Thai Actress Jintara Sukaphatana Remembers Robin Williams


Today a household name in Thai cinema and television, Jintara Sukaphatana was only 22 years old and rather inexperienced as an actress when she was cast as Robin Williams’ Viet Cong-connected love interest Trinh in the iconic 1987 movie, Good Morning, Vietnam. FJI’s Far East Correspondent Thomas Schmid talks to Jintara about her experiences with the recently deceased actor.

What was your reaction upon learning of Robin Williams’ death?

I was deeply shocked to learn of Robin Williams’ death, to say the least. I had known him as a fun-loving person with a zest for life and it was unimaginable for me that he reportedly should’ve taken his own life.

Did you enjoy working with him on Good Morning, Vietnam?

Absolutely. He was funny both on set and off set, constantly joking with everybody on the cast and crew. And everybody loved him for it. He certainly never displayed episodes of being overly serious, sad or depressed as far as I can tell. Robin was very friendly with everyone, always mingling with the crew and cast during shooting breaks.

                               (Jintara and Williams during a shooting break)

So he was not a grumpy recluse keeping to himself as much as possible?

Not at all. He got along great with everybody and it was very comfortable to be around him. He was not the type of arrogant Hollywood star who didn’t want to have anything to do with lesser cast members. He obviously enjoyed social interaction and often asked the Vietnamese or Thai cast or crew how to say certain words or phrases in their respective languages. When he tried to repeat them, it caused a great deal of laughter, because of his laborious mispronunciations and the funny grimaces he made.

How about his professionalism as an actor?

He was an incredibly professional, versatile and creative actor. [Director] Barry Levinson in fact trusted him so much that he gave him a free hand to ad-lib his lines whenever he wanted. He didn’t insist that Robin followed the script to the point, so Robin’s character [Adrian Cronauer] pretty much turned out to be a true reflection of real-life Robin himself.

But I also recall that during filming the actors and crew often spontaneously broke out in uncontrollable laughter over Robin’s ad-hoc antics, of course with the result that many scenes had to go through multiple takes.

And sometimes Robin would fire off his lines so rapidly that Levinson asked him to calm down and advised him to repeat them slower, otherwise the audience would not be able to follow.

How did you feel when you had been cast?

When I learned that I had landed a supporting role alongside Robin Williams, I was extremely excited, because I had been a huge fan of Robin since [his late 1970s U.S. sitcom] Mork and Mindy. Mork’s greeting “nanoo, nanoo” is simply unforgettable [Jintara laughs]. It was hard to believe and almost seemed like a dream that I really should have the good fortune to act alongside world-famous Robin Williams in such a large Hollywood production.

What’s your favorite scene in the movie?

I think the one almost at the end of the movie, where Robin’s character has to return to the United States and must say good-bye to my character [Trinh], in whom he had a love interest, though unrequited. It becomes clear that she [Trinh] also had developed feelings [for Cronauer], but that she couldn’t give in to them because of the prevailing cultural and also political differences. She and him, they were worlds apart despite their attraction to one another.

                                  (The good-bye scene, Jintara's favorite)

Why is this scene in particular so important to you?

It was a very emotional scene and I started crying for real, which startled Robin at first. But when I explained why, he fully understood - and then joined me in shedding real tears during the re-takes.

Did you stay in touch with Robin Williams after Good Morning, Vietnam?

Unfortunately, we lost contact after shooting and I never touched base with him again. You have to understand that Robin already was a big star back then. On the other hand, I was just 22, a very young, quite inexperienced and practically unknown actress even in my own country with only two domestic movies to my name prior to Good Morning, Vietnam. To be frank, I didn’t dare to get in touch with Robin afterwards, as I feared I might bother him, although we had fostered a truly wonderful relationship during filming - and despite my practically non-existent command of English at the time.

This was your first role in a Hollywood film. Any other offers afterwards?

Yes, Good Morning, Vietnam was my first Hollywood movie, but also my last [Jintara laughs]. I was subsequently invited to audition for another foreign production [to be shot in Thailand], but eventually was not cast. I’ve never told that to anyone, because I didn’t want anybody to know unless I had actually been awarded the role. My professional mainstay today is in Thai movies and television series. I am currently shooting a period drama for [local] Channel 3.

                     (Jintara on a Thai magazine cover after the movie's release)

What is your favorite Robin Williams movie?

My personal favorite is Mrs. Doubtfire. I think Robin accomplished a terrific job and was absolutely credible as the cross-dressing title character, who resorts to very unusual means to keep in touch with his kids. But I also love him in “Dead Poets Society”, “What Dreams May Come”, and “Good Will Hunting”. There are so many great movies with Robin Williams. His body of work is so diverse, which goes to show again what a versatile actor he was. Oh, and there always will be Mork and Mindy, of course, which after all hooked me on him in the first place [Jintara giggles].

Any final thoughts?

While Robin’s premature death is sad and shocking, I just hope that he has found peace somewhere. I for one surely will never forget him and he will live on in my memories. He taught me a lot, and perhaps I am today a better actress because of him.

*All photos courtesy of Jintara Sukaphatana