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The multilingual, multitalented artist tells us about his favorite genre, how he perceives his own physicality to be, and how – despite being a people person – he is not a people pleaser
Luke Ishikawa Plowden, whom I picture as the eponymous Donovan (from My Dear Donovan), may or may not think of himself as offbeat. But I do, and I’m willing to wager that he does, too. He is a key player in the burgeoning Thai entertainment scene at the age of 27. My Dear Donovan intrigued me because of his imposing screen presence. I subsequently saw some of his other stirring displays. In the interim, I realized that Luke is originally Japanese-American (at present, a popular Thai actor fluent in the language). I’m curious about this journey.
“First of all, thank you so much, Rolling Stone India, for giving me this opportunity. Yeah, it’s really interesting that you say this because I’ve spent some time thinking about it, but not a lot about thinking like, ‘Wow, am I one of the first foreigners to come to Thailand, learn Thai, and then develop an acting career here?’ I may be – I’m not super sure – but I guess at this point, it would seem that I’ve sort of reached a level of success where people are starting to take notice.” As far as his journey is concerned, the actor dubs it “quite an incredible one.” Anecdotally, it has taken him from a small town in Pennsylvania to a place in college, then finding out that he could become a model overseas, then learning Thai in no less than Thailand, and then to a point when he first started acting – when he did his first series three years ago. “It’s been an incredible journey,” Luke reiterates. “I can’t; it’s hard to summarize it all.”
It really is incredible! He has fared incredibly well thus far. His multilingualism – another trait about him that prompted me to conduct this interview – must have been a disguised boon in the first place. Being a passionate Korean language student myself, I can vouch for the advantages of being conversant in another language. And Luke speaks Thai with ease! Even so, mastering a language that places you on an equal footing with native speakers of that language is a difficult undertaking. Did exploring new environments and picking up new accents during his formative years have an impact on him?
“Yes, I think that’s the case,” the actor says. “Studying different languages while growing up helped me become more open-minded about learning new ones and be more committed to learning the language and asking something like ‘OK, what is it?’” As a result, he spent nine months, between the ages of one and two, in Brazil, where he spoke a mix of Portuguese and English thanks to his surroundings. Later, he took Spanish as an elective subject in high school for a while, before pursuing Mandarin in college. “I briefly considered majoring in Mandarin. I think that if anything helps me the most with the Thai language, it’s that Mandarin is also a tonal language.”
Thailand obviously loves him, and Luke delights in being engulfed in that wave of adulation. I believe that in order to get to where he is today at work, he had to develop both his own aspirations and those of others who employed him to do so. And if he thinks back to the past, did he have issues to deal with? “Hmm. When I think about that, and of my position in the industry now, something that I’m a little bit sad about is that I didn’t get into this industry earlier. I only realized that entertainment and acting and music were my calling. It was my sort of destiny, relatively late. And as far as the entertainment industry is concerned, people typically tend to get in and start acting pretty young in order to have very long careers – 15 or 16 years old is honestly the ideal age. But now, given where I am, I think it’s OK. I think I managed to commit very early on and as soon as I knew that this was the path I wanted to take, I really went in 100 percent.”
This should be evident. The actor has made the most of himself by stoking the latent embers of potential into flames of success. He has matured into what he set out to be: a charismatic star with boundless energy while also being someone who is friendly and eager to lend a hand. “I love to help people in general. I really like people. I’m a people person. I’m not necessarily a people pleaser, but I definitely enjoy being around people,” he reveals, alongside a slew of other things as we progress through this in-depth exchange. Read the edited excerpts below as Luke Ishikawa Plowden gets up close with Rolling Stone India.
What about acting appeals most to you? Are you an instinctive actor or a director’s actor?
I think I’m a little bit of both. OK, so for the first part of the question, what about acting appeals to me? I think it’s a beautiful way to get in touch with your emotions. Um, I feel most alive in two scenarios.
The first is when I’m on set and I’m playing a character, and am completely engrossed in that character. I feel who they are. I feel all of their emotions. And I’m just completely in the moment and that’s just such an incredible feeling.
The second feeling is when I’m performing onstage. But as far as acting is concerned, it’s definitely about completely nailing a scene and doing it well. As for being an instinctive actor or a director’s actor, I think I like to develop both sides. I think it’s important to be both. It’s important to have really good acting instincts, but it’s also really important to be able to take a director’s feedback and know that film in general is a director’s medium. What does that mean? That means that a film is created by the director and the editing team, and so you have to completely trust the performance that you gave if the director doesn’t want another take that you did. And then if the director asks for another take and gives you feedback on it, you better give it 100 percent and you better accept that feedback, and just do it because that’s how the film is going to be better and that’s how you’re going to look better. That’s how everything is going to go well. So, it’s important to have both in yourself – to have good acting instincts and also be very open to directors’ feedback.
I believe that every time an actor portrays a character, it’s crucial for them to look genuinely different, by appreciable amounts. How do you go about that?
I completely agree. I think whenever you portray a new character, it’s important for you, if you want to give a good performance, to completely know the person you’re playing. And the way I do that is by creating in my head, or writing on paper or somewhere, a map of my character’s life about from when they were born to different core memories in their life, to where they are in the script now. That requires a lot of imagination. But you need to spend the time to do that. And then how do you create those memories and give details to those memories? Well, that’s where the research comes in. That’s where you look to the script, you look to the director for guidance. But if you don’t have a lot of those resources, like in Thailand, you have to be very creative with your choices. And so, when you’re developing that character map, you can sometimes even have a lot of freedom with the memories that you make for your character. But yeah, so that’s my method. I have in my head the whole life story [of the character], from where they were born to who they were close to, what the core memories that make that person up are, and who they liked when they were younger. What experiences have made them who they are? And if you don’t have answers to those questions, then your character might end up being a little shallow [laughs].
You have the looks and the form because you’re also a well-known model. These are traits that make it a little bit simpler for a person to stand out. Do you believe that good looks occasionally stereotype you as an artist, though?
That’s a really interesting question. Well, for me, because I grew up in the States, my look is, well, I’m by no means ugly in the States. But I’m also not like one of the 10-out-of-10 drop-dead gorgeous guys in America. While I was able to do modeling in the States, it was only for one job and it wasn’t for like a Calvin Klein or for, like, an underwear or a, I don’t know, like a cologne advertisement or something like that. So, in the States, I don’t think I was really stereotyped as that kind of an artist-model personality.
But in Thailand? I guess the honest answer is that when I tend to meet people… OK, never mind, I’ll phrase it this way: if I meet strangers who have no idea of who I am, they will typically think that I am in the industry somehow. So, I guess [laughing], um, I guess the short answer is that in Thailand, yes, the answer would be yes. I do tend to be stereotyped as an artist type or as an actor type. But that has not always been the case throughout my life [laughs].
In light of the characters you’ve portrayed thus far, how do you envision your career developing?
So, I’m in a nice position where I think I more or less can pick the sort of direction that I want to go in, at least with projects outside of GMMTV. There will be other movies that I’ll get offers to do or I’ll get offers to do shows, and I think the kind of role, the sort of direction I want to go in is action, thriller, drama – that sort of genre of film in Thailand, because I think it fits my personality and my look the most, and also, it’s just what I like to do.
I really like long action scenes. I love stunts. I think the more that I do stunts on my own, the more I’ll be fulfilled and happier. I really like those kinds of high-energy scenes, and then I like epic films, films of a big scale where there are lots of things going on, maybe explosions and just lots of things at stake. I like that kind of genre. I’m also open to other genres if the character seems really interesting, the storyline seems really interesting. I’m always open to different roles, but as for the direction that I want to go in, I think it’s going to be more of the action sci-fi thriller field.
Which of your on-screen characters do you most connect with and why?
Well, there are two characters. But the one that I’ve spent the most time with and let closest to my heart is Donovan, because he’s basically me, but with a much darker past than I’ve had in my life. He’s an American. He’s a model. He came from the U.S. to Thailand. I think the producers from GMMTV kind of saw this story and knew, ‘OK, Luke is going to play this role and he’s going to be really good in it,’ and I’m really glad that they did. So, he’s been closest to my heart, because I think he’s just me but me with an edgier side.
What according to you is the reason behind the rising popularity of Thai content?
So, according to me, it’s because of the better quality of the series being produced. I think Thailand is growing in terms of our production abilities, in terms of the talent that’s being developed here and the level of acting in different series, especially with GMMTV. The movies that are being produced, some of the more recent ones, it’s just been great, and our CGI and our special effects have been getting better. The budgets are bigger. So, I think there’s sort of this environment of optimism around the Thai film industry that if you make a project, it can go bigger than just in Thailand, and I think that’s really good.
Another specific reason has been the rise of the BL series that have come out of Thailand and definitely out of GMMTV specifically, as well its popularity amongst [different] communities. It’s something new, it’s something interesting, something lovely and touching and different. I think Thailand has really embraced the LGBT community. And it’s provided such a platform for everybody to love and enjoy around the world.
And then two people in particular who have really skyrocketed the popularity of not just boys love but also Thai entertainment, in general, are Bright and Win. Those guys are really pushing the boundaries of Thai entertainment and bringing us to a bigger stage, especially in [the field of] acting.
In addition to those Thai guys, there’s also Lisa from Blackpink; she has been a reason for a lot more attention [being accorded to] Thailand from the music side. But I also think that the music kind of bleeds into entertainment in general because people around the world know that Lisa is Thai, so that brings more positive press and energy to Thailand in general. So, I want to give her credit as well.
What is your favorite acting genre? Is there any particular role you’re excited about? More details about your planned projects, please…
So yeah, I sort of touched on this earlier, but my favorite acting genre is action sci-fi fantasy. A dream role of mine would be a superhero in one of the big studio films in Hollywood. Any particular role I’m excited to play? Well, I currently have some offers from different companies that I’m considering, but the role and the movie, the project that I’m excited for people to see is Slyth: The Hunt Saga. It’s an action sci-fi fantasy film. It’s just going to be a lot of fun. [I have spent] a lot of time doing workshops and action scenes for that film, and the directing is fantastic. The cinematography is really great. So, I’m really expecting a positive response for that film.
The other project that will come out this year is called The Jungle from GMMTV. It’s great. It’s a project with so many stars from GMMTV. So, the acting is going to be incredible in every scene. I think everybody’s going to enjoy it. There are going to be no lows in any episode. I’m really excited for everybody to see it. It’s about five guys who have their own kind of secret society, where they’ve all kind of had bad experiences with reality, with life. And so, they’ve found friendship and comfort in each other. They’re sort of taking it out on the world, but this story is about their journey together. So, I’m really excited for people to see The Jungle.
How would you characterize yourself?
Wow. I would characterize myself as someone with a lot of energy, someone with a lot of passion. I love to help the people around me. I love to help people in general. I really like people. I’m a people person. I’m not necessarily a people pleaser, but I definitely enjoy being around people. I’m definitely somebody who likes to seize the moment. I’m not afraid to enjoy the present. Um, I think some might criticize me for being too focused on the future, for sort of forgetting the present moment. But I do know how to enjoy the present when the time is right. I love performing. I love acting. I love singing live in front of people, moments where I can give a lot of energy and get a lot of energy back. I think I enjoy those moments.
The entertainment industry is a rapidly evolving sector, and the times we live in are uncertain too. Does that help you identify what matters most in life?
Wow. I don’t know if the entertainment industry, more than other industries, helps me identify what matters most in life. I think for me the most important thing in life is being happy and trying to help others. Be happy. But you can’t make everybody happy. Yeah, I mean, this is a little deep, it’s getting more into philosophy and that sort of thing, but I wouldn’t say the entertainment industry in particular has really changed my perspective on what’s really important for me. I mean, as life experience in general, I want to help people, genuinely try and help a lot of people in whatever way possible, but yeah, I don’t know if the entertainment industry has affected that. I think I intend to use the entertainment industry as a means to help people, but I wouldn’t say that the industry has affected my view on what’s important in life.
What do you like doing in your spare time? What’s your holy grail?
In my spare time, I like solving Rubik’s Cube 3×3. I really love it right now, and am trying to get my time to below 30 seconds. Right now, my average time is about a minute. So, I’ve been doing that and playing the guitar all the time. I’ve been doing these two things because I’m trying to get really good at them, good at the guitar so that I can, you know, be a rock star [laughs]. My holy grail? Probably time, I can never get enough of it. If I could have, like, a machine that just allowed me to go into a room away from time and space, it would make my life so much easier. Yeah, time is great, and sleep. Sleep is really good too. Those things are nice.
Do you know that you have a sizable following in India? Do you intend to travel to India?
I actually knew that I had some fans in India, based on some fan pages that have been created on Instagram, but I did not know that it was at this scale and I’m very thankful and very excited that Rolling Stone India has reached out to me for this interview. And in terms of plans to travel to, yes, I actually have some plans to travel to India. Probably on some work-related thing, but maybe not work related to acting. But yes, I do want to want to go and see the beautiful country.
Any message to your fans here?
I want to thank everybody, all the fans who watched my shows from GMMTV over time. And thank you so much to Rolling stone India. I hope that people continue to enjoy the content, the movies, TV shows that I’ll be acting in; the music that I will end up creating. I love you so much. You know, people enjoying our work is why artists, people like me, do what we do, so thank you for giving my life meaning. I appreciate you so much, and I hope all of you get everything that you want in life as well. I know that you can.