Meet Aisawanya Areyawattana, the principle “actress” in award-winning film ‘Patong Girl’
Originally released in 2014, the German-Thai co-production Patong Girl was shot on location in Pattaya (even though the Patong in the title is a major city in Phuket). The film tells the tale of a German lad on vacation in Thailand who falls in love with a local Thai girl— unaware that she is transgendered— and in an inspired bit of casting the lead female role was played by Aisawanya ‘Amp’ Areyawattana, a ladyboy in real life who enacts her role with a gentle subtlety that is beguiling. The film received critical praise, and Amp’s performance went on to win her a major prize in Germany (the prestigious Grimme-Preis award). Now 33 years of age, the actress reflects upon her experience and the attention the film brought her.
To save money the film ‘Patong Girl’ was shot in Pattaya, instead of Phuket (where it is supposedly set). Do you think that was a good choice?
Yes, because Pattaya is as organized and well structured a place as Phuket. This was not the case when I shot my last film there (The Last Song) in 2006. In that film, I played a dancer in Pattaya’s famed Tiffany’s Cabaret show.
The Tiffany shows and Tiffany beauty contests in Pattaya have done a lot to promote the transgender community, haven’t they?
Absolutely! In fact, I think they are one of the main revenue earners for Pattaya. Tourists from around the world come to Pattaya for the city’s various cabaret shows. I think it’s because of the large international community that the city is much more open towards transgenders.
Would you say that Pattaya is the best city in Thailand for transgendered people?
Yes. They never judge people by appearance there, but respect them for their talent. The foreigners there treat the transgender ladies with respect. That’s why I feel that Pattaya is a perfect city for us to live in, normally and happily.
How did the transgender community react to the film ‘Patong Girl’?
Hundreds of people went to see the film, during its limited release, and they all loved it.
How did you react to winning the big TV award in Germany?
I was shocked, because I’d never expected the Best Actress Award to go to a transgendered person! I am the first Asian, and the first ladyboy, to receive this prestigious prize. Everyone in Germany gave me a very warm welcome.
You didn’t face any discrimination there?
Never. I often asked my German friends whether they were surprised that I was originally a man and whether they saw me differently because of that. They replied that in Germany, people accept you for what you are. If deep inside, you feel like a woman, but you are born in the wrong physical body, all you need to do is go to the hospital and set it right.
What was the most difficult scene for you in the film?
The most difficult scene in the film was the lovemaking scene! When I found out that I had to be topless in front of the camera I was shocked and nervous, as it was not there in the original script. I also know that Thai society is very sensitive to such scenes. But Susanna Salonen, the director, explained that the scene was important—to show that my body is as amazing as a real woman’s. Her words helped me a lot to get through that difficult scene.
Did the German film team enjoy shooting the film in Pattaya?
Everybody in the team loved Pattaya, especially the director. She had been before, studied the transgender community at length, and planned out all the locations for the film. I’m pretty sure she will come back and make another movie there.
You also have a career as a fortune teller. Did you predict that you would get this international film role?
My stars tell me that I will be accepted more by Westerners. In April last year I predicted that I would get famous soon, but I didn’t know what it would entail. Suddenly in August, I received the Grimme-Preis award.
What are your future plans?
I would like to do more movies, even if it’s not the lead role. I know that I am not young enough to do teenage roles, so I would love to try other parts. Hosting and producing a TV show is a definite dream for me too.