New York Asian 2017 Interview: BAD GENIUS Stars and Director on Running a School for Scandal

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
New York Asian 2017 Interview: BAD GENIUS Stars and Director on Running a School for Scandal
Based on true incidents, Thailand’s Bad Genius is a very different kind of heist film.  The film’s director, Nattawut Poonpiriya and two stars, Chanon Santinatornkul and the New York Asian Film Festival’s Rising Star Award winner, Chutimon "Aokbab" Chuengcharoensuking talked with me about the social clashes and moral dilemmas that went into the story of a pair of students outsmarting the SATs.
The Lady Miz Diva:  What was the inspiration behind BAD GENIUS? 
Nattawut Poonpiriya:  The main idea came from the producer at my office.  He is the one who first told me about the news of some students who cheated the SAT exams; how they were gonna fly to another country in an earlier time zone and send back the answers. It was a true incident.
LMD:  You guys do such a great job of portraying these characters.  What did you make of Bank and Lynn when you first read them?
Chanon Santinatornkul:  For me, Bank is that one person in school that when you go to ask them for answers, they don’t want to give it to you.  That is the kind of person I thought he was at first, but when I got to work on it, I understood more why he thought like that, so I kind of sympathised with him and I could make the character human.
Aokbab Chuengcharoensuking:  For me, Lynn was the quiet type because of her background story.  She comes from a broken family and divorced parents.
LMD:  Both Lynn and Bank do things that could be described as morally ambiguous. Yet they kind of have of a justification for the things they do.  Is the film saying that “wrong,” or bad behaviour in the eye of the beholder? 
NP:   Yes, that’s right.  In my point of view, about the world were living in right now, I think it’s like a big gray area.  You have everybody has their own reasons, has their own perspective to do something, or not doing something.
LMD:  Is it the corruption that Lynn sees with the teacher taking “gifts” from her father the trigger for her bad actions?  Or is it just an excuse? 
AC:  When Lynn addresses the principal, she says, “If the teacher can do it, then I can do it too.”  That was one aspect.  And also because Lynn is very smart, so the turning point is when she gets to help her friend, Grace.  When she cheats to help her, is another turning point.
LMD:  Some of this film was shot on location…
{All laugh} NP:  Yes, a lot of locations.
LMD:  What were the challenges of filming in Australia, and shooting the chase scene in the Sydney Metro? 
NP:  Time was the biggest challenge.  We had about five or six hours to shoot the whole scene, which is very tight.  {Laughs} We had about 100 shots to do.  
LMD:  Director, please talk about bringing together the various sections of the film.  Not only are you overseeing the narrative and the acting from your base story, but then there’s the overseas element and international actors.  How did you bring those elements together?
NP:  Wow, I never thought about that before. {Laughs} It’s not really hard, actually.  I never really studied film, actually.  I majored in theater, but I’m a film buff.  So, for me, when I’m making a movie, it’s kind of like I picked up several things that I watched and learned from watching the movies and I pay tribute to them.  And then personally, I’m Thai people, I live in the Thai culture, so I know everything about Thai culture.  I have my own perspective, so I combined them together.
LMD:  And for you, Aokbab, the film becomes almost like a spy movie at that point.  What was it like to film under that sort of high-pressure situation?
AC:  It was very exciting for me.  The timing; making sure we had enough time for everything, and it was in an open location, and everyone was looking at me.  {Laughs}
LMD:  It’s a rare movie around teenagers that doesn’t feature a clear loveline between the two protagonists?  Was that ever a consideration? 
NP:  That was my intention, not to touch that line.  I never told them what to feel toward each other in character, so everything that you see in the movie – that chemistry – they built it by themselves.
LMD:   Well, there is such chemistry between all the members of the cast.  How did you help to create that?  Did you do bonding exercises?  Did you go on trips, do a lot of table readings?
NP:   We had an acting coach on this movie, and she did a lot.  She did a lot of work with the actors with workshops and table readings, everything, before we started shooting.  But, basically, for these roles, these actors and actresses were born for these parts.
CS:  And I think because we are almost the same age, so we kind of linked together quite easily…
NP:  Are you talking about me, too?  {All laugh}
LMD:  What is the turn that motivates Bank take part in the plan in the first place?  Is it all down to the guilt he feels toward Lynn for not helping her out when he could’ve before?
CS:  He made so many bad things happen.  He believed in honesty.  He believed in good.  He travelled a very straight line.  His dad is a lawyer, and he believed in his dad’s work.  But when his belief got destroyed by cheating people, and the rich people, he just kind of thought, ‘Why do I have to be good now?’  When bad people get to have great things and then be rich, so why not become one and be comfortable?
LMD:  I wondered if part of the commentary of the film was about social class?  Would the rich kids, Pat and Grace ever have approached Lynn with the plan to cheat if she wasn’t struggling for money and was on their financial level?  
NP:  It’s the whole point of the movie, in a way.  It’s very easy to connect people through money.  There is a class system, even though it’s not outstanding like in India, or anything, but we still have a class system.
LMD:  How much time did you spend on making the method of the cheating feasible?  Did you base it on the real-life incident?
NP:  Actually, no.  No, because from the real-life incident, they weren’t going to tell us the details in the news.  So we had to create everything from our imagination.
LMD:  Aokbab, this is your first role, and you are excellent.  Please talk about some of your concerns going into the role and how Director helped you through? 
AC:  Because this is my first film, I was very concerned, because I really didn’t know if I was doing well or not.  But then I had very good co-actors who helped me.  All three of them.  Sometimes when I felt like I didn’t do well, they would push and motivate me.  They drove me to be perfect in our acting together.  And Director Poonpiriya pushed me to work harder.
LMD:  In this country, there sometimes is a stigma against models who become actresses; that they are only good at standing still and looking pretty.  Yet I feel like your stillness in many scenes has a lot of presence and thought going on behind Lynn’s eyes.  Were there habits from modelling that either helped you or that you had to discard to play Lynn?
AC:  Being in modelling actually helped me.  I went step-by-step; I went into modelling, and then I went into commercials and music videos, and then acting in the movies.  So it helped me.
LMD:  BAD GENIUS has received praise around the world and here you are the New York Asian Film Festival.  What do you think is resonating with worldwide audiences? 
NP:  I was kind of surprised, actually, because we never thought that this film was going to be this successful.  I think everybody in this movie tried their best to make this opportunity the best thing we could do for this experience.  So I’ve been kind of surprised and happy.
LMD: Aokbab is the first winner of NYAFF’s Rising Star award from Thailand.  The film is from Thailand.  You are all from Thailand.  What would you like us to know about the Thai movie industry? 
NP:  Wow.  {Laughs} I think, for me, there are a lot of dimensions in Thai society that we can talk about besides love stories, or ghost stories.  There are lot of issues in our country that we can talk about and we can share with everybody.  So, I think this is going to be the first step, maybe.
LMD:  Director, BAD GENIUS is only your 2nd feature, and most of your main cast has done only 2 or 3 films or less. Was gathering a cast that wasn’t terribly experienced intentional?
NP:  Actually, it was not my intention to use fresh newcomers; I just wanted to shoot the person that suited the role the most.  They were the ones who are perfect for the role.
LMD:  And how much time did actually take you to get things together behind the scenes before you began shooting?
NP:  I think it was about a couple of months for the workshops.  We had a lot of acting courses for the actors, and then they did a lot of things together – the actors and the acting coach – that I didn’t know about.  {Laughs} I told the acting coach what I wanted from them, and they worked together while I was doing something else.
LMD:  How did having these perfect actors change what was on the page of what you had written?
NP:  I think they brought the characters to life way better than I had wanted.  Everybody, actually; they gave more dimensions to the characters and more depth.  Actually, this guy {Pats CS on the back. All laugh}.  To me, I thought Bank was going to be a really nerdy guy, but Chanon made him believable.  He made his character to be actually human.
LMD:  Did Director allow you to improvise and contribute to your characters?
CS:  Director Poonpiriya is very free and open for any ideas.  We felt like we were having fun when we went to the set, because we didn’t feel any strictness, at all.  He was open for us to improvising anything that fit into the character.
NP:  To me, I think the actor is the one who knows the character of the most.
AC:  Director made us feel very free to act out in the way that we thought was best for the character.  As he said, we understood our characters better than anyone.  We knew in which direction we were to go.  So, we felt free to improvise in the way to fit best into the role.
LMD:  Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
CS:  I have an upcoming TV series in Thailand called PROJECT S, THE SERIES.  It’s going to be about sports.  It has four parts; the first one is volleyball, the second one badminton, the third one is skateboarding, and my part is the last part which is archery.
AC:  I’m making a new movie in Thailand.
LMD:  What did each of you take from making BAD GENIUS, and what would you like for audiences to take away from it?
AC:  I would like the audience to watch the film and learn whatever they would like to get.  Whatever they think, good or bad, I would just like for them to take whatever they can from the movie.  For me, to act in this movie, I learned a lot from the director, from my coworkers to be punctual, to be a good actor – everything that I’m supposed to do.
CS:  First of all, this film company, GDH, it is one of the very best film companies in Thailand, so it feels really great for me to play a role in this company’s film.  What it taught me was to push the hardest that I can:  Every script, every page in the script, I read so many times, so that I could remember all of them.  It made me work so hard, it made me realise that this is what I would do to be a good actor.  This is it.  
What I would like the audience to get; I don’t think I have any special things that I want the audience to get.  My primary purpose in making this film, is as Poonpiriya said, is to make a fun movie.  So, I think that what I want an audience to get is just fun.  If all of them have fun, you don’t need to get anything conceptual out of it.  If you get it, that’s good for you, but if you don’t get it, and still have fun, we’ll all be happy.
NP:  You stole my line.  {All laugh}  So, what I want for the audience… I think life is a multiple-choice, so what the audience will get from this movie is on them, actually.  I’m not the one who can tell.  But I can answer from a filmmaker’s perspective; I think this movie for me is like a love letter to the Hollywood spy movies that I used to watch all my life.  I wanted to combine that with my perspective on Thai culture.  I loved THE CONVERSATION and {2011’s} TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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AokbabBad GeniusChanon SantinatornkulNattawut PoonpiriyaNYAFF 2017Star Asia AwardThai Cinema

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