Long before she crammed into a Hello Kitty one-piece to eat noodles, Sara Malakul Lane wore a different costume. The English-Thai actor posed demurely, smiled sweetly and spoke softly, as we expect of our television-drama princesses.
Years after shedding that guise to chase fame in less-inhibited Hollywood, Sara’s found you can leave Thai celebrityhood behind but not its expectations.
“‘Oh Sara! You’ve changed so much. You used to be a sweet, innocent princess,’” she recounts hearing often. “No, actually I just wasn’t me. I was projecting what everybody else wanted me to be. That gets really old after awhile.”
Audiences who saw Sara, now 31, in series such as 2002’s “Tomb of the Undead” probably wouldn’t have imagined her, or any other Nang Eak leading lady, becoming someone else off-camera. A lot of them were shocked all-to-hell to see her enjoying a lesbian prison kiss in last year’s “Jailbait.”
Sara is definitely not your typical Nang Eak-in-distress, at least not since leaving Bangkok for Los Angeles to jockey for auditions and roles five years ago.
While she chases roles to build out her career, she’s also been catching attention for zomg-sexy modeling shoots, some shot in that misogyny chic ala photocreeps Terry Richardson or Richard Kern. Whether fronting for noodle or construction fetishes, Sara looks like someone woke her up in the middle of the night, threw a bag over her head, stuffed her in a trunk and drove her to take poorly-lit, sexy photos at knifepoint.
At this point we interrupted the Skype interview and demanded Sara grab the nearest object and make her sexy-victim face. She graciously complied, and we got her with the Hollywood Reporter’s Zac Efron cover.
So why trade already established fame in Bangkok for a much larger pond in which to struggle for the same success?
“Because of my ambition and what I wanted to do, that’s why I decided to come here,” Sara said. “I was feeling creatively unfulfilled, and I felt like I had an opportunity as a U.S. citizen. I had four good movie credits. I had an opportunity to meet great agents.”
Still, it meant starting over from the near-bottom when she appeared to have it all in Bangkok. To Sara, the culture of celebrity in Thailand trapped her emotionally, preventing her from being herself.
“They pressure you to be who they want you to be ‒ not really to be yourself,” Sara said, “They said Sara is ‘riab roi’ (conservative) when they didn’t know me. And then the more people say that about you, you just become what they project. Especially when you’re young and impressionable.”
Anyway, had she remained in Thailand, Sara added, she’d be forever walking runways at Siam Paragon fashion shows.
It’s an unwritten rule that if you leave Thailand to do something with your life, you become a vessel for all the hopes, dreams and image-consciousness of, well, everyone. After she left, celebrity blogs here literally discussed how Sara was “honored to be representing Thailand and all of the Thai people.” Pressure, much?
One entry on a defunct celeb blog scrutinized “leaked pics” showing her (gasp!) sitting on a boyfriend’s lap.
Subsequently when she came back on the media radar with her new, sexually charged image and provocative photos (lots of naked Sara only a Google away) controversy was sparked in her hometown, where celebrities, especially women, are routinely shamed for showing any signs of humanity.
“I just accept the fact that when you put yourself out there and do something risky, not everybody is going to like it,” she said.
Many of her Thai fans probably never thought they’d see her capering around in lingerie or less. After all, Thailand is used to seeing Sara in the more traditional, culturally acceptable situations found in lakorn. Like rape.
“I started Thai lakorn when I was 14 or 15,” Sara recalls, “and I’d done like seven rape scenes by the time I did a kissing scene in a Hollywood movie.” “To me, that’s just weird itself. Unless you’re a mistress-slut, then you can be really sexy. If you’re the Nang Eak, you don’t even enjoy kissing a boy. You’re always forced into marrying him and then you become friends and like each other at the end.”
Coming from a noble family (her mother holds the royal title Mom Luang and by the way is totally cool with her daughter’s work), Sara’s lineage proved no help in the international industry, but she’s fine with that.
“When I came here, nobody cares where you’re from or how you look,” she said. “It’s about your mentality and talents. That’s what matters.”
“I have my pig Slimey! He’s 2 years old!” introduced our next SML exclusive following the “Zac Efron magazine my boyfriend ashes on.”
We suspect how one looks really does matter in LA, which begs the original question we wanted to ask Sara ‒ which one is the real deal? The lakorn princess or the shapely succubus?
She didn’t know the answer herself, she said, until after a couple years of struggling in California.
“That’s when I found myself,” Sara confided. “I think everybody finds themselves at different times in their life. The Thai part of me, the actress in Thailand … it wasn’t a ‘fake’ me. [I was] a young girl that was confused.”
We accused Sara of not actually being Thai and asked for evidence. She sent this selfie (claiming it was taken while stuck in BKK traffic earlier this year). Case closed.
So now she’s fully immersed in the slog of hustling to auditions, praying for calls-back and working, working, working. Sara’s treating the fame game like it is ‒ a difficult job that demands discipline and perseverance.
For now she doesn’t need to sweat over any Oscar’s speeches. After being tormented as Steven Seagal’s kidnapped daughter in “Belly of the Beast,” Sara appeared in several Thai and American productions before landing a role in “Sharktopus,” an honest-to-goodness B-flick linked to the legendary Roger Corman. Otherwise most projects have been low-budget indie efforts, several of which were directed by her filmmaker beau. “Jailbait” was one of their collaborations, a woman-in-penal-peril sexploitation flick made for the grindhouse which returned her to the attention of Thai media.
The pair took a reflective turn this past year with the yet unreleased “Wishing for a Dream,” which tells the story of an actress and her filmmaker boyfriend as they “struggle through the trenches of the entertainment industry to succeed in ‘Hollywood,’” according to the Internet Movie Database.
But it’s a proper studio film she was most excited about in our recent interview. Next March Sara will appear in “Scouts vs. Zombies,” to be distributed by Paramount.
After perfecting that “harrowed exploitation victim” look, Sara said she wants to try acting in a different genre.
“I think you kind of have to be able to do it all here. I feel like I’ve done enough drama. I kind of want to do comedy next.”
Is there anything Sara would say no to? She said she rejected a role in “Asian School Girls,” but are there any ideas too far out there?
Find out what photoshoot scenarios Sara said “no” to in this excerpt from our interview:
For more SML, check out the forthcoming horror-comedy “Scouts vs. Zombies” where she tipped Coconuts to keep an eye out for a certain shower scene. Meanwhile, check out her scintillating photoshoots.
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