Weekly Local Biography

  Renee Weygandt

There’s not too many who can say they have played in a movie starring Angelina Jolie - but Chiang Mai resident Renee Weygandt has that in her CV. That alone would make her an interesting person, but there’s much more to this vivacious young mother.

She was born in Ohio USA, eldest daughter of a real estate businessman and his Indonesian wife. When she was five years old, the family moved to Oklahoma and then to Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa. With all these theatrical names, it is probably not so strange that the young 13-year-old Renee knew what she wanted to be when she grew up - she wanted to be an actress.

I asked her was this interest as a teenager because she dreamed of being famous, wealthy or being with movie stars? The answer was an emphatic, no. “I liked being on stage. During school plays is when you catch the acting bug, and you know it right then. It’s never been for money or fame - it’s just doing it!”

She went to university to do TV and video production, “I was interested in the technical side of movie making. I wanted to know how it happened, because I’m an artistic person, not a technical one,” but while there she met her husband and movies and TV and video took a back seat. “Having a family became a priority,” and this was followed by six years of mothering, which included ‘home schooling’ her children.

But busy as she was, there was still this ‘bug’ in her system. “I needed an outlet, and it was community theatre.” She joined and taught drama for other aspiring thespians.

Through this she met others of a like mind to herself. These were people who also had commitments, children and families, who wanted to act in more than just community theatre, but could not just move to Hollywood and work in a hamburger shop while waiting to be discovered. They decided to form their own independent film production company. All they needed now was a screenplay.

“I had to do something, so I wrote a feature length screen play called ‘Soiled Doves’ about three Wild West American saloon girls and their struggle to escape from that lifestyle.” That was not just a case of jotting down some dialogue, but involved research into the language of the day, and what life was really like in the 1890’s, not the popularized celluloid version.

It took six months of full-time work to complete the screenplay, but movie producers were not beating a path to Oklahoma. “I hadn’t done all the research. I hadn’t done the research to find the budget to make this film! We’re still waiting,” she said wryly.

However, she entered the screen play in a film festival and it was selected as a finalist, so she knew that it was worth persevering, but news then came of her husband’s transfer to Thailand, so looking for a grant or other finance for ‘Soiled Doves’ had to be put on hold.

But that ‘bug’ was still there, “I wanted to shoot something before we came here. I wrote a short film called ‘Edges’ about a love triangle and shot it with a small cast of friends. We learned a lot on how to be really flexible. I also ended up playing the ‘other woman’ though originally I had cast someone else, but she never showed up!” ‘Edges’ was also entered in a film contest and was selected for screening from hundreds of entries.

I asked Renee how difficult it was to play the part of a character that is not ‘you’. She described the differences between ‘Method Acting’ whereby you ‘become’ the character, even when you are not on stage. “I don’t do it that way,” she said, “because it can be damaging.” Instead she follows the method given to her in training sessions called Responsive Intensive Training for Screen Actors (RITS) where the actor can call up the emotions required without having to ‘live’ the emotion.

She did also say that you have to ‘think’ the part while on stage. “When you stop, you feel that something has been pulled away. That’s why you have to find another role to play,” she said, explaining the need for actors to continue in their chosen profession, looking for more roles.

For a while, it looked as if the move to Thailand was going to pull Renee away too, but she heard that there was going to be a movie shot here with Angelina Jolie. She contacted the casting director and was told to send in her CV. This led to her being given the role in the movie of an NGO worker in Cambodia. “It was exciting to see what a big production was like. It was fun,” said Renee, eyes bright with the memory of it all. However, her ‘bug’ was still not satiated, so she went back to America to shoot another short film, writing the screenplay again by herself.

Returning to Chiang Mai, she rejoined community based theatre, and started drama classes here. “I really like doing this with young people who have an artistic bent.” That in turn has led to her teaching movie making classes for 9th graders and up, classes that are allowing interested children an avenue for their artistic expressions.

She is also involved with adults through the Chiang Mai ‘Indie’ Club (independent film-makers) which is part of a world-wide movement. Making movies is now very much part of Renee’s life.

I asked her what movies did she watch herself and it is romantic comedies. “I don’t want to see movies that make me cry. I get so involved with the movie that it can affect me for weeks!” So happy endings are what Renee enjoys, and her own screenplays are that way too. I am sure her life will also have a happy ending, but that’s a long way off!