BWW Exclusive: Would Joanna and Rachel Sell Their Father's Painting in Real Life?
Manila, Philippines--Following the musical film "Ang Larawan" was proclaimed Best Picture and won the Best Actress trophy for singer-actress and West End star Joanna Ampil at the "Gabi ng Parangal" of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2017 Wednesday night, December 27, lead stars Ampil and Rachel Alejandro shared their thoughts about their film, directed by New York Theater veteran Loy Arcenas.
Ampil, who is currently part of the UK/international tour cast of the musical "Cats" as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat who has shunned away from the Jellicle Cats tribe, came home to the Philippines just in time for the awards night. In the film, from being a bewitching feline, she turns into a manipulative spinster named Candida Marasigan, the elder sister of Paula, played by Alejandro.
Playing Candida was quite an ordeal but rewarding at the same time. It took a while for her to understand her character, but in the end, it was essential to know the character's struggles to make her interpretation and portrayal convincingly real. In the story of "Ang Larawan," based on the 1950 play "A Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist" by Nick Joaquin, she opposes the selling of the portrait in order to support them and their sick father, Don Lorenzo Marasigan. But as Joanna, she described herself as: "I would like to think I am more practical and sensible, therefore I would have sold the painting to survive."
She added, "[Its filming had] a lot of challenges. It was long and tedious at times to stay in character because Candida was cantankerous and slightly manipulative--not very pleasant. I defied that as I didn't want to make any judgments while learning and layering up the character."
On the other hand, Alejandro was in her early 20s when she assumed the role of Paula, a replacement to Zsa Zsa Padilla, when the play's musical version was restaged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1998. 10 days before the production opened, according to Alejandro, the late Nick Joaquin would shout out from the audience that she was too young for the role; the character requires a much older actress.
Alejandro is now married and mature enough to tackle the character. "I can totally relate with some of Paula's disappointments. She is a middle-aged woman who never had a family and any vocation or career to speak of. It is scary to realize that life has passed her by. I, on the other hand, have been working since I was a kid and by my early 20s had already seen most major world cities. But even if that is the case, I sometimes wonder if I have made the right choices, if I could have become more successful if I had taken this or that path along the way. Like Paula, I fear that I have not made the most of my life, simply because I refused to risk losing the comfort of what is familiar."
Alejandro shared the same thoughts about selling the portrait, "I am a very practical person, so most likely I would have chosen the easy path and donated the painting to the government and accepted the pension that Don Perico (played by Robert Arevalo) offers in the story."
But she was quick to stress what was really Paula's intention why she came up with such a controversial decision, "The point of it is not so much with what I do with the painting but what the effect is on me. Paula decided to destroy the painting because it was causing more pain than good. She freed herself from the guilt and bondage of it all."
Apart from doing the challenging roles, both actresses will never forget their journey in completing the film with Arcenas.
For Ampil, it was like getting into an advanced training, "It was a masterclass. It was not always easy because he sort of pushed us to our maximum ability. Loy is a very gifted artist. He has a keen eye for detail, which what made this an excellent movie. I do not think mediocrity is in his vocabulary.
While Alejandro remembered, "The most difficult part was the rehearsals with Loy as he is a perfectionist. There were acting classes and voice lessons, and an acting coach was brought in. At one point, I became discouraged because it seemed like there was nothing organic left in my performance. My acting and singing felt contrived and over-rehearsed.
"It was not until I saw the film for the first time on the big screen in Tokyo [Tokyo International Film Festival 2017] that I realized what all of it was for, and that the adjustments I was asked to make helped me be the best possible Paula. I'm still very critical of my work, but I feel a lot better now."
Besides the Best Picture and Best Actress prizes at the MMFF 2017, the film has also earned Best Musical Score (Ryan Cayabyab), Best Production Design (Gino Gonzales), the Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas Cultural Award, and the Special Jury Prize for Joaquin. Ampil considered the film as, "So far, 'Ang Larawan' is a gift to all the people involved in the film as well as the people who will be able to watch it. It has given me so much as an artist and I know that this classic is something that will outlive all of us. It is our gift to the Filipino people, particularly to the youth."
Rachel put it as, "Foreign critics who have seen the film have expressed being moved by it. The beauty of the story and the melodies [of the film's musical score] transcend cultural and age differences.
"I also hope that the songs in the original soundtrack will remain in the hearts of Pinoys for generations to come."
"Ang Larawan" is still showing in more than 70 theatres nationwide until the last day of the MMFF 2017 on Sunday, January 7.
For an updated list of screenings, visit "Ang Larawan" on Facebook.
Photos: Boy Yniguez, Jojit Lorenzo