatable. Anyway, it’s a life of privilege in Thailand: studying overseas, speaking English, getting all the breaks – it’s a lifestyle that automatically makes one an outsider in a country where most people are still poor.
Q. What made you decide to set the film that Ananda goes home to appear in against the backdrop of the 2004 tsunami? Was that deliberate? And had you thought about making a film about that natural disaster separately?
Aditya Assarat: Actually, it’s a very superficial reason. It was just because I was writing the script during the time when I was making my first film, Wonderful Town. So, it was kind of a continuum of something that I was immersed with at the time. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best idea to relate the two films in that way.
Q. How did you go about finding Ananda Everingham for the lead role? And how much did you discuss the film’s themes with him? How much did be bring to the role?
Aditya Assarat: I met Ananda five or six years before we worked on this project. I had wanted to make Hi-So as my first film and had a meeting with him about it. To make a long story short, the project never materialized and I went off and did a bunch of other stuff. After Wonderful Town won some prizes I got the chance to make another film, so pulled Hi-So back from the dead. By this time Ananda was a big star but he was still interested to work on it. So, that was a stroke of luck. Anyway, he grew up in a similar way to me, so he always understood what the thing was about. He hardly even had to act, all he had to do was be himself.
Q. And when it came to casting Cerise Leang and Sajee Apiwong were you looking for two opposites, in keeping with their characters?
Aditya Assarat: I had a hard time casting the American girl, obviously because it’s Thailand and not America. I had worked with Cerise on a commercial some years before and remembered that I liked her a lot. So, I found her through Google and invited her over. Sajee was still in university at the time. She had auditioned for a short film I did before Hi-So. Anyway, I really just needed two women who came from opposite ends of the world and got along well with Ananda.
Q. How much of a cathartic experience was making this film? And how much do you feel you learned about yourself, both personally and as a filmmaker, while making it?
Aditya Assarat: The film is very close to me. I will probably never make anything as personal as this again, because it’s quite self-indulgent and you shouldn’t do that kind of thing more than once. Watching it again now, its’ pretty clumsy and I would do some things differently. Nevertheless, I’m glad I had the chance to make it because it’s an experience that I have never seen in a Thai film before (or since). Even when I was in film school 10 years ago, I knew I wanted to make this film, because it would belong only to me.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of making the film? And the most satisfying?
Aditya Assarat: It was difficult to have the project in my head for so many years. It’s a film I wanted to make and yet I was also bored of it. So, you have to keep finding new things about the project that interest you, that you can hold on to.
Q. How does making films in Thailand compare to working in America? And which do you prefer?
Aditya Assarat: It’s pretty similar actually. Making films is a difficult career anywhere in the world. But I love Thailand and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Q. You’ve said that you would like to remain in the independent sector. Is that still true? Or would you like a crack at a blockbuster one day?
Aditya Assarat: Did I say that? Well, yes and no. I want to make things that I think I could do well. It doesn’t matter what sector they’re in. Problem is that the Thai commercial sector is dominated by horror films and comedies, both of which I know there are 20 other directors who can make them better than me.
Q. Which films and filmmakers have inspired you?
Aditya Assarat: I watch only two things really: American movies and Asian movies. American movies are the most entertaining. And Asian movies, even if they’re boring, move me because I relate to the characters in a deeper way than I could a movie from anywhere else. So, those inspire me.
Q. How easy would you say your journey to this point as an internationally respected filmmaker been?
Aditya Assarat: I just move from one project to the next as they present themselves. I think I’ve been lucky in that they keep presenting themselves, even when they shouldn’t.
Q. What has been your favourite response to Hi-So to date, either from family or people who have seen it?
Aditya Assarat: Oh, random people who come up to me and say they know what that feels like.
Hi-So receives its UK premiere at the Curzon Renoir on Friday, March 1, 2013, 6.15pm and is followed by a Q&A with director Aditya Assarat. Find out more
HI-SO is in cinemas on March 1 and 2, 2013. Check www.day-for-night.org for listings.