Don’t bother asking Kara Polasit about what elegance means to her; she’s the human embodiment of it. The height, posture and understated dress of the popular model, MC, TV host and actress, reflect a person who’s got style but who doesn’t need to flaunt it. If you do ask her what makes an elegant woman, however, she’ll try to answer: "She’s someone who dresses well, but that doesn’t mean she has to wear the most expensive stuff – she just looks nice from head to toe. She walks well, sits well. It’s just something that comes from inside, something that other people can see, without her having to do too much."

As if to confirm Kara’s elegance, Longines recently announced that they have signed her to be their ambassador for the next year. With their slogan "Elegance is an attitude," Kara seems like an obvious choice. "I’m very honoured that they chose me to represent their meaning of elegance," she says. "Overseas they use images of Audrey Hepburn, so for them to use my image in Thailand, it makes me feel rather special."

This month, after seeing Kara on their TV screens and in magazines for years, fans will finally have an opportunity to see Kara’s elegance on the big screen. She’ll be playing the role of Kiratee in Behind the Painting, the cinematic adaptation of the classic Thai novel. It’s her first-ever acting role. "A few movie and TV series-people have contacted me over the years, but I never felt confident. I always thought that I couldn’t act, and I’m the type where if I’m not confident in something, I don’t want to do it – so I always said no."

That changed in October 1999 when an employee of Khun Chern, the director of Behind the Painting, contacted her to tell her that he wanted her to play that role. "I was going to say no, as usual, " she says. But the person just asked her to read the original novel to see what she thought – there was no script at that stage. She agreed to that much.

In the novel, Kiratee is from a "semi-royal" family, and by age 35 she’s still not married. An elderly man asks for her hand in marriage, and she accepts to make her father happy. The newlyweds honeymoon in Japan, and there Kiratee falls in love with Noporn , a Thai student 12 years her junior. She returns to Thailand, and several years later Noporn comes back too. The ending won’t be ruined here, but needless to say, it’s a sad story – and Kara loved it. "It’s an emotional type of story – she’s so much in love with him, but she can’t show it," she says. "Any woman who reads this will think it’s so romantic and tragic, but it’s written in a really nice way. It’s not a soap opera-type thing."

Kara decided she wanted the role. During the five month wait between accepting the role and the beginning of filming, she didn’t take acting lessons on the instructions of Khun Chern, who believes they can hinder a person’s natural ability to act. When she finally saw the script, she says she started to panic. "The words were so long! Kiratee speaks in such a beautiful way – I mean no one these days would talk like that, but I was going to have to talk like that! I thought, my god, how am I going to remember all this?"

The first part of the filming occurred in Japan over twelve days, where mostly shooting scenery occurred. The hard work started when the cast and crew got back to Thailand – and Kara discovered how difficult it was to make herself cry on demand. "With lighting, the heat, nothing seems sad anymore!" And there were the long hours. "We would work sometimes from 5am to 5 am the next day, have a few hours sleep, and then work again until 3am the next day. I just felt so exhausted, but it’s strange – if you’re enjoying something, you get a second wind and can go further, even if you haven’t slept at all."

Despite the satisfaction of filming, Kara says she would be reluctant to do it again. "I don’t think I enjoyed it that much! I think if the right script comes along, maybe, but it’s so hard at my age. I’m 35. I don’t think in Thailand you can get good leading roles at this age."

After years of successfully taking chances on her career, it’s not surprising that Kara has chosen to star in a film. Kara began modelling 15 years ago when a friend of her mother’s suggested she give it a go. She had been studying agriculture at the University of Sydney, but was bored. "My mother said, ‘I don’t think Kara would want that, because she’s a very shy person’ … when she told me, I thought, well, maybe I could try."

It wasn’t long before she left academia behind and was doing fashion shows in Sydney. Then she visited her father, who was living in Bangkok, and ended up on the cover of Lalinah magazine – an easy job compared to life treading the boards as a model in Sydney. She decided to move here. "At that time, models in Thailand weren’t tall – I was the only tall one – and Eurasian was just about to be the hot thing," says the Thai-New Zealander.

She hit the circuit and did very well. "But after a few years, I thought: I’ve done every magazine, every show, I want to try something else." She tried Italy, but didn’t like it. Then came three successful years working in Singapore, followed by a few months in Japan, with stints in Bangkok in between. Next came TV work, which a friend talked her into. "It was so funny, the first few times, whatever I said was very short, very brief. when my co-host said something I would say ‘Yes!’ and then my co-host would say something else and I would say ‘Yes!’ " Now the seasoned host has some twenty-odd programs under her belt, and is in continuing demand both for television and MC work.

But unlike many other prominent names in the industry, Kara has had a scandal-free existence. She’s a home-centred person – she keeps four cats and five dogs – although she hastens to emphasise that she does get out and about. "When I’m at home, I feel like I can relax. When I see my cats and dogs, I feel as if all my worries have disappeared. But I like to go outside – just not at night. I go to the movies, shopping, go for a facial, body massage."

And, incredibly, she’s single. "I don’t want to be single, but that’s the way it is. I’ve been involved with other people at times, but each time it didn’t work out. I was with one boyfriend for four and a half years – it was quite nice and wonderful, but I was younger then, and actually I’m a hot-tempered person, and I have to have my way! He let me have my way for four and a half years, but then he met someone else." They remained on good terms.

"After that I was involved with two other people, but briefly and it didn’t work out – and everytime I break up with someone it’s such a big thing for me. Also, as I get older, I’ve just become more fussy." But it’s not looks Kara is fussy about. "When I was younger, he’d have to be tall, handsome – now I don’t think that looks have anything to do with it. It’s just a feeling you get when talking to someone. But I don’t often get that feeling anymore it seems!"

So while both Kara and the character of Kiratee are single at 35, it seems the differences end there. Kara is getting on with her independent life. With elegance.

/ People