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The roles of a lifetime

In her career as an actress, Namthip 'Bee' Jongrachatawiboon has pretty much seen and done it all

Namthip Jongrachatawiboon. Photo: Melalin Mahavongtrakul

'I think I'd like to bring a cassette tape back," a tall figure next to me said as we were discussing what we would like to bring back from 1990s.

"It's classic," continued Namthip "Bee" Jongrachatawiboon, 34, as she was sitting on a couch in her gorgeous dress. Her feet were bare, her high heels tossed aside. And she was a picture of both top-model grace and laid-back comfort -- a contrast to what we've come to know over the years from her feisty onscreen portrayal in lakorn, and more recently from her role as aspiring model-mentor on The Face Thailand.

In her mind, Namthip was probably thinking back to the good old days when she released her first album in 2000 -- on cassette, naturally. I told her I'd listened to her songs back in primary school and she gave a light chuckle.

Namthip Jongrachatawiboon. Melalin Mahavongtrakul

"I like asking my young fans whether they have my tape. And they will ask, 'What's a tape?'," she said. "We live in a totally different era."

Our sudden moment of reminiscence sprouted from discussing Namthip's latest project Puen... Tee Ra Luek (The Promise), a drama-horror marking the television siren's first feature film after almost two decades in showbiz. The GDH 559 film -- directed by Laddaland's Sophon Sakdaphisit -- tells the story of two teenage friends, Ib and Boom, who vow to commit suicide together after their families fall into bankruptcy during the 1997 financial crisis.

In the end, however, Ib dies and Boom survives. Now an adult, Boom (Namthip) brings her daughter Bell (Apichaya "Linly" Thongkam, 15, Namthip's team member from The Face Thailand Season 2) back to the place where she and her friend planned to take their own lives, starting a chain of paranormal occurrences that threaten both mother and daughter.

Shifting from small to silver screen can be quite a challenge and Namthip said she basically learned the craft of acting all over again.

"It's a new art form for me. In lakorn, you can go over the top with acting. Be melodramatic all you want. In films, however, it's got to be more realistic -- both in dialogue and acting.

"I've been in showbiz forever," she continued. "I thought I knew everything there is to know. With this film, I realised there was another way. I got to jump out of the box so to speak. And I know now that the craft of acting just never stops. You don't stop learning."

Part of The Promise is set in late 1990s, the age of pager, sticker booth, and the time Namthip herself first came onto the entertainment industry as a teen model. As she worked on this project, the actress got a chance to look back to her life in 1997.

Namthip at The Promise premiere, held earlier this week at SF World Cinema, CentralWorld. GDH

"I had no recollection whatsoever that our economy was spiralling downhill," she said. "I was 15 at that time. Thinking back now, and comparing it to my character Boom, it's quite relatable as she also didn't know what was going on back then. She didn't care what went on around her. She was feeling down, thinking about taking her own life."

As a teenager, Namthip was studying and working at the same time. Because of that, she said she wasn't so close to friends of the same age.

"But I acquired another society altogether who gave me great advice. It changed my life quite a lot, being in showbiz that young. I was learning how to work, to be responsible, to use money wisely.

"Being in showbiz basically taught me how to live," she revealed.

By her own recollection, showbiz was quite a different world to live in when she was younger.

"Before, there weren't so many people," recalled Namthip. "It was a small circle. What happened in showbiz actually stayed in showbiz. But now, with social network taking over, anything big or small, true or false, just spreads like wildfire."

The onset of social media also changed the way of working within the industry, opined the actress. In the past, with no online platform to make their name known, everyone fought for their chance with their own wits and skills. No one really gets famous out of the blue, as can be seen happening today.

"It went very step-by-step for my generation," she commented. "Now, though, it's a leap. A jump -- like you don't have to fight much to get in."

But regardless of how people enter the scene, Namthip thinks what's even more difficult to accomplish is how to stay. For her, it takes love, determination and gratefulness -- and that's the most important lesson she's learned after two decades.

"In anything you do, you have to recognise the value of the opportunity you've received and make the best out of it. That's how you can be deserving of people's faith and trust in choosing you to be here."

It's not too far off to call it Namthip's recipe for success. She says she looked up to figures like Sinjai "Nok" Plengpanich and her fellow Face mentor Metinee "Lukkade" Kingpayome as inspirations in work and life.

Namthip in The Promise. Photo courtesy of GDH

After achieving top positions in showbiz -- from a model to singer then actress -- and even lending her voice as the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen for the Thai dubbed version of Game Of Thrones Season 7, Namthip admitted there is little she hasn't done in the industry. Still, television is very much her roots, and she revealed she has a new lakorn coming in October.

A versatile actress, Namthip has taken on roles from innocents in her early days, to possessive and jealous women, to mothers, to, recently, a grandmother with the help of special effects and make-up.

"As an actress, anything goes. I can do it," she said.

But that doesn't mean she would get on board with everything that's sent her way. Part of her work is choosing what project to take on, and she said her criteria is mainly based on personal pleasure and gut feeling.

"I only go for things I can be happy with," said the actress, adding that she once resigned as a TV show host, since she felt it wasn't right for her.

Then she delivered a parting message: "If you don't feel it's right for you, then don't stay. But once you've decided to stay, then give it your all and your best."

That's how you make it in showbiz.

Puen... Tee Ra Luek ( The Promise ), directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

From left, Apichaya Thongkam, director Sophon Sakdaphisit and Namthip Jongrachatawiboon. GDH

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