Theater stalwarts Joana Ampil and Rachel Alejandro star in Ang Larawan The Movie
Did theater veterans Joanna Ampil and Rachel Alejandro, who star in the film adaptation of beloved musical, Ang Larawan, have a hard time transitioning from stage to screen? It was gruelling work, yes, but what they found most difficult about their roles is relating to the characters.
Joanna and Rachel play Marasigan sisters Candida and Paula, respectively. These sisters are living in pre-World War II Intramuros, a time and place where women were completely dependent on a man for their living, in this case, their father. A painter who hasn’t produced paintings in a long time, Don Lorenzo Marasigan can no longer provide for his spinster daughters. Candida and Paula must now learn how to not just manage a household on little money, but to also keep appearances in high-society Manila.
Ampil won the 2017 MMFF (Metro Manila Film Festival) Best Actress for her riveting portrayal of Candida
Joanna has played many celebrated roles, among them the ill-fated prostitute Kim in Miss Saigon, the desperate mother Fantine in Les Miserables, and the effervescent governess Maria in Sound of Music, yet she says of her portrayal of Candida, “When I was rehearsing for the part prior to filming, there was nothing I liked about her. It was a real challenge to dig deep into the character to find something good about Candida, hence making it very difficult to play.”
Like Joanna, Rachel didn’t find it easy transforming into her character, Paula. “I have nothing much in common with Paula, a woman who was completely dependent on her family, especially her older sister,” Rachel says. “Because she was fearful, she never allowed herself to truly experience life. Loy Arcenas, our director, said that his character peg for Paula is a mouse. Celeste Legaspi, our producer, would find that completely hilarious: Rachel Alejandro as a meek, little mouse!”
Alejandro plays Paula, a woman struggling to live and survive in Pre-War Old Manila
Indeed. Rachel is a popular TV host, pop singer and stage actress, known for her powerful vocals and honest opinions. Juggling her TV hosting stints and album launches with theater performances plus managing The Sexy Chef, a healthy food delivery service with her sister, and writing a book of healthy recipes, too, Rachel is definitely not a woman who waits for life to happen to her. “As an ‘ate’ in my family, I have always been a take-charge kind of person. I always go for the things I want in life and believe that I create my own destiny,” she says. “I guess there was nothing easy about my role because nothing [about Paula] came naturally to me!”
That’s not to say the other aspects of making Ang Larawan were any easier. Even though Joanna and Rachel are seasoned actors and singers, they still had to take acting classes and singing lessons! Joanna says she devoted hours to watching clips of the pre-war era so she can act the way people at that time behaved. She says, “I layered up my character until she became so real to me. I was bursting with information that I was almost living it.”
Rachel, meanwhile, had to take voice lessons “to take the pop quality out of my singing… As a result, as Paula, I don’t sound like myself. I struggled with this at first but I’m all for trying new things and disappearing into a role. So yeah, again they wanted a mouse and no Rachel anywhere in the part! ”
Rachel describes the years they’ve been making Ang Larawan as “not typical.” Filming started a year ago but preparation for the movie took another year prior to cameras rolling. Rachel says, “Loy’s preparation process for Ang Larawan was different from anything that’s ever been done, I think. We rehearsed the music and the scenes for a whole year before filming. This is not typical at all even for theater. He wanted to control as much of it as he could so that when we shot it, we wouldn’t waste time. That was his thinking.” Joanna agrees: “The rehearsal was intense. I’ve never rehearsed for something this much before to the point that I was bringing home the character. I was so involved with being Candida. It was a painful process but it paid off in the end.”
The pay off for Joanna is simple: She knew she nailed her role. “The fact that this role is my most challenging yet, it’s also given me that sense of achievement afterwards.” She also adds that she actually enjoyed making the movie—yes, even with the “painful process!” “I get the same buzz playing in front of the camera as playing in front of an audience. I enjoy doing both. As soon as I’m dressed as the character, the lights come on, the process is the same. One becomes the person they’re portraying. As long as the homework is done, objectives are clear and there’s truth in every word uttered, then everything will flow easily.”
Rachel didn’t adjust so quickly. Ever candid with her experiences, she confesses, “I guess I find theater acting more liberating because I don’t have to think about what the camera can see. With film, it’s very technical. The camera registers every little movement and, especially with a period piece like this, we had to learn to slow down all our actions and reactions. It took me a while to adjust to thinking about all that and still be as organic in my role as possible.”
With all that hard work poured into it by its leading ladies, Ang Larawan is sure to become as fine as the musical play it’s adapted from. But will it be as beloved as the literary play both are based on? Ang Larawan is inspired by A Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist. Touted as the most important Filipino play in English, it was written by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in 1950, and has not only gained local and international acclaim, it’s also enjoyed many theatrical productions, radio airings, literary readings, translations, adaptations, and even a black-and-white film through the years. This year, it will be seen on the big screen and Joanna and Rachel can’t wait for a new generation of Filipinos to fall in love with the beloved story.
Joanna says, “It’s one of the most beloved [plays] of our national artist, Nick Joaquin. There will be some sort of curiosity as to why this is one of his finest works. I’m hoping that this curiosity will lead them to seeing this movie musical.”
Rachel admits that the period piece may not immediately attract the youth. “Many, especially millennials, may be baffled by the choices made by the lead characters. They may not get them or agree with them but what we hope is that they will spark discourse and make us all question or at least reconsider our beliefs and values.”
Joanna and Rachel agree that there’s one thing modern Pinoys will love about Ang Larawan: the music. Joanna says, “As Filipinos, music is a huge part of our culture. The score of Mr. Ryan Cayabyab for this musical elevated this piece to a whole new level. It’s thought-provoking, funny, witty, and full of heart, which will make the experience enjoyable and enriching for our audiences.”
“My fervent hope is that the film is shown all over the world because it definitely represents the very best of us as Filipinos,” Rachel passionately exclaims. “Music is part of our lives and in our veins. It’s time the world recognizes that.”