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Thai Hoa (2nd, R) in a scene in Long Ruoi (Big Boss), the second box office hit in Vietnam last year after Kungfu Panda II

Thai Hoa feels he has not been blessed with any special talent, and that he has got to where he is by dint of hard work.

"I am a bee, an ant, diligent about learning and grasping opportunities."

Hoa has certainly grasped several opportunities. He is a popular stage actor, a movie star, a script-writer and a director of plays.

The 37-year-old comedian has actually built a brand name for himself at the box office and is among the top paid artistes in the country, the The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports and Culture) newspaper said in a recent report.

As an actor and director, Thai Hoa succeeds in carrying the audience, making them laugh and cry, and, critics say, even startling them "with real-life elements."

In 1998, Hoa was honored as the most excellent comedy actor at the national stage festival, and has not looked back since.

As a budding director, he attracted more than 80,000 viewers in one year to his thriller drama Nguoi vo ma (The ghost wife) which premiered in 2006, telling the story a woman who commits suicide after her husband finds out about her secret past.

He directed another thriller play Qua tim mau (The bloody heart), which also became a smash hit in 2008, the year he won a "Yellow Sawah Lettuce," a national award for leading artists in stage comedy.

Thai Hoa says he is very scared of ghosts, so he never watches horror movies or reads such books. He just visualized his fears to write the storylines.

He said the idea behind the plays is that couples these days tend to hide their secrets from each other, causing pain for themselves. The secrets make life "no longer so real" and lead to devilish actions.

Besides impressing the audience with light and sound effects, Hoa said his plays aim to explain family problems, so that the audience can look back into their own.

He told news website Dan Tri in an interview he learned the art of directing from the experience of his friends and teachers.

"I also have the advantage of being an actor with the opportunity to get close to the audience and know what they want. So I can choose to satisfy some of their interests."

Good chemistry

In movies, Hoa has impressed with his ability to play diverse personalities.

In 2010, he played the role of a gay boss and made a successful scene of kissing Vietnamese American Dustin Nguyen in the romantic comedy De Mai tinh (Fool for love), which was a local hit.

Vietnamese-American Director Charlie Nguyen said at the press briefing of the movie that "The luckiest thing in the making of the film is having Thai Hoa for the role"¦ We cast a lot of people but no one passed Hoa.

"The chemistry between Hoa and Dustin Nguyen is another element for the success."

Hoa's successful run extended to 2011. In Long Ruoi (Big Boss), he played the main role of a countryside chef turning into a city gang leader. The action comedy film by Charlie Nguyen was the second biggest hit last year after the Hollywood animation film "Kungfu Panda 2."

"Hoa is the most talented actor I have ever worked with," Nguyen said.

"He's extremely smart when it comes to interpreting a character."

Thai Hoa is now working on roles in six films and is writing the script for one of them.

One film is another Charlie Nguyen movie Cuoi ngay keo lo (Love Puzzle) which has finished filming and will be released this April. Hoa plays the role of a man who has lost self-confidence after giving all his love to a woman. The role was a tough one, Hoa said, and he lost weight during the filming as there were days he was too tired to eat.

The actor said all the film segments were a challenge to him. He constantly discussed the role with the director before filming, and repeated scenes until the director was pleased.

Not born to act

Hoa used to be a cloth trader and a silversmith making rings.

He was not very interested in plays and never watched a play to the end, but his mother forced him to enter the Ho Chi Minh City College of State Arts and Film, just to keep him from "playing around."

Now a known artist, Hoa recalled that he had struggled to pass classes, but over time a passion developed for performing.

Hoa said he used to think that he could never become an actor because he was not good looking like many of his friends at college who always received more roles than him.

But he turned this "disadvantage" into a reminder that he always has to try his best.

"Putting pressure on yourself is more useful than making yourself comfortable," Hoa said, cited by news website VnExpress.

The actor said he invests carefully in every role, but the nature of the job is such that one can never be a hundred percent sure about the outcome of a film.

He accepts any failure, knowing not everyone will be pleased.

"You sleep and eat with the role, but the audience will look at it with their personality and experience. Thus some people will like it and others not," Hoa said.

He has the same approach to his personal life. "A relationship cannot be smooth forever. Troubles will make you understand more about each other."

Hoa, who is divorced, said he's always looking to be part of a family and is preparing to get married again. But he said he always feels guilty for putting his son in a broken family. He visits his 7-year-old son regularly. The boy lives with his ex-wife, Cat Phuong, also a famous stage actress.

"Fathering is hard, even harder in my situation. But I will always love him, support him and follow him like my father used to, and just hope that my son will understand."

While many moviegoers have become fans of Hoa because he acts naturally, others think he is a bit over the top.

Hoa explained that once he's on the stage, he lets his feelings loose, and sometimes the feelings lead his performance to go beyond the script.

 "I always try my best, so I won't regret it"¦ I'm no longer scared of failures. You have to move on and not give up."

Thai Hoa in the local hit movie Long Ruoi (Big Boss), playing a countryside chef turned a gang leader in Ho Chi Minh City. Although he is uncomfortable with his appearance, Hoa has become a star by working hard.

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