Hang Achariya, considered the sexiest male model in Cambodia, is now a rising star in TV dramas and also a well-known writer of short stories. His road to fame, however, was rocky. Mocked and rejected in his home country, he made a name for himself in Thailand where his roles as a nude model, performer and actor, willing to bare all, were better accepted. He tells Say Tola his story.
Good Times2: When did you realise that you had a passion for the arts?
Hang Achariya: Since I was young I always dreamt of becoming a performing artist but I didn’t know where to start. I used to perform as a dancer in my local pagoda to raise funds for building temples, bridges and roads in my village and also in other villages. When I was growing up and studying in high school I performed in a drama for World Vision Cambodia.
I lived in Battambang province but I felt cut off from the artistic community because I wasn’t in Phnom Penh during my fledgling years as a pagoda performer. I just didn’t know how to reach my goal.
I remember my friends complimenting my body and my good looks, saying I would have a bright future as a male model. After graduating from high school, I moved to live in Phnom Penh where I did several jobs, working as a cleaner, manual worker and a massage boy to earn money for my university studies. I studied International Relations at Pannasastra University of Cambodia.
I worked hard at my day jobs and eventually also saved enough money to buy a computer. Then I started writing short stories.
Good Times2: When did you receive your first break?
Hang Achariya: It was when I went to Thailand in 2016 to act in a movie produced by a Cambodia moviemaker Vann Sidaro who also goes by the name of Stephen Row. He liked my body shape and the movie drama was about gay love based on the gay community in Thailand. However, before the shooting he hired a professional instructor to coach us on the parts we were to play in the film. I learnt a lot in the finer points of acting from the coach, and also learned how to bring out my inner feelings in the roles I had to play. Later, I had training as an actor in Sydney, Australia.
At the beginning, Cambodians thought I was an obscene actor. But I brushed their acerbic and hurtful comments aside. It is freer in Thailand for the arts and there are no hang ups in posing nude. It is the same in Europe and there is a saying there, the most beautiful art is nude art. That’s the reason why there are so many nude statues and sculpture in Britain, France, Italy, and Greece.
It’s sad what’s happening in Cambodia. Due to their narrow mindedness, Cambodian people cannot distinguish between nude expression in arts and porn videos. I shoot nude photos of male models and also pose nude for other photographers and do nude performances. I have my own vision and philosophy of doing so and it’s not porn.
Many producers in Cambodia have rejected my work saying it is vulgar. I think they are just constricted in their thinking and can’t recognise art when they see it.
Good Times2: So how did you become a star in Cambodia, despite being rejected at first?
Hang Achariya: I just never gave up, that’s all. I used to weep when producers rejected me but I never allowed my sadness to bring me down. I even used to volunteer as being an extra on the set, like the tuk-tuk driver or a foot soldier or a bystander etc. just to get my foot in the door. Later the producers started to notice me and I was given roles in drama series in the major TV networks. I now have a role in CTV’s “Srotun Munsne” (Soft, Charming) and My TV’s “Komheong Nak Srok” (The Anger of Villagers).
My inspiration has always been Kong Bunchhoeun a Khmer writer, novelist, songwriter, filmmaker, painter, and poet from Battambang province. He composed more than 200 songs between the 1960s and the 1970s and contributed to the “Golden Age” of films and songs in Cambodia. Bunchhoeun’s writings have always given me hope when I was down. His books taught me how to break out from my comfort zone and fight to get what I want.
I want people to stop thinking I am a person who makes porn and look at me instead as an actor, an artist and a performer.
Good Times2: Have your parents prohibited you from posing nude and also shooting nude photos?
Hang Achariya: At the beginning, my father didn’t really support me. However, when he saw my strong determination to succeed, he started encouraging me. When my work got rejected and I was feeling down, my father always stood by me and gave me advice. He always told me to hang on. My mother, too, encourages me. She always advices me to value my work, because it’s the work of a professional.
Good Times2: Since you’re now a rising TV drama star, do you have time to write?
Hang Achariya: Though I’m busy, I still keep writing because it is a huge aspect of my life. Nothing is hard. I always get a schedule before shooting dramas so that I can schedule my time for writing. I don’t do two things at the same time because it will be complicated and I also won’t be able to focus well. So it is quite important to have a clear time frame. Books are jewels to me and I just love reading and writing at the same time. I keep in touch with current affairs and world news through reading every day – online, books, magazines and newspapers.
Good Times2: Do you believe in the supernatural and spirits?
Hang Achariya: I believe in many religions, but I only follow Buddha. I also believe in spirits and karma. I venerate Buddha three times a day. I think it helps me to meet good people and live longer. However, I admit that I have a sixth sense about people and trust my instincts before getting involved with them.
Good Times2: What were the unforgettable moments in your life?
Hang Achariya: The most powerful memory that I cannot forget is losing my dog, which died from old age. When we were moving house from Banteay Meanchey to Battambang, we couldn’t find him and so decided to leave him behind. When our family car started moving, we found him running beside it and barking its head off to be let inside the vehicle. When he passed away, I was really very sad.