Khun is Khun.
Some people believed human life was predestined by the stars, especially Uranus, which symbolized changes. The Planet Uranus changed signs every 7 years and brought about unexpected and major life changes at the same period of time.
These sentences came from the script of Seven Something (2012), a special film produced to celebrate the feel-good film company, GTH’s 7th anniversary. The movie presented stories from 3 generations with a 7 year age difference: 14, 21/28 and 42.195. Nichkhun Horvejkul, a Thai singer who successfully became a star in the Korean entertainment world, made his acting debut in the last story of Seven Something.
It has been more than 7 years since Nichkhun made his debut and became a public figure. He came back to Thailand to attend the press conference of Chalui – Touch the Sky, a remake of a mega-hit movie. Chalui was his second appearance on the silver screen. The story revolved around 2 young men who dreamed to become a popular singer like Nichkhun.
Before the press conference at Siam Paragon started, between his packed schedule, VOLUME had an opportunity to squeeze in our interview with the man who was voted as one of the most handsome guys in Korea.
The gorgeous singer met us at the appointed time in a blue t-shirt and beige trousers. He was accompanied by a large group of staff members. His handsome and radiant face, his flawless milky skin, and his above-average height of Thai men made him look simply outstanding.
Aside from his superstar aura, what touched me the most was his relaxed manner, an easy smile, and the humble way he raised his hands and pressed his palms together to pay respect to our staff members. Despite spending most of his life overseas, Nichkhun behave properly according to Thai etiquette.
Nichkhun was born in the United States and moved to attend a kindergarten program in Thailand. After finishing his middle school, Nichkhun studied in New Zealand for a year and a half. Then, he moved to study in the United States and graduated high school there.
I began our conversation with his latest movie which his fans should have enjoyed. The filming’s behind the scenes were also enjoyable.
“I filmed every scene in Korea when it was about to get very cold. Someday the temperature dropped below zero degrees Celsius but the production team has captured breathtaking scenery. I made a cameo appearance as a Thai artist who succeeded in Korea. The filming went well and I worked smoothly with Nachat “Nicky” Juntapan, Mek “Jessi” Mekwattana, and other actors.
“The most delightful and impressive scene was when I had to become a pizza delivery boy. Nicky and Jessi were superstars and I was a fan boy who eagerly asked for their signatures. The scene was very funny.”
It was well known that Nichkhun entered the entertainment world as a member of 2PM, the ‘beastly idol’ boy band known for their intense and powerful dance moves and masculine looks. These boys were trainees under JYP Entertainment which recruited Korean superstar Rain.
Around 10 years ago while studying in the United States, Nichkhun accompanied his Korean friend to Korean Music Festival in Los Angeles. JYP casting team was searching for a new star and asked him to audition. Another company also persuaded him to participate in their audition. But Nichkhun decided to choose JYP Entertainment simply because his grandmother was a fan of Rain.
Nichkhun was very embarrassed on the audition day because the scout team met him at a coffee shop, set up their cameras, and asked him to sing right then and there. Finally Nichkhun became the first Thai trainee under JYP Entertainment and the only person who passed the audition among teens from 11 countries around the world. 3 Years later, K-Pop fans officially got to know this boy.
Before he became a star in Korea, how did he spend his childhood?
“I was very busy because I had to learn to play music, to do artworks, and to play sports too. My father wanted his children to be well-rounded. During the time, I disliked these activities since I preferred to play around with my friends.
“When I grew up, I was grateful that my father dedicated his time to encourage and scold us to do these extracurricular activities. I skipped drawing classes to play with my friends or asked older friends to buy snacks for me. My father continued to encourage me until during the time I dreamed to become a pianist because I liked to play piano. I also would like to become a badminton player. I never once thought of becoming a singer.”
After spending his time in Thailand for 10 years, Nichkhun went abroad to study. It was admirable that a young boy could take care of himself, overcome language, cultural, and racial barriers, and resisted temptations that could draw him to the path of corruption.
“Because I was a new kid of Asian descent, I became a target of bullying at times when I first stayed in New Zealand. But it was not very violent. I could adapt myself to new environments quickly. I tried to blend in and did not stubbornly behave like I was Asian. I learned to behave and think like people in that country. I observed how people deal and react in each situation. At the beginning, I liked to stick to other Asian friends. Later I also made friends with New Zealand students to improve my English skills and learn about their culture.
“I think it is a great way to adapt myself. I don’t change how I behave simply because I want them to love me. If you stay in someone else’s place but insist to act like you are in your own house, it’s disrespectful. I had to adapt myself again when I moved to America and Korea.
“Staying overseas as a boy, I admitted I misbehaved once in a while but not very badly. I did not concentrate on my studies and often sneaked out to play badminton. I had not figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have a clear goal. I had always made decisions all by myself. I didn’t have my parents to scold or warn me. If I wanted to try something, I would do it right away. If it was a mistake, I would have feedbacks from people around me and I would listen to them.”
The main reason Nichkhun knew he could only got into mischief in a limited way originated from building a solid fundamental foundation like ‘family.’
“Since I was a child, my parents have always taught me with reasons. They didn’t just spank me. My father, especially, would warn me first if I misbehaved. “Khun, Stop.” If I didn’t listen, he would punish me after warning me for the third time. I believe it is a good teaching strategy to prepare children for their future lives. Society does not forgive your wrongdoings every single time. Three warnings are more than enough. Usually people grant you forgiveness for one to two times only.
“When I was young, our family would visit my grandmother’s house on every weekend to meet my relatives. Once I immediately went to play with my cousins as soon as I arrived there. I didn’t properly greet anyone. My father warned me for three times that I didn’t pay respect to elders. Finally, my father said “You didn’t greet elders respectfully. You will be punished by being grounded.” After that I could not go to my grandmother’s any longer. I had to come home right after I finished my studies and my badminton practices. I could not even watch television.
I asked whether strict upbringing made him become a very well-mannered and rather reserved man. Nichkhun quickly protested with a playful smile that in fact he was mischievous.
“Actually I am good-humored and like to play pranks on people. Yesterday a staff member teasingly snatched my meatball and I got even by teasing him for the rest of the day. I didn’t offensively tease him. I just wanted to make him laugh. I am a playful guy. I don’t remind myself to be proper all the time. I don’t think my celebrity status makes me superior to others.
“During my work schedule, I will become a man who throws himself into his work wholeheartedly. I have certain rules when I work. When I am working in public places and people ask for my photo, I will refuse their request. Or if I am having my meals during a break and people ask for my signature, I will also refuse. If the first person gets my photo, more and more people will gather around me. In the end, I might be late or cause troubles for my work. Thus, I am strict with these rules. I will directly tell them “I’m sorry I can’t do that. I’m working” or “I’m eating.”
“Some people understood and said it was alright. Others complained why I could not abide by their wishes. I won’t be upset that some people don’t understand me because they are not in my position. I understand their wants. However, I need to keep these rules or my work might be affected. It does not only cause troubles for me but also for the number of staff members involved in the filming.”
Let’s talk about his training period under JYP Entertainment. How did he feel when he had to move from the land of the free to join the idol training academy which was similar to a boarding school?
“When I first went there, some trainees could sing or dance. They took turns to show their talents to their friends. I was very dispirited because I didn’t have any talents. I never thought of working in this field because I was shy. And I couldn’t speak Korean so I didn’t have any friends.
“I called my parents and told them I wanted to go back to the States to continue my studies. My father said it was up to me. But he believed I should try harder just one more time. I received a great opportunity that many people yearned for. I followed my father’s advice and my singing and dancing skills got better.
“I was guilty when I debuted as a 2PM member. I knew I didn’t have talents like others. Some trainees went through training period for 2-3 years longer than me. Still they didn’t have a chance to be included in a group that prepared to make a debut. It’s probably fate. But I admitted my appearance was a part of the reasons I was chosen.”
I was taken aback by his honest answer. Nichkhun slightly smiled and continued as if he could read my mind.
“Seriously. I knew I didn’t have anything else to sell. That was all I had. I was not delighted that my physical appearance was my strong point. If people said Nichkhun became famous because of his looks, I don’t think that’s a compliment. Thus, I would like to be better, to improve myself, and to prove that my appearance is not all I have.”
If one day you lose your good looks, what are you going to do?
“Many people in other occupations depend on their appearance too. My work is to make people happy through my songs and my performances on stage. If I don’t look like this anymore but I still have fans who give me support, I will continue to work for these fans.
“If people are not interested in me any longer, I will probably do something else. I don’t desperately cling to fame or celebrity status. It’s just a career. The fact that I am dearly loved by people is a great thing. But it’s merely a certain period in my life. Someday, this period shall pass. When I become old, I will work in other fields. I have never thought I will be a star for the rest of my life.”
Despite having realized the transitory nature of celebrity, the famous Thai singer was determined to work hard as a trainee. For the sake of fame, he had to sacrifice his freedom to do things as he wished. He had to undergo a strict training system and accepted the company’s rules to maintain a good image.
From the day he became a trainee, Nichkhun stayed in the company’s dormitory. He had to follow strict rules such as no drinking and no entry to the dorm after 10.30PM. He had to inform the company his whereabouts if he returned later than that. Trainees who broke the no-dating rule would also be fired.
The company provided specific learning schedules for dancing, acting, and Korean language classes. The trainees would study from 11AM to 9PM. They would be monthly tested for improvements. They had to choose one song to show their singing skills and one song to show their dancing skills. Later, artist training team would take a video clip to compare their performances in the following months. They would check the trainees’ interpersonal relations and their abilities to adapt themselves to others. To become a beloved star, Nichkhun needed effort, endurance, and sacrifice.
“Since I decided to work in entertainment business, I have accepted the fact that I will lose many things. I have to sacrifice my privacy and I won’t have time to be with my family. I have to deal with work-related stress. I won’t be able to do many ordinary things that other people can do. But as an artist, I can’t because there might have following effects.
“When I became ill-tempered due to exhaustion and lack of sleep, I would tell myself Hey! That’s not right. You are not being rational. I would immediately apologize to my staff members. I am working with people, not machines that will not respond when I get mad at them. And I like to be considerate and take care of people around me.
“If I am very tired, I expressed my frustration by being quiet. Staff members will know on the day they shouldn’t bother me too much. I will work as they plan it for me but they should give me some space. The control staff will know I have some problems if I am quiet and still.”
In spite of the fact that Nichkhun talked about exhaustions from staying on the path of star life, his eyes glittered with happiness. What he gained from going through obstacles was of greater value than gold or money.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that my family is proud of me. I am thrilled to be able to make my fans happy. And I am always proud when I heard people said “I am proud Nichkhun is Thai” or “Nichkhun is a national treasure.” Therefore, I have always dedicated myself to my work. I don’t want to cause troubles to anyone. And I don’t want people to say I am not working hard enough or my works fall below standard. Making people happy is my motivation to keep on working, to maintain my virtue, and to get rid of any flaws.
“I admit I am only human. At times, I might not consider things thoroughly enough. I might have an urge to do many things which I think is right at the time. However, other people might disagree.
“I know I still have many shortcomings. I need to improve myself, especially to gain my confidence. I might act like I am not afraid or I might not look stressed out. But in fact, I don’t have much confidence since I was young. I have never thought I am good enough.”
During 7 years after making their debut, Nichkhun and 2PM have become beloved artists in several countries such as Korea, Japan, China, and Thailand. They had packed schedules as a member of an idol group and as a solo artist, actor, and show host. Thus, their abilities to adapt themselves to work with people from various countries were essentially important.
“Working styles of staff in each country might be different because of their diverse cultural, language, and thinking backgrounds. Japanese teams are strict and demand perfection. Korean teams are also rigorous about time.
“In the end, I think it depends on each person’s working style. Some teams work in an easy and relaxed style because they are afraid the actor will be tired. They give actors a break after shooting for a period of time. Some teams like to finish filming straight away. In Thailand, I have also experience these different working styles. Some shootings are wrapped up beforehand, on time, or later than the scheduled time. I believe everyone wants to produce their best work.
“I extremely dislike working with people who don’t do their duty. I think I am doing my duty for you and in turns, I also expect you to do the same. Normally, I won’t cause troubles for people who work with me. Like I have to attend a press conference at Siam Paragon today and I want to go shopping or do many things. But I won’t.
“Thus, I want people who work with me to do their jobs. I won’t mind if they make a mistake. But if they don’t pay attention to their work, do things they shouldn’t do, or don’t fulfill their duty, I will be pretty frustrated. I will directly talk to them for mutual understanding.”
I couldn’t help pointing out that Nichkhun adopted a Western approach to his working style. He didn’t deny my observation and explained that his identity was deeply shaped by various cultural backgrounds and past experiences.
“I have adopted some Western ways of thinking, probably from the time I stayed in New Zealand and America. Obviously, I am not afraid to express my opinions and feelings. Even when the other person might not want to listen, I still have to do so. If I don’t speak up, he won’t know what happened and we will continue to have problems. At last either one of us might not be able to stand it any longer. I think we should openly talk to address the issues. But the way I talk is gentler than Westerners due to my Thai upbringing.
“I am purely Thai in the way I pay respect to elders. My parents have emphasized on the importance of these etiquette rules. For example, do not stand over elders’ shoulder. Do not step over books or pillows. I don’t believe I will be stupid because I step over pillows. But we should be mindful of one’s place. We should realize which items should be placed higher than our head and not at our feet. These teachings might sound archaic but we can adapt them to our daily life. I have learned to prioritize things properly.
“I also told my Western friends what they should not do in Thailand. When a younger Western friend touched my head, I would tell him it was not respectful. I would also pick up a book lying on the floor. It’s not important that they might think they are senseless. These are what I believe in.”
Nichkhun had integrated Eastern and Western sides in his identity and he comfortably adapted to both sides. I was curious which parts of the world he would like to choose.
“My lifestyle is more suited to America. Though I grew up in Thailand, I love freedom of thought, speech, and action. I rarely have a chance to live my life freely due to my work. Every time I went back to the States, if I didn’t go to Thai or Korea towns, nobody would recognize me. America is a big country. Nobody would say anything if I don’t shave for a week. I will become just a normal guy named Nichkhun. However, I do love my career and will continue to work hard. I am willing to accept the consequences of doing this job. I am willing to restrain myself from doing certain things as long as I am still in this position.”
Love and care from fans were an energy source for every artist. People from different backgrounds bonded together to a mutual love and admiration for an artist. Nichkhun said he received moral support from a great number of fans. It could be clearly seen when he was involved in a car accident with a motorcyclist. His alcohol blood content was slightly over the legal limit.
“When bad things happened to me, my fans would always protect me and give me support. When I had to put my activities on hiatus after the accident, my fans temporarily set their fan sites to private to block those who wanted to bash me and to prevent my fans from fighting with those people. My fans deeply love me and understand me.”
Besides general fans, Nichkhun revealed he had met a peculiar fan. She was not among sasaeng fans who were excessively obsessed about their idols and were known to escalate into extreme or violent behavior like camping in front of idols’ house, kidnapping, or intruding idols’ privacy even in the toilets. Nichkhun’s most unusual fan was ‘quiet.’
“I have a Japanese fan who quietly follows me. She never screams, never asks for my photo, and never asks if she can touch my hand. But she will always follow me. Most fans seem to know her too so I assume she has a lot of power. (Laugh) She follows me to the airport, to the company, but never follows me to my house. I think she just wants to see me. She always smiles when she meets me. Actually, she is very nice but also a bit scary because she is too quiet. I don’t know what she is thinking. Other fans tend to ask if they can touch my hand or ask me for a photo.”
I had a few questions left and my time to interview the famous singer (and actor) started to tick away. He had to prepare himself for the press conference where hundreds of Nichkhun’s fans breathlessly looked forward to seeing him. The star had schedules in so many countries that he rarely had time to see fans and his family in Thailand.
“Because of my work schedule, I seldom came back to Thailand for the past several months. I didn’t have much time to see my family. But every time I came back, my family would come to see me. We would have dinner and talk at the hotel I stayed. It was alright that we couldn’t spend a whole day together. If I couldn’t meet my family in Thailand, they would fly to see me. They went to Nagoya when I had a concert there. My grandmother took my whole family to visit Osaka which was near Nagoya. They specifically went to see me and watch my concert.
“The only time I had for myself was when I was on a plane. No phone calls. Nobody could contact me and people hardly bothered me. The other time was when I arrived at my destination and checked in at the hotel to take some rest. That was my only spare time (Laugh). Though I have not appeared on TV in Korea and Thailand recently, I almost never have a day off. My works are in China and Japan at the moment.”
From the day he became a trainee to the present when he has become a top star in Korea, Nichkhun has certainly matured. Every growth had a saturation point. I asked Nichkhun about his future plans.
“Do you believe I don’t have any solid plans for the future? Right now, I think I will do my best to fulfill every role I am assigned. Every work has its own appeal. When we perform in a concert, we will see feedback from fans immediately. But you have to wait for several months to receive feedback from your movie. I like them all so I have decided to work in many different fields.
“If I have to think of what I would like to do in the future, I probably want to open a restaurant. And I will seriously take courses before I do that. I think you should possess true knowledge of things you want to do. I like Thai fusion cuisine and desserts. I want to open a restaurant/café where we serve delicious Thai desserts. People can relax and hang out in our café.
“Desserts I will choose for the café will include desserts that were sold in front of school when I was young. For example, Roti Saimai (Thai cotton candy), Khanom Tokyo (crepe rolls), sugar candy shaped into animals or flowers while being blown, and cute pancakes with cartoon arts on top. I have fond memories of eating these desserts. I believe many adults miss these cute desserts too.
“I think I will stop working when I reach the age of 60. I will retire from my work and spend my money on travelling around the world. It is something I need to do before I die. Though nowadays, I have traveled to many countries but I have gone there to work. When I am in Korea and I have a bit of free time, I like to stay home. I am already tired from my work and I don’t have enough energy to drive somewhere faraway.”
If someday Nichkhun was not a public figure anymore, he wanted to spend time with his family who was always precious to him
“If I walk away from all this, family is the very first thing I think of. We need our family in our life more than spotlight, stage, and fame. Even if you have 100 million baht, how can you be happy without family? Who are going to stay with you and support you through thick and thin? Who are going to be kindhearted and generous to you without expecting anything in return? People like that are rare and very hard to find.
“Aside from my family, I have a few friends whom I do trust. I like to give them a call when I have some free time and I think of them as my family. I have two such friends in Korea. They are not in the show biz. They are Koreans who can speak English. I met them when I just moved to Korea to become a trainee. For me, I have chosen to be friends with people who truly know me and understand me. Though I have only a few true friends, they are precious to me.”
For the past 7 years, Uranus brought major and sudden changes, both good and bad, into the life of a man named Nichkhun until he has become a brightening star in the entertainment world.
Everything that happened was not preordained by destiny. Rather, it was because he was a shining star that generated its own light.
Trans THAI-ENG by: Daffodil0624