After a series of roles on Cambodian television, up-and-coming Phnom Penh actress and model Mary Neth, 24, is set to make her big screen debut later this year in the feature film The Last Reel alongside 1960s actress Dy Saveth. Neth, who plays a younger version of Saveth’s character as well as her daughter, is tipped to have a bright future in cinema but is equally passionate about having a career in law. Will Jackson sat down with her at her Tuol Kork home this week.
What was it like acting in The Last Reel?
It was very different to anything I had done before and was very challenging. The Western-quality productions, they really want quality. It needed 100 per cent of my ability to do it, but I enjoyed it more than anything I’d done before. I had never met Dy Saveth before, but I had watched her films and was a big fan. I was really excited to meet her, but I was also nervous, especially during one scene of the film I had to brush her hair. It was terrifying.
What did you learn while making the film?
I learned a lot during the filming. When you’re really acting, you feel like you are not yourself, you are actually the character in the film. It’s like a spirit takes over your body. It’s not easy to get to that level. You have to have a good environment and it can take a lot of takes to get there. I also learned how to smoke cigarettes and ride horses.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I never dreamed of being an actress, but when I was young I used to put on plays with my young siblings and my cousins for my grandmother. We would play characters from a traditional Khmer story called Tum Teav about a girl and a boy who love each other but the mother of the girl does not approve. I actually always wanted to be a lawyer and I’m now in my third year of a four-year law degree at the Royal University of Law and Economics. I want to do criminal law as a defence lawyer – it’s always been my favourite area of law since I was young and it was what my late father wanted me to do. I want to defend people who are in trouble.
How did you get into acting?
In 2009 when I was 18 years old I entered a television competition called Freshie Girls and Boys – it’s a kind of beauty and acting competition. During that time I got a lot of training to be a model; how to walk, how to act. I made it to the final round but didn’t win. After that I continued to apply for roles and in 2010 I passed the audition and was cast in a 50-episode show by Khmer Mekong Films (KMF) called Airwaves, which took seven months to film. It was a kind of educational television show for teenagers which touched on various themes, but especially relations between Khmers and Muslims.
Can you make a living as an actress here in Cambodia?
It depends on the production. When I’m working on a Khmer production, I only earn about enough to cover my clothes budget. But if it’s a Western-quality production I make a lot more money. I also do some modelling on the side. Before, when I was doing Airwaves I was working for seven months and wasn’t spending very much so I was able to save some money. Right now, I’m spending a lot – mainly on renting a house with my mother and school fees – and I’m not really earning enough.
What are you working on now?
I’m now doing a show with KMF called Smart Girls which will shoot 24 episodes and be in production from April to August. I can’t talk about it much until the first episodes screen but I play one of three “smart girls” who are hired by a company to investigate mysteries.
In the future will you continue to act or go into law full time?
I like both. When I started acting it was because I didn’t have enough money to continue my studies. Maybe in the future if I have a husband and children I’ll stop acting and just work as a lawyer. But at the moment I’m enjoying acting and I could not decide what I would rather do.