Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Building a rapport with RK

RK Bagatsing at the Be My Lady finale presscon. I had a great interview with him!
During the Be My Lady finale presscon held last week at the Le Rêve Events Venue, RK Bagatsing—who plays mechanic Kuya Mackie on the show—was congratulated for winning the Best Supporting Actor award at the Urduja Film Festival earlier this year.

After the Q&A, I approached RK and asked if he would be willing to sit down with me for a quick interview. When he agreed, I led him to a nearby table and started to pepper him with questions. I had never interviewed him before that night, so I had a lot of ground to cover.

The 28-year-old RK is the kid brother of former Star Circle member Monina and actor Raymond. RK says watching them do their thing in movies and on TV shows inspired him to try his luck in showbiz when he got older. RK takes his craft seriously, so as an acting student myself, I had a blast picking his brain.

Normally I prefer not to write blog posts in Q&A format, but this time it seemed right. Why? Read on and find out.

Unfortunately, RK, hindi ko napanood yung movie for which you won the acting award. So tell me more about it and your character.
I won that award for An Ubo Sa Kawayanan, a movie I made in 2015. It was directed by Alvin Yapan and the female lead was Mercedes Cabral. I played a director na gumagawa ng documentary about Marcedes Cabral’s character. For some reason, nakatira yung character niya sa kubo na mahal na mahal niya and minamahal din siya pabalik nung kubo. Our director made sure the movie was shot in such a way that kapag napanood mo yung movie, ang dating niya is parang buhay yung kubo. Yung character ko parang love interest nung character ni Mercedes, but that wasn’t really the focus of the movie, eh. It was more about the relationship between her and the kubo. But I’m thankful na may naka-appreciate nung acting ko doon.

When you sign on to do a project, consideration ba yung tanong na, ‘Is this award-worthy?’ Do you ask yourself that every time you’re offered a project?
No. I want to be candid and say it’s hard to get work, especially on the indie side of things. For a newbie like me, it’s hard to get work. And for you to sort each project na dumating sa ‘yo na parang, ‘Uh, pwede bang maging award-winning ito or not?’ Hindi. You should take each project as it is and make the most of it kahit gaano pa kaliit role mo. Thankful ako kapag may opportunities for me to get nominated, because na-re-recognize yung work ko, but hindi yun consideration when I accept projects.

Why did you call yourself a newbie? When did you start acting?
I started back in 2012 for Cinema One Originals, and since then part na ako ng indie community. Be My Lady is my first mainstream project. And sa loob ng five years ko sa indie community, bilang sa kamay yung mga nagawa ko. Hindi naman ako yung tipong one project after another. Months pa ang pagitan nung mga projects ko. In between, it’s all about auditioning, auditioning, auditioning. I consider myself a newbie because I haven’t really done that much. I still haven’t found yung solid foundation of approaching each character or each project. Nangangapa pa rin talaga ako. Dahil sa mga nagawa kong pelikula, inisip ko that I’m ready for the mainstream na, but pagdating ko doon, kakaibang experience nanaman! Na-o-overwhelm pa rin ako.

Do you have a day job or is acting really your bread and butter?
Nag-focus na ako dito. Sabi ko nung 2012, I’ll give myself a timeframe to pursue acting. If it doesn’t work out in maybe one or two years, I’ll go back to my old job for an IT company. Dati kasi I asked myself, is this corporate thing what I want to do for the rest of my life? Eh hindi. So habang wala pa akong pamilya, wala pa akong anak, or whatever—ngayon yung perfect na time for me to explore other things. Kasi if this doesn’t work out, ako lang ang maapektuhan. Sa ngayon, pinagbubutihan ko kahit anong dumating sa akin. As Erich [Gonzales] said, hindi lahat tumatagal sa industriyang ito, so grab lang dapat ng grab ng mga opportunities and pagbutihan mo lagi.

BTW, Alvin Yapan—your director in An Ubo Sa Kawayanan—was my professor in college.
Oh, ayun! So you should watch it na. I’m surprised hindi mo napanood, sayang.

Well, 2015 was a very rough year for me personally.
Oh, OK. But you’re better now, right?

Yeah. I survived a suicide attempt in 2015. But you know, sabi nila if may emotional issues ka, or when you come from a place of pain, nakakatulong yun sa ‘yo as an actor. Do you find that’s true in your case?
Well, it’s hard to stay in that corner. It’s hard to explore. When I was filming Apocalypse Child—I don’t know if you saw it, but medyo mabigat yung role ko doon. There was a time that I tapped into a part of me na medyo madilim when I was doing this one scene. Nagawa ko naman siya but I cried for twenty to thirty minutes after. I couldn’t stop. So kaya sabi ko sa ‘yo hindi ko pa rin alam yung right approach to acting. I’m still experimenting.

Have you taken any acting classes?
Nag-workshop ako, I studied different acting methods, but it’s hard to choose what works for you. In the end naman your experience is what’s  important. Can I just say I’m liking this interview?

Why, thank you.
I like your questions.

I ended the interview shortly after that. Although we talked for while after he complimented me, he asked that I keep what was said “off the record”—in other words, confidential. Suffice it to say that we discovered we had a few things in common, which helped me build a rapport with him. Finding common ground with your subject is key. The interview ended on a high note, with RK wishing me luck on my acting classes (I start Star Magic Workshops' Advanced Level 2 today) and promising to stay in touch.

I like RK, and not just because he said he liked how I conducted this interview. He’s smart and very passionate about acting, which is typical of those who cut their teeth on indies. He’s been dubbed the next Coco Martin, but RK’s quiet intensity actually reminds me of JM de Guzman.

RK’s stint as Kuya Mackie on Be My Lady will end in a few days, but I have no doubt that Kapamilyas will see him in another mainstream project really soon. He’s way too talented a guy to be sidelined for long!

Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A VKJ holiday from Direk Ted

Direk Ted Boborol's Vince & Kath & James is Star Cinema's official entry to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival. Yay!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Vince & Kath & James, the Star Cinema adaptation of Queen Elly’s hit socialserye, was named an official entry to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. When I sat down with the movie’s director Ted Boborol two days ago, he said he caused a scene in the middle of a mall when he got the news.

“Sobrang napasigaw ako,” Direk Ted says of his reaction. “I was in SM, trying to find a green polo shirt to wear to a presscon. Napatingin yung mga tao sa akin kasi sumigaw ako. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew the new executive committee of the MMFF would really make a statement by choosing quality movies after last year’s controversy. I do believe that we made a good movie, but I also know the rom-com genre is much maligned. So sobrang liit ng expectations ko. Kaya nung nalaman ko na nakapasa yung movie namin, tumili ako at umiyak.”

Soon after, Direk Ted received a phone call from Joshua Garcia and began an ecstatic exchange on Viber with Julia Barretto. (Joshua and Julia play the roles of Vince and Kath in Vince & Kath & James, respectively.) 

“I didn’t save Joshua's number after we finished the movie, so when he called to congratulate me, I had to ask, ‘Who’s this?’” Direk Ted says of Joshua. “Si Julia naman, siya yung naunang nag-message sa akin, and we just laughed kasi during shooting we would joke na pang-MMFF yung ginagawa namin, na we’d end up riding on a float in the parade, mga ganun. Kaya ang nasabi na lang ni Julia sa Viber was, ‘Paano nagkatotoo yung biruan natin, Direk?’ So yun. We’re all just so happy.”

I asked Direk Ted what it was like for him to work with Joshua, who will be making his debut as a leading man in a movie in Vince & Kath & James. Unsurprisingly, he had nothing but good words for the young actor from Batangas, who came to his set fresh from a star turn in KathNiel's box-office hit Barcelona: A Love Untold. 

Direk Ted reveals that he looked at directing Joshua as a challenge. “Si Joshua kasi, he was coming from great reviews in his last movie. So in a way, I was challenged because I wanted to keep his momentum going. On the first day, he was nervous kasi he isn’t at all like his character. When the movie starts kasi, parang sidekick lang siya nung character ni Ronnie. So ang nangyari sa character ni Joshua is parang Vhong Navarro to Rico Yan ang transformation niya. Eh he’s not like that in real life. So pareho kaming na-te-tense nung first day.”

Luckily, Joshua’s strong work ethic saved the day. “But the thing with Joshua is he works really hard. He asks questions and he’s mindful of kung ano ang gusto and iniisip ko. No, hindi masama yung matanong siya. It shows he’s thinking. Lahat ng natutunan niya kay Inang, he brought to this movie. For example, ‘You don’t just say your lines. If wala kang dialogue, wag kang tumunganga. React. Learn to listen, be instinctive, be intuitive.’ So nakikita ko yun sa kanya. I predict a big future for him as an actor,” says Direk Ted.

Direk Ted is also all praises for Ronnie Alonte. When he first met the Hashtags member—on the set of a Maalaala Mo Kaya episode that starred Julia Montes in the lead role—they didn’t get off on the right foot.

“He was just a talent back then, and we had a bad start because he was a bad actor. Sobra siyang stiff, madaling araw na kami na-pack up kahit hindi pa tapos yung eksena,” Direk Ted says of the first time he worked with the actor-dancer billed as this generation’s Kilig King. “Kaya when Ronnie auditioned for Vince & Kath & James, pinaalala ko sa kanya yun. But ang laki-laki na ng pinagbago niya from before. He confided to me that mas nagkaroon siya ng confidence when he joined the Hashtags. Nakatulong sa acting niya yung pag-perform niya araw-araw sa TV.”

Direk Ted promises moviegoers they will see a new Julia Barretto in this movie. 

‘Iba yung tingin ng tao sa kanya sa totoong siya. May disconnect. We see Julia kasi as a Barretto, as a goddess, but in real life, she’s actually very childlike. May pagka-komedyante. Yun ang makikita nila sa movie na ito. Julia has a natural flair for comedy na nakuha niya from her father. Sobrang na-shock ang mga taga-Star Cinema when they saw the rushes. But ayoko siyang i-hard sell. Kasi I want her performance in the movie to speak for itself.”

Direk Ted with Daniel Matsunaga and Erich Gonzales on the set of the top-rating daytime teleserye Be My Lady.
When the lineup of this year’s MMFF was unveiled, some expressed their dismay at the absence of so-called “commercial” movies. Direk Ted offered the following as a response to their comments:

“I haven’t seen any of those films, so I can’t say if they’re artsy, commercial or indie. But the thing is, klaro din naman kasi kung ano yung hinahanap ng MMFF ngayon. So I guess ang pinili ng mga nasa selection committee ay yung pasok sa criteria na ni-release nila. I don’t know if kikita ba or hindi. I do agree, medyo kakaiba nga na walang big stars or mainstream movies, but kung ang purpose naman ng MMFF ngayon is to showcase quality Filipino movies, I guess I trust them that they made the right choices. I’m just so thankful to the selection committee dahil pinili nilang isama ang Vince & Kath & James.”

Personally, I think having a Julia Barretto starrer to look forward to on December 25 will make my Christmas that much merrier! Congrats to the cast and crew, especially Direk Ted!

First photo courtesy of Star Cinema, second photo courtesy of ABS-CBN Entertainment.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Teen fright fest

I thought Janella Salvador acquitted herself well in her horror film debut.
I grew up on the Shake, Rattle and Roll films, so I have the highest regard for Regal Films when it comes to producing horror movies. They have a history of putting together spine-tingling flicks with images that stay with me long after I’ve left the movie theater. For the most part, they succeeded in doing the same with Haunted Mansion. 

I was excited to watch it because I’m friends with most of the cast. I wanted to support my girl Janella Salvador in her first MMFF movie as a headliner. I wasn’t disappointed. She delivered a great performance. Fear is one of the hardest emotions to display as an actor. Fear has physiological manifestations—dilated pupils, heavy or ragged breathing, and goosebumps on one’s arms—and I really saw genuine fear written all over Janella’s face in some scenes. Also, the camera loves her. As my mother put it in her own review of Haunted Mansion, Janella is a cinematographer’s dream. She registers well onscreen. 

MarNella, Janella's onscreen team-up with Marlo Mortel, showed promise. 
You know who else looked good onscreen? Marlo Mortel. His chemistry with Janella was palpable in this movie. When his character Adrian was shown pining after Janella’s character, I actually felt his longing. Nice one, Marlo. I wish Regal Films would give their tandem a follow-up project. MarNella is already a proven commodity on TV—having been given exposure in Be Careful with My Heart and Oh My G—and they could do well in the movies too, given the right material. Throw in Jerome Ponce (who also has lots of chemistry with Janella) as a third wheel and you’ve got the makings of a nice love triangle in a feel-good teen movie.

Speaking of Jerome, he also gave a decent performance in this movie. I thought his delivery of certain lines was good, and he came off as quite believable as Jacob, the big man on campus with a heart of gold. The rest of the ensemble cast also did well, so props to Devon Seron, Eliza Pineda, Ingrid dela Paz, and Phytos Ramirez. Paolo Gumabao also had a great moment—in fact, his death scene was my favorite. 

Jerome Ponce went from playing Janella's TV brother to a love interest in this movie.
I do have some quibbles with the movie, though. The actors (including veterans Dominic Ochoa, Iza Calzado and Janice de Belen) did the best they could with the material they were given, which I thought was a bit problematic. I actually felt the veterans could have used more screen time—they were underutilized, particularly Ms. Janice. You have one of the icons of Philippine horror cinema and you don’t play with that onscreen? What a missed opportunity. 

I also think the movie took too long to get to the real action. You could have cut a lot out of Haunted Mansion’s first two acts, which would have tightened the story a bit more and made it even more effective. But the movie took way too long to get to the action, which is why the back half felt a little bit rushed—like a bunch of characters died in the span of five minutes. I would have preferred the deaths to be spaced out, so they would each have had a greater impact. 

That said, I’d watch it again. I like that it reminded me of classic 90s barkada horror movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer and the original Scream trilogy. Congratulations to all involved!

All photos courtesy of Regal Films.

This review was originally posted on December 26, 2015 at @JulianMauricio.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Wake up, women—and men!

Today, American voters proved why Olivia Jordan's answer to the final question at Miss Universe 2015 was on point.
At the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, Miss USA Olivia Jordan was asked why she should bring home the crown. Part of her answer went, “I want to work to bring equality towards men and women. It is time to step up into power, women, and I want to empower women all over the world!”

I remember some people criticized Olivia for focusing on equality between the sexes. They said that as far as issues go, equality is passe because men and women are on equal footing now. They said women are already empowered. But I disagree, considering how the 2016 presidential election in the United States is going.

As of this writing, Donald Trump is well on his way to the White House with 264 electoral votes to Hilary Clinton’s 215. That a man like Donald Trump is poised to become the leader of the free world scares me. He was backed by the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK has, at different points in the history of the United States, advocated anti-Catholicism, anti-immigration, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, as well as other extremist schools of thought.

That the KKK saw fit to throw their support behind Donald Trump should tell you what kind of man he is, and why I’m extremely heartbroken. Right now, I’m trying really hard to understand how this could’ve happened, and the only answer I can come up with is Olivia Jordan was right. The battle against sexism is far from over. If anything, Donald Trump’s success proves that you can be better educated, more qualified and yet still be passed over for the job because you’re a woman. The way this election is going indicates that more American voters believe a man's transgressions are less grave than a woman's. They condemned Hilary Clinton for the Battle of Benghazi and her leaked e-mails and, despite the Billy Bush scandal, rewarded Donald Trump by voting for him.

I think it was rather poetic how Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton ended up battling it out for the presidency of the United States. A man who has little to no respect for women up against a woman whose victory would be a big step forward for her gender? I honestly think Shonda Rhimes couldn’t have come up with a better premise for a political drama if she’d tried. But if she did, I’m sure she would want the woman to come out on top. Shonda Rhimes has always put strong women front and center in all her shows—Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal. 

But I digress.

I’m aware that Hilary Clinton isn’t perfect. But in an ideal world, one where people hate bigotry and racism more than the thought of a woman in the Oval Office, one where sexism isn’t a thing, she would’ve won handily. Unfortunately, this isn’t a ShondaLand TV show. Sexism is alive and well in the United States, which is why the whole world is now facing four years of having a pussy-grabber prance around the White House.

Sexist attitudes may be changing in many parts of the world, but Donald Trump is living proof that they’re not changing fast enough. The United States presidential election may be over, but the fight against sexism is just beginning. I'm just as heartbroken over the results as the next guy, but I sure as hell am not going to roll over and drool for the next four years. My inner feminist may have been hibernating before today, but I'm waking him up and I won't let him go back to bed anytime soon.

As Olivia Jordan said, it's time to step up into power, women! Go on, I'll be doing whatever I can to support you in your battle against people like Donald Trump and everything they stand for. Who's with me?

Photo courtesy of Missosology.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Darren's reminder

Tickets to Darren Espanto's One Music PH digital concert The Other Side of Darren were sold out in two hours. Wow!
Darren Espanto may not have won the first season of The Voice Kids, but in the years since his time on the show, he has proven himself to be a world-class performer. So when Darren announced that he would do a One Music PH digital concert titled The Other Side of Darren, I found myself counting down the days until October 30. I could hardly wait to see exactly what he had in store.

Darren kicked things off with covers of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake and “Sax” by British singer Fleur East, who came in second on The X Factor UK in 2014. Honestly, I enjoyed both performances—Darren put on a good show, as usual—but I have to admit I was taken aback when he started singing. His voice was much deeper than it was the last time I watched him live, which was at the launch of his second album Be With Me at Market! Market! several months ago.

Despite the fact that his voice has changed, he can still sing big songs like nobody’s business, which he proved by segueing into a cover of Adele’s “Hello.” He also sang some originals, like “Home,” a beautiful ballad he wrote himself, and the Jungee Marcelo composition “Alam,” which is Darren’s second single from Be With Me.

“Home” is a song about missing his loved ones in Canada, and every time Darren sings it he goes back to the same emotional place he was in when he wrote it. The Other Side of Darren saw him laying into “Home” with everything he had, emotionally and vocally. When he was finished, Darren took a moment to compose himself, after which he apologized for choking up. I kind of wish he didn’t, because his losing control made the performance so much better. I love when singers wear their hearts on their sleeves like he did in that moment.

One of the things I liked most about Darren’s digital concert was that it saw Darren interact with his fans in a more meaningful way than the usual autograph signing or meet-and-greet. Some of the Darrenatics are talented dancers and singers themselves, and that night, they got the chance to perform alongside their idol.

Darrenatic Kate Fernando sent in an audition video and ended up onstage with the Total Performer. I liked her voice!
A girl named Kate got to sing Darren’s hit single “Stuck” with him. I liked her voice—it was nice and throaty—but Darren couldn’t help but overpower her towards the end. I got goosebumps when they held their mics out to the audience, who sang the song back to them. When your fans do that, that’s when you know you have a hit. (BTW, I just want to point out that I told Darren’s record label MCA Music that “Stuck” had the makings of a hit long before it was released as a single. Hehe.)

Darren’s rendition of the Gary Valenciano original “Gaya ng Dati” was also a winner for me. I started crying in front of my laptop after Darren sang the first two lines because it made me think of my mother. She’s recovering from a hemorrhagic stroke so she didn’t get to watch The Other Side of Darren, but I’m sure she would’ve enjoyed “Gaya ng Dati” too. It was beautiful and nuanced.

His interaction with Star Music’s Next Big Diva Morissette—who duetted on “Makita Kang Muli” by Sugarfree and Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” with Darren—was fun to watch, as was the finale, “Where is the Love” by the Black Eyed Peas.

Darren has always been a polished performer, but his dancing is even snappier now, and his vocals are more controlled. Case in point: his cover of Noel Cabangon’s “Kanlungan” was very tasteful. He did throw in a couple of runs towards the end, but he did it without detracting from the song’s sweet and simple message. That means he’s become quite an intelligent singer. Having said that, there were times it seemed like Darren struggled with certain songs, but I blame that on his voice changing. I think the challenge for him now is to maintain the quality of his voice as he gets older.

I also think he should have delved deeper into a different genre for this concert if he really wanted to show people another side of him as a performer. We all know by now how good he is with pop, but I was disappointed he didn’t sing more rock songs like he said he would at the blogcon for The Other Side of Darren. But I still enjoyed the show.

Overall, the show wasn’t so much an introduction to a new Darren as it was a reminder that he’s startlingly talented and in his hands, the future of OPM looks very bright indeed. I’m already looking forward to his next concert!

"I'm still young, but I want to explore new things," Darren told the enraptured audience during one of his spiels.
Set list:

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Justin Timberlake
“Sax” – Fleur East
“Hello” - Adele
“Stuck”
“Home”
“Alam”
“Gaya ng Dati” – Gary Valenciano
“Kanlungan” – Noel Cabangon
“Makita Kang Muli” – Sugarfree*
“Throwback” (Morissette solo)
“Chandelier” – Sia*
“I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” – Meat Loaf*
“Where is the Love” – Black Eyed Peas

* - with Morissette

All photos courtesy of One Music PH.
Special thanks to Sir Aaron Domingo and Rae Ducut of ABS-CBN Corporate Communications.
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