David Prak, 45, is a Cambodian actor based in Hollywood, California. He was born in Phnom Penh but left the country after the Khmer Rouge regime for a refugee camp in Thailand. He was separated from his family for 25 years. In 1981, he went to America and did not reconnect with his mother, who is still living in Phnom Penh, until 2001. Now working in Hollywood, his credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, when he was flown to the Caribbean. Sylvain Gharbi spoke to him about how he made it in America.
How did you first get involved with the film industry?
I first started as a machinist in a warehouse in California. I quit after five years. It wasn’t worth it. I wanted to use my brain and do something more useful. Then, I got a job with the Disney Company in Los Angeles. I worked as stand-in for kids. This is how I started. They liked me and then hired me as a full-time actor. I have been doing this my whole life now.
You played a minor role in Pirates of the Caribbean. What do you remember from the filming?
I played one of the cannibals. The scene was on a boat. The boat was rolling and shaking. According to the script, I was supposed to run very fast on the deck. I had a stunt for this scene. But the guys couldn’t find him. The director was looking for him but didn’t realise that. So I was on my own running like a madman for a scene they were not shooting. They all laughed at me.
How did you find it working with Johnny Depp?
Johnny Depp is the coolest guy, very laidback, super friendly and outgoing … and one of a kind. He was funny the whole time. He has an English accent. I know he is American. That’s what made it strange in some way … He is a very unusual movie star.
How does it feel to have gone through the Khmer Rouge period and now see so much wealth and glamour in Hollywood?
I feel good, really good. I can pay my rent and can afford my lifestyle. After Pirates, I bought a house in Phnom Penh. It felt great. I’m proud of myself. Had I stayed, I would have been a farmer, with no career, no self-achievement, and no fulfilment. When I came back in 2002 to reunite with my family, upon getting off the plane, I cried. I saw all these kids begging. I felt sorry. Then, I saw my mom, I saw where she lived and said: “you cannot live like that”. So, I bought her a house. It changed her life. Everything was better.
What happened to you when the Khmer Rouge fell?
Right after their political end, my sister, my brother, my nephew and I left for the Thai border. We wanted to cross it. We had to do it through the jungle in the dead of night. There were still a lot of Khmer Rouge soldiers roaming around. They would kill anyone against them. I remember, we were a bunch of people trying to escape. I was carrying my nephew on my shoulders. My sister and my brother were behind me. All of a sudden, my nephew said he wanted to go the toilet. The lady that was walking next to me stepped up in front and right there, landed straight on a land mine. That thing went off. I never saw her got back up.
You arrived in California at a young age. What was your idea of LA, Hollywood and the film industry?
Hollywood was my dream. I would always tell myself that one day, I would be an actor. In Hollywood, it is a lot about “who you know”. I remember my father saying: “Whatever you want to do, never give up. Pursue your dreams.” I did everything myself and I was at the right time at the right place.
Any future projects?
Yes, of course. I would like to produce my own movies. I know all about acting and have the feeling it is now time for me to embrace new perspectives. I also want to give back to my community, to Cambodia, and maybe one day open a school here. I don’t know. I’m still thinking of it at this stage.