It has been several years since his last visit to Indonesia, but model/actor/VJ Gregg Uttsada Panichkul dropped into Jakarta recently and hit the fabulous “green carpet” for the MTV VJ Hunt. Known to his fans as Utt, he also did a photo shoot and interview with DA MAN.
Photographs: Ronny Joewono
Styling & interview: Ria TC
“I remember when I came to Indonesia the last time was in 1998, and it was the riots… For me, at that time, coming to Indonesia and seeing the conflict, that’s what stood out for me,” says the U.S.-born Utt. “And now, the interesting thing is it’s so calm here for me [as opposed to his town of Bangkok], and it’s so orderly and I really feel the vibrant activity.”
With over a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, Utt has made a name for himself, especially in Southeast Asia. Born in California to Thai-Chinese parents, he grew up in the “golden state” and attended California State University, Northridge, majoring in Biology before moving to Thailand, where he transferred to Assumption University (AU), majoring in Communication Arts. His parents sent him to Thailand so he could live with his grandparents, in order “to get to know his roots.”
Utt spent his first year in Thailand working as a part-time model while studying at AU, just to earn extra cash so he could travel to, among other places, his home in California. However, Utt gained more than just a plane fare back to California. His popularity rose in Thailand and his road to stardom in the entertainment world had begun.
Utt’s popularity is a testament to his range of skills, being able to both host and act. Though the majority of people (particularly in Indonesia) recognize Utt as an MTV VJ, he has actually built a solid reputation as a critically acclaimed actor in Thailand and Singapore. Starring in over a dozen Thai TV series, one of Utt’s notable roles very early on was in Song Klam Doag Rak (1997), where he acted as an HIV-positive sex worker. This TV series has been acclaimed as a realistic portrayal of the health issue that afflicts many in Thailand and elsewhere. Utt received a nomination for Best Actor at the Thailand Television Awards for his performance that year.
As a host of a variety of TV programs and events, Utt credits being chosen as a VJ for MTV Asia Networks in 1998 as the biggest stepping stone of his career, “It was what I considered the Golden Years of MTV. I was fortunate to still have the opportunity to work with the first generation of MTV Asia VJs, such as Mike Kasem, Nadya Hutagalung, Sarah Sechan and Sonya Cooling; they were about to leave the network when I joined.”
With his likability factor and a personality that is far from mundane, Utt has established himself as the face of MTV Asia throughout the years, bringing out the best of pop culture and music from all over Asia and beyond. He has taken on hosting duties on MTV’s various music programs, as well as live events; from the MTV Video Music Awards (2000) in NYC to the host of the Asian Television Awards and Miss Earth International Pageant in 2007. “The highlights of my career? Interviewing David Beckham, interviewing Bill Gates, which is an irony because they’re not music-related at all. Beckham was for MTV. Bill Gates was for an outside assignment.”
These days, Utt is expanding his career horizons. “I was already doing many projects (both acting and hosting) outside MTV since I signed on with them.” Since crossing over to Singapore, Utt has also signed on with Channel 5 (Singapore local TV Station) worked on many projects, such as the talent show Live the Dream, Supernatural and many others. “So I am re-introducing myself to the people (especially here in Indonesia) as an actor and a (independent) host/MC.”
Right now, Utt is a happy thirtysomething guy, enjoying the luxury of having a boyish charm. “I don’t think I’d be doing a lot of hosting for MTV, if I really looked like a 36-year-old guy!” Utt bursts into laughter. “It’s so scary that we live in an era where Botox and plastic surgery is a common thing. People used to come up and ask me why I look so young or whether I ever got some work done,” he exclaims.
“I still don’t think it’s natural for a man. I think I would go for facials, but I would never do a facelift and stuff like that. I’m old-school like Sean Connery and George Clooney, they’re cool. That’s the route I’d rather take. I use skincare products, I go get facials,” Utt muses.
Modeling, acting and hosting have become Utt’s area of expertise, but now he is in full throttle building his own artist management company, which is called Seven95ive. The name is made up of Utt’s lucky numbers, “To be honest, how it came about … I was too lazy to come up with a name. I already had a business plan. I already knew what I wanted to do, but I just didn’t want to think of the name.” Eventually, he came up with the numbers and a fortune-teller told him that if he used the numbers it would be good luck. “In Chinese beliefs; it is all about luck if you put numbers as the title of your business. So the fortune-teller/spiritual guru told me those three numbers best represent luck for me and so I use them for my business.”
He refers to his business as an “artiste boutique” where he acts as the manager for many aspiring artists, such as Sonia Couling (former VJ for MTV Thailand) and Taya Rogers, whom Utt refers to as his best achievement so far, having signed her to MTV Asia.
“The hardest part of juggling my job as an actor, host and manager is probably the role-playing. When I go into meetings, people often get confused as to whether I am going to represent myself as an actor/host or one of my artists from the management company,” Utt explains. “When I represent my artists, I tend to be more serious and act more as a guru, a bit different from the way I carry myself as an actor. People, especially on MTV, are used to seeing me in casual fashion and I think they are surprised to see me wearing dressy suits and stuff.”
Motivated for more
This year, Utt has more good things going on for him. While he continues to work closely with Seven95ive Artiste Management, he is also concentrating on bettering himself as an actor through better scripts for film and TV projects. As for his personal life, Utt says, “My love life? It’s a mystery.”
When DA MAN asks about the possibility of Utt crossing over to Hollywood, he contemplatively responds, “Through my career, through different managers, they’ve always tried to bridge me over, but I’m very comfortable in Asia, because I feel like, if you go [to the U.S.] you need to compete with all these other people, like hundreds of people who look like you, and they have the right stuff to actually compete in that sort of market. For me, I feel it’s better just to continue to build yourself strong in the market that you are strong in, and eventually if that crosses you over, then you have a better chance. Like you know, Zhang Ziyi or Jet Li; they come from here!” DA
SHARE THIS ARTICLE