Actor-Activist Alex Rendell On Playing His Part
To say actor and environmentalist Alex Rendell hit the ground running when he arrived in Thailand at the tender age of four is something of an understatement. Born in Jakarta in 1990 to an English father and a Thai mother, he says, “I appeared in my first TV commercial soon after moving here and did my first TV series when I was seven years old. I’ve appeared in a couple of movies and I’m still acting in mainstream TV series, or what’s called lakorn in Thailand.”
His life-long love of nature was kindled at the age of 10 when he was cast for a show featuring a child and an environmental expert. The show never happened but in its planning, Alex says he was lucky to meet Dr Alongkot Chukaew, an elephant expert working in the research and rescue of wild pachyderms. “My mother would take me to his sanctuary in Khao Yai every weekend and I’d go on missions with him. I was fascinated by nature. In my teens, I also got into snorkelling in a big way, and this led to a passion for scuba diving.”
All this while progressing from kindergarten to year 13 at Bangkok Patana School. Then in 2008, Alex attended Chulalongkorn University where he earned a degree in media communication arts. It was during a post-graduation diving trip to the Maldives in 2012 that he had something of an epiphany. “I knew Dr Alongkot was running a programme that used elephants to provide therapy to disabled children and was very impressed. So I started volunteering, visiting the sanctuary frequently over a number of years between acting jobs,” he explains. He also undertook fundraising and initiatives to adopt baby elephants and was involved in efforts to establish the first elephant ambulance in Thailand.
“It all came together after that,” the actor smiles. “Through volunteering, I understood the importance of education in conservation.” Which is why in 2015, he co-founded the Environment Education Centre (EEC), a social enterprise teaching youngsters about the environment with the slogan: Let Nature Be Your Classroom. The plan was to set up environmental camps focusing on elephants and habitat conservation before gradually expanding to marine conservation. “Everything we wanted to achieve in our 10-year plan we have achieved within the first four,” the 30-year-old says with pride.
The PADI-certified ‘ambassadiver’ admits that establishing EEC was a challenge. “As much as I thought I knew what I was doing at the time, I was only 25 and I was running an organisation that was taking kids underwater!” he laughs. “As the youngest of three siblings, I never had to be responsible for anyone else before. EEC has been a learning experience but there’s nothing else I’d rather do—besides acting.”
Alex knows the value of his public influence and there hasn’t been much time to stop and reflect in recent years because there is so much to do on both fronts. “I try to balance my commitments to my career and to the centre, so I often go months without a break. But you become enthused by the children. Seeing them develop and knowing that we are doing something worthwhile is extremely rewarding.”
Currently forced to hole-up at home like the rest of us, he is putting the time to good use finishing his thesis for a Mahidol University master’s degree in humanities and social sciences. But he’ll be back—in the jungle, ocean and studio—just as soon as can be.