Prince Sisowath Siriwudd was surprised at being cast as the lead in the 3-D documentary Angkor, the Land of Gods, in which he spends a lot of time sitting on a golden throne in traditional attire.
The prince, who is also known as Chhaell, stars as Jayavarman VII, king of the Khmer empire from 1181 to 1200, in the one-hour documentary, which returns Angkor Wat to its golden age by recreating the former king’s history of warfare and paying tribute to the Khmer architects of the time.
Part of Chhaell’s surprise at landing the lead role spawns from one of the reasons for it – he is perceived to have a likeness to Jayavarman VII, despite no one knowing exactly what the former king looked like.
“The casting director considered that when I wore my hair in a bun, my face looked similar to Jayavarman VII’s statue,’’ Prince Chhaell told The Post.
‘‘In fact, none of us know what his face actually looked like.”
The 48-year-old has played numerous support and stunt roles since entering the industry in 1999, but Angkor, the Land of Gods is his first chance to take centre stage.
“Because I have never performed such a big role, before acting I burned nine sticks of incense to apologise in advance to Jayavarman VII’s spirit if I didn’t perform well, and to ask his spirit to possess me when I acted,” he says.
Prince Chhaell’s spiritual requests seem to have worked.
“When I was acting, I felt like his spirit possessed me, because the way I was sitting and behaving was like how his character is often depicted.”
Prince Chhaell says his experience in the film industry and his martial-arts skills, which he has honed since he was 18, also helped him adapt to the role.
“However, it was a bit difficult for me, as the actors and crew were speaking four languages – Korean, English and Thai as well as Khmer,” he says.
“In co-operation with EBS television of South Korea and TVK, we filmed for 20 days at a studio in Kanhchanak Borei, Thailand, where we used many elephants, horses and warfare weapons. “We filmed for seven days in Siem Reap as well.”
Angkor, the Land of Gods also features Kong Bopha as Indra Devi, Ros Sophorn as Yasovaraman II and Chan Chanleakena as the queen of Yasovaraman II.
The film is yet to premiere in Cambodia, but it has been distributed to 128 countries with the aim of attracting more international tourists to Angkor Wat.
King Norodom Sihamoni and government officials will launch Angkor, the Land of Gods once a Khmer voiceover track is finished.
Watch the official trailer: