December 17, 2001
Utt, up and away
by Clara Chow, Straight Times - Life Section


After playing an Aids victim in a Thai drama serial recently, MTV VJ Utt now wants to break into the Hongkonq, Taiwan and Singapore entertainment markets

REMEMBER Tom Hank's Oscar-grabbing turn as an Aids patient in the movie Philadelphia?

Now imagine squeaky clean, spindly-limbed and liquid-eyed Uttsada Greg Paniehkul in thaL role.

The 27-year-old MTV VJ, popularly known as Utt, recently played Tuk, a tragic lad stricken with Aids in a Thai drama serial, Song Kram Dok Rak (literally The War Within The Roses).

The 13-parter aired from August to September this year in Thailand. The American-born Thai-Chinese says: I didnt prepare for the role, because I think Aids can affect anyone.

I played it as if I was the character. I mean, I, Utt, can just get Aids. how will I react?

Directed by Thai director Noppol Komarachun, the series won a special honorary award at a Thai Red Cross society ceremony on World Aids Day for its realistic portrayal of the disease and its sufferers.

Catching some sun at the pool-side of the Grand Plaza hotel last Friday, the actor-host alternates between fidgeting and answering question subduedly.

Looking laid-back, if a tad wan, in white V-neck T-shirt, he is in town to, among other things, film a pilot for an as-yet-unannounced television project.

This time, there is no hamming up for the camera, as he did in his last interview with Life!. Instead, Utt is showing his mellow side.

He says: I'm not really a party person. I go out only occasionally I hang out more in bookstores like Kinokuniya Borders, Comics Asylum?

The son of a social science professor-father and a nurse-mother he displays a fierce independent streak: Everything do, I work hard. While I was growing up, my parents were struggling with their restaurant business.

"I was a paper-boy at 11. I think thats where I get my middlle-class workaholic ethos.

The intrepid youth started earning his keep at 17. Sent back to Thailand by his parents ('to discover my roots), he began modelling and hosting to make money to pay for his air ticket back home.

A decade later, and in his fourth year with MTV (he anchors Bangkok Jam), he is ensconced happily in a house 40 minutes away from downtown Bangkok.

He now jets around Asia on assignments and rarely has time to visit his parents and 21-year-old younger brother, Gerald, who works for the FBI, in the United States.

For about a year and a half, he was also running a small production company, Seven Samurai, in Thailandiwith six other friends.

But the joint-venture wound up in September. Says Utt "Right now, Id rather focus on one thing at a time. So I cut one thing out. But thats always an option for me in the future too."

He has set his sights on breaking into the Hongkong, Taiwan and Singapore markets.

He says: Ive been doing some auditions for television roles in the past months in Singapore But nothings been concrete. Im just having high hopes about breaking into new markets.

Never mind that he does not speak Mandarin.

In California-accented English he spent the first 17 years of his life as a surfer dude in the Valley he says: Language would definitely be a problem. But I think about going into modelling more.

"I want to experience working with new people in a new culture and environment, be it acting or hosting.

He is also the new Ferrero Rocher man. He takes over the leading man role in the chocolate brands new advertising campaign from Talentime host Allan Wu.

Utt flew to Hongkong and China to film the commercial over three days last month.

Ask him about Wu, who also hosted MTV shows and has now signed a two-year memorandum of agreement with MediaCorp, and he demurs: I dont like comparing. Everyones different."

But one person he would comment on is comely Media-Corp newcomer Fiona Xie. Shes cute, he says with a smile.

Press him further, he says; I dont know shes just cute. If I ever meet her, Ill just say Hi, and then Bye.

For now, career comes first for this boy-next-door.

Back to Headlines