Spotlight interviews the actors from the QCinema Film Festival 2015 Best Picture, Apocalypse Child. Read further as they talk to us about their acting methods, struggles on set, that one heartbreaking scene, and more!
Featuring actors Gwen Zamora, Ana Abad Santos, RK Bagatsing, Annicka Dolonius, and Sid Lucero of Apocalypse Child
Your performances all have a similar trait: they are all raw and truthful. What did you do to prepare for your character?
Gwen Zamora (Gwen): Before leaving for Baler, we had several meetings with our director and producer to discuss our characters (character sketching) and the vision they had for the Film. This gave me a clear picture of how I should attack my character. It is incredibly important to know your character’s ins and outs so that once on set, Serena (Gwen’s character) would just take over.
Ana Abad Santos (Ana): As an actress your life should be an on going preparation for your roles. I can never be bigger than my experiences which is my biggest and my most dangerous investment in my craft. Luckily, I also took up surfing 3 years ago and have immersed myself somwhat in the local surf towns. I have seen all kinds of Chonas (Ana’s character). But in the end though, I had to find my own Chona and let her take me over. It’s a bit of a scary process and some roles are harder to uncover than others but they’re all there if you allow it. Some characters are also harder to let go than others. That’s the scarier part. It’s like a bit of possession and exorcism I guess.
RK Bagatsing (RK): I can still remember the moment I got the call from my manager, Ricky Gallardo, saying I got the role. I got really excited. I told him that I am so happy to get this project because I’ve seen Cinemalaya’s “Bigtime” way back and loved it. And not to mention I am a fan of Sid Lucero’s work. He is one of those actors that I think highly of out there. Then I found out who would be playing the other characters and the amount of talent I was going to be with, it dawned on me. I seriously needed to prepare for it. And so I did. Thank God there was plenty of time for that before we started shooting in Baler. Mario and Monster had a full vision of what they wanted to achieve. They gave me list of movies to watch in order to understand some personalities similar to what we wanted to portray. We also had several meetings before the shoot that consisted of character study and their relationship with each other. As for individual work, I spent longer hours on script analysis. I even asked for help from my brother (actor Raymond Bagatsing). He understood how important the project was for me. So we read through every page, acted out some scenes, tried out different choices, etc. I tried getting as many ideas as I could. It was sort of like laying bricks one by one trying to build a strong foundation. Although somehow I still felt like it was not enough. The amount of work I was doing then was a result of the amount of pressure I had for myself. I know how hard it is to book a job. For them to trust a newbie to play an important role, with a great script, with a ridiculously talented cast, I knew I couldn’t just wing it. I needed to put in a lot of work. But I guess aside from that, it all starts with the material. We had an amazing story to begin with. It’s not the script in general because our lines changed, some scenes were added and some scenes were removed. But the idea of the story was constant; it had some sort of a beating heart already. You just had to believe that you’re now the character under the given circumstances. Eventually, we owned the story.
Annicka Dolonius (Annicka): Thank you! The first thing I did was watch a bunch of Noah Baumbach movies (like The Squid and the Whale) to figure out Mario’s sense of humor because he kept insisting that the script was a comedy but I couldn’t see it! To prepare for Fiona physically, I started working out and took surf lessons with Philippine Surfing Academy to get better on a surfboard. Mario and Monster also asked me to come see them a few times and we would talk about who Fiona (Annicka’s character) was behind the script: her background, her childhood, her relationship with her parents etc. I remember Mario asking about what things we could do to break her and we went from there.
Are there specific techniques you used for your acting process (Emotional Recall, or Imagery, or other methods)?
Sid Lucero (Sid): For this film, if we are going to talk about the techniques I used, I didn’t use anything like emotional recall or imaginary. Maybe Method. But basically I put myself in it. I went there, I didn’t really prepare for anything except for maybe the language and we also had surf training. Most of my preparation happened there in Baler.
Gwen: Knowledge of where my character is coming from. Which is discussed before going on set. Then once on set, I simply feed off my co-actors. As an actress, I need to have a clear picture of my character’s flow.
Ana: You learn all these techniques, some will stay and some will go. For me what has stayed are these 3 things: be still, think and breathe.
RK: To be honest I am still trying to find the right method that works well for me. There are so many acting techniques out there and sometimes I get lost trying to decide which one to try or find out which one works. Ultimately, I try to breakdown the script the same way: find out the overall objective, what does he want from that person, what does he want to achieve in every scene etc. Yes, there was some emotional recall involved to load up some feelings but unless we buy some beers I can’t share any of that here. (Laughs) But I guess the most important advice I got from different mentors was: find the “truth” in every scene. That’s always an ideal weapon of choice.
Annicka: To be honest, I’m not sure what techniques I used exactly. I was experimenting with different ideas! In the end it was more like: forget everything you know and just play! The most important thing was to be as truthful as possible.
Did the Baler locals and atmosphere have an influence on your acting process? If yes, what exactly?
Sid: I soaked everything up. You go into the set. You figure out how everybody works with each other and then you figure out where to place yourself. Being in Baler was what did all the work for me. I barely did anything. I went to Baler and then the character of Baler was the one that created my character. I really just went there and just stayed there as if I was from there (laughs) that’s basically it. I really embraced Baler.
Gwen: I wasn’t really able to go around and meet new people unlike my co actors unfortunately. I’m a little bit of a sloth, I enjoy sleeping a lot. Which helps for acting I guess, since I’m always rested.
Ana: It’s hard to pin point but the environment and the people around you is always a big influence. In the case of Baler, it’s this beautiful bay in the Luzon Island and the island gets to you. You seem free but also trapped. You start to move and breathe differently and look at the world from a totally different perspective. Hopefully you can process the experience and translate it to your character.
RK: Yes. Baler did some kind of spell on all of us. My problem as an actor is I have a loud mind. I have so many thoughts in my head that makes it difficult for me to focus. But somehow Baler changed that. I can’t exactly explain how or why but maybe it has something to do with its serene environment. Within a few days, it already felt like home which made me feel at ease and helped me bring some stillness to the character. As RK, I didn’t feel like a stranger to the place where Rich (RK’s character) grew up. It may have its dramas but it’s home.
Annicka: Definitely! I had never been to Baler until we started shooting and that unfamiliarity made it easier for me to get lost. If I wasn’t needed on set, I would take walks along the pier or take a trike into town alone and really try to figure out where Fiona (Annicka’s character) is coming from and where she might be going etc. We got to spend a lot of time with a few of the local surfers too which was great because I got to learn more about the local surf culture and the day to day life in Baler.
How was the collaboration between you and your co-stars, as well as with the director?
Sid: It was the set, the actors, the life there that we were exposed to that basically created everything for me. I think if you change one character with another actor, everything changes. This is the first time I ever felt I actually collaborated with the director and the actors because of the number of readings that we had plus the number of meetings that we had before, during and after each scene. I’m most thankful for that. The director and writers trusted us talaga. They knew exactly what they wanted but they let us fill in the blanks. And if the blanks were too small, they basically scraped the script, which is also one of the things that challenged me about the shoot.
Gwen: Amazing, it was such an honor to work with such talented people. Mario Cornejo our director was such a breeze to work with because he was all ears with our suggestions, which made my performance more enjoyable as I had the freedom of expression. And regarding my co-actors, I would gladly work with them all over again in a heartbeat. They are all crazy and phenomenal. It’s nice to blend with cray cray people.
Ana: I LOVE this crew and my co-actors were crazy (laughs). The creative team was awesome and I adored Monster and Mario even if Direk Mario kept saying “fucking actors” – I know deep down he loved us.
RK: I am so very lucky to be part of a brilliant ensemble. I learned so much just by being around them. They all have a different approach to their work but everyone’s so generous. There’s so much truth and honesty between the characters. You just have to react to whatever is being thrown at you and it already works, even without words. There’s little dialogue that goes on between actors before a scene. Most of the time each one will just surprise you with something. Of course we did workshops together and scene studies in Manila but Mario did all the talking most of the time in our shoots in Baler. He didn’t let you just get into a scene without any explanation but he didn’t force anything unto our characters. There was enough space given to us to do our thing. It was nothing like “you’re mad in this particular scene”, “you want revenge”, “you’re sad”, or whatever. He would come up with questions and let you find the answers yourself. Or he would lay all the cards on the table, give you all the facts about the scene and let you decide what to feel and how you would go about it. I guess that’s how it ended up raw and truthful. There was a sense of ownership in the process of getting to know what your character was really going through. There was honesty in it because the answers came from you.
Annicka: We were a small cast and luckily we all bonded really well together, which made work a lot of fun. I love working with Mario! He gives you a lot of freedom as an actor to experiment but he will let you know when he’s looking for something different from you.
What challenges did you face during the shoot?
Sid: Having a lot of freedom as an actor while also clearly understanding the vision of the director.
Gwen: The biggest challenge I faced was the inconsistency with my voice. If you hear my normal voice, it is high pitched and squeaky. Unlike Serena’s (Gwen’s character) voice which was at a lower register and slightly raspy.
Ana: Waking up at 4am.
RK: Lack of sleep, hangovers and Sunburn. Seriously.
Annicka: Getting to stand up on a board properly!
Were there specific scenes that created any kind of actor’s block? If so, how were you able to solve them?
Sid: To really get what the director wanted. To solve those blocks, I just had to trust the director.
Gwen: To be honest, I did not encounter any blocks. We were on such a comfortable and open set that our veins were just full of artistic freedom.
Ana: Our director made us smoke unfiltered cigarettes in the gang pot scene. We solved it by finally agreeing to use Oregano instead.
RK: Oh yes. I pretty much told myself a thousand times to quit acting in general because I realized how much I sucked after filming my very first scene. We shot on the exact same day I arrived in Baler. It wasn’t on the schedule to shoot any of my scenes that day but for some reason we thought: “what the hell lets go test the waters already”. And so we did. For some reason I couldn’t get into it. I was messing up real bad. All the preparation I did prior to that day was nowhere to be found. Mario kept saying it was okay but I was definitely sure the subtext goes like “damn it, I think I made a mistake.” I even thought I was going to be replaced the next day. It was that bad. Well, for me it was. I just couldn’t really get into my character just yet. We wrapped the scene that day but I begged for a retake according to the original schedule (laughs). I guess I needed to settle in first because I wasn’t there yet mentally and emotionally. It was certainly not an excuse but a lesson learned about being focused no matter what. I went back to my notes and we did it again on schedule.
Annicka: I struggled with a few of the Ford (Sid’s character) and Fiona (Annicka’s character) scenes, like the one where she tells him “I could make you so happy”. It was a weird, awkward sort of thing where I wasn’t sure what to do with the line. Both Mario and Sid came in to help with input and encouragement and in the end I had to trust that Mario knows what he’s doing even though I might not (Laughs). Another Ford and Fiona scene I had difficulty getting to where I wanted to go emotionally and it was frustrating, but Mario was there with words of encouragement and in the end we got something!
Were the comedic parts pre-planned or did some arise spontaneously?
Sid: Yes, they were pre planned. It was already established in the script. It was genius the way the writers and director put everything together. They had punch lines but they allowed the scenes to come up with the punch lines, with the jokes. Sometimes when things didn’t fit, new things came up spontaneously. The director would say, “This is what we want to see!” and he directed us towards where he wanted to go without having to micromanage each movement or dialogue which is the power of the film I think.
Gwen: With the group we had, most of the comedy just happened on its own that is how comfortable we were.
Ana: Both. Honestly I didn’t know we were doing a comedy.
RK: There’s this funny “it’s okay, now we’re even” scene. I remember the idea came out of nowhere when we were doing our workshop in Manila. During rehearsal, I remembered this last scene from the film Violatorwhere the cop and devil both said “1-1” (in other words we’re even.) so I just blurted it out “okay lang quits na tayo” or “quits lang”. I can’t remember the exact words but it was something close to that. It was not in the script but we all laughed at it and agreed to add a scene just for it.
Annicka: Both! We followed what was in the script, but there were a lot of improvised moments/lines.
What were the memorable stories that happened on set?
Sid: Many memorable stories. Day 1, day 2, day 3. When the set left, when the set arrived. The entire trip was memorable. I met so many friends there. I’d never been closer with anybody in any set that I’d been in not even a 10 month soap. I mean you make friends but these friends that I made here you really want to meet with them off set.
Gwen: Driving my car down a flight of stairs. (I would go into detail but it’s a little R18)
Ana: I’m not allowed to say.
RK: There’s a lot to choose from but if I have to pick one, I would choose the last scene I did with Sid. Why? That was our last before we wrapped the whole thing. By then we all realized we already had a movie. There were some setbacks, but we lived to tell the tale. (Laughs) But what about the memorable stories happened off the set? A lot to mention.
Annicka: Gwen celebrated her birthday on one shooting night by releasing a bunch of pink lanterns into the night sky. It was beautiful!
(To Annicka and Sid) That heartbreaking “hold my heart” scene, how did you prepare for that?
Sid: That was all Annicka! You have to know who is leading the scene. You have to respect what the scene asks for and in this particular scene it was Fiona’s (Annicka’s character) scene. It also described what kind of person Ford (Sid’s character) was and how he makes his decisions.
Annicka: I remember not talking to Sid or Gwen when I got to the set that night until after we shot the scene (laughs). I remember that the sky felt like it was going to rain and that helped with the mood as well. I think it was just a question of getting into that headspace. That was a tough one and I remember really struggling with it!