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A darling at Cannes, a field hand in Thailand

Leading actor of a lauded film finds that a prestigious award changes little to nothing back home.

Thanapat struggled to mimic a dying man’s movements: the weak gait, the hunched back, the whispery dialogue. One night, when filming was 30 percent complete, he prepared to flee the set without telling the crew.

“I thought I would just run away,” Thanapat said. “I was so ashamed.”

Instead, Thanapat took a chance on the supernatural. The wife of a crew member claimed she’d seen the real Uncle Boonmee’s spirit hovering around the set. While filming at night, technicians claimed they felt the dead man was near.

“I was desperate. I prayed to his spirit, saying ‘Please stay with me. Make me become you.’”

It worked. The next morning, the actor limped onto set as if transformed. “I wasn’t acting anymore. I actually was Uncle Boonmee. Every action pleased the director greatly.”

Thanapat is not the only “Uncle Boonmee” actor who has returned to a mundane life after the Cannes win.

An actor portraying Boonmee’s younger relative, recruited at a night club, has been working at a 7-Eleven. The actress who played Boonmee’s wife is back to singing at a Bangkok restaurant. Many actors before them have failed to find commercial success after attention at Cannes, which honors the experimental and avant-garde.

“My regular actors all struggle,” Apichatpong said. “They have to understand I’m not offering any path to stardom.”

But Thanapat understood that from the start, he said. He appears largely unmoved by the prestigious award and has only minor regrets about the fast-blown money. He appears either too humble, or self-deprecating, to have expected a longer glimpse at grandeur.

“You know, cutting sugar cane, that’s exerting a lot of energy,” Thanapat said. “Really, acting is nothing.”