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How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: Thai actress, 78, shrugs off semi-nude movie scene

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: Thai actress, 78, shrugs off semi-nude movie scene
Director Pat Boonnitipat (left) and leading actress Usha Seamkhum of hit Thai film How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE — She tackled crying, dying and even a semi-nude scene with much aplomb.

It is hard to believe that How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies is Thai actress Usha Seamkhum's acting debut.

The 78-year-old, who plays the titular matriarch Amah in the hit Thai tearjerker, is "very talented and gifted", its director Pat Boonnitipat said of his leading lady.

The Thai film-maker was full of praise and affection for Seamkhum when The Straits Times met the pair at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on June 24. They were in town for a fan meet held at GV Suntec City that night.

Throughout the interview, Boonnitipat, 34, would hold and squeeze Seamkhum's hand. In return, she would occasionally stroke his arm and smile at him affectionately like a doting grandmother.

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies depicts the relationship between cancer-stricken Amah and her grandson M (Billkin Putthipong Assaratanakul). M, who had never cared for his grandmother, volunteers to be her caregiver with the motive of inheriting her house. But as time passes, he develops genuine love for Amah.

Boonnitipat cited an example of how natural Seamkhum was on set. "There was a scene where M had to give Amah a sponge bath. Billkin was the one who was so shy, as he had to take off Amah's blouse," the director recalled.

"(Usha) did not show any signs of awkwardness or embarrassment... that scene was done in one take," added Boonnitipat.

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," Seamkhum chimed in in Thai via an interpreter, adding that she had a cloth to protect her modesty.

Casting Seamkhum was a "pure coincidence", said Boonnitipat. He had auditioned more than 100 senior actresses, but none caught his attention.

He chanced upon Seamkhum in an old music video that his assistant director had filmed and was impressed by her acting.

It was the natural affinity and easy chemistry between Thai actor-singer Billkin and Seamkhum during the screen test that eventually sealed the deal, and she joked that she has since adopted the 24-year-old idol as her grandson.

In real life, the actress has three daughters and four grandchildren: a pair of twin grandsons, who are the same age as Billkin, and a grandson and a granddaughter who are university students.

Seamkhum said she shares a strong bond with her grandchildren, whom she helped raise from birth until they were about school-going age.

"We remain very close. I love them a lot, and I still hug and kiss them now — even when we're shopping at department stores," said the septuagenarian with a laugh.

On how a rookie like her handled the emotional scenes, Seamkhum explained that she pictured herself suffering the same pain to portray Amah's plight.

"I imagined my own end, and how I might be in future," she said. "Everyone will face death eventually, there is nothing to be afraid of."

Boonnitipat said: "This is her first movie, (yet) she can do intense and emotional scenes in one take. It comes so easily to her."

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies, which opened in Thailand in April, has become a box-office champion in South-east Asia. Released in Singapore cinemas on May 30, the film has grossed $4.56 million as of June 23, becoming the highest-earning Thai movie in Singapore.

Seamkhum downplayed her popularity and the attention she has received, calling herself a "very normal person".

"I did not expect myself to star in a film. Pat is a very talented director who guided me along," she said.

When asked if she is treated as a national hero in her native country, she demurred and said she is "not famous", but that some people do ask to take photographs with her.

Judging from the rapturous response she received at the fan meet at GV Suntec City, she can kiss her anonymity goodbye.

Some 400 Singapore fans were cheering and clapping, shouting "Amah" when she and Boonnitipat entered the cinema halls after the screenings of How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies.

The duo fielded several questions from their fans, such as what kind of grandchild is Boonnitipat ("I'm not good, not bad, just like M").

As for how it feels to be considered everyone's beloved grandmother, she replied: "There are so many grandchildren to love." The audience showered her with loud cheers when she added: "I love Singapore so much."

Ten lucky fans had the opportunity to take a group photograph with Boonnitipat and Seamkhum, while some seated at the front row presented Seamkhum with gifts.

While most of the attendees had seen the heart-wrenching family drama more than once, it was a first for some viewers.

"I was initially reluctant to watch it as I was afraid I would cry too much," said Jessica Liew. The 27-year-old healthcare worker shed many tears, using up one packet of tissue paper. "I can't stop crying as I can relate to M. I live with my grandmother who is suffering from dementia."

For Noornita Kasman, 46, the pain of losing a loved one hit home. The accounts executive lost her mother to cancer.

"I believe anyone who has grandparents or elderly parents can understand what M goes through," said the Billkin fan, who first watched the film in Bangkok when she was in the Thai capital recently.

Boonnitipat expressed gratitude to moviegoers for embracing his feature film debut, as its success took him by surprise.

"People were telling me that the movie, which is about a traditional Chinese family, will naturally do well in a Mandarin-speaking country. But when it did well in Indonesia, I realised that the story is universal," he said.

"Everyone can relate to the bond between a grandmother and her grandson."

 How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies is showing in Singapore cinemas.

ALSO READ: Tay Ping Hui admits he was 'a total noob' when he first started acting

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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