The Lav Diaz Actors Portfolio

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Brief profiles of some of the most dynamic actors in Philippine cinema, as told by the acclaimed director himself. Portraits by JAKE VERZOSA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Why would you work with rom-com actors?” someone from the audience asked Lav Diaz during a recent school tour for “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.”

The question isn’t unfounded. The inclusion of John Lloyd Cruz and Piolo Pascual in “Hele” is a collision of two worlds: Diaz’s stark realist cinema and the squeaky-clean mainstream celebrity of Cruz and Pascual. But perhaps they were bound to intersect anyway. Cruz has recently ventured into darker roles (as in “Honor Thy Father” and “The Trial”) and Pascual has been experimenting away from the big-studio spotlight (starring in the political thriller “On the Job” and producing “Silong” and “Relaks, It’s Just Pag-ibig”). Having worked with Cruz and Pascual in “Hele,” Diaz has nothing but admiration for the two actors’ commitment to delivering fine performances.

“Mali ‘yung question, eh,” he says. “They were underestimating these actors. Ang tatalino ng mga actors na ‘to, eh. Give them the right roles, the proper roles, they will do it. Walang prejudicial na perspective, whether you’re from the so-called ‘commercial,’ ‘independent,’ pareho lang ‘yan eh. They can do it, bigyan mo lang sila ng tamang paghahanda, tamang character build-up, history, kayang-kaya ‘yan eh. They’re very good. They’re great actors.”

Diaz’s films contain the breaking point of realism — unguarded performances straddling the direst points of the emotive spectrum — and the free-flying showcase of a literary narrative in cinema, more prominently seen in the retooling of “Crime and Punishment” in “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” and the exploration of “El Filibusterismo” and the poetry of Jose Rizal in “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.” Having a running time far beyond the conventional affords his actors more than enough room to extend the breadth of their characters’ lives. In this cinematic plane, they occupy the real and the mythological at the same time, where dreams reach out to fulfill duties, creatures govern mindsets, and surroundings act as mysterious forces of fate.

Diaz lays down a blank canvas for his actors. He offers as little “direction” as possible — more instructional, as he says — letting his actors draw the lines where their characters will tread.

“Lav is the kind of director who trusts you to do your job,” says Angeli Bayani, who has worked with Diaz in films such as “Death in the Land of Encantos,” “Melancholia,” and “Norte,” for which she won an Urian Best Actress Award in 2014. “‘I’m the director, this is what I’ll do; you’re an actor, that’s your job. But of course, as your director, I will explain to you this much. Bahala ka na to get from there what you need to do, what you have to do.’ When we shot ‘Death in the Land of Encantos,’ he would tell me, ‘Angeli, come,’ and he’d show me his framing. ‘That’s your acting space. Bahala ka na,’ he’d say.”

Ultimately, Diaz doesn’t see his film as a showcase for actors but rather a duty to tell the story of our country. “Kasi ang unang line ko sa kanila, ‘You do this for the country, not for me, not for anybody else. Gagawin natin ang pelikulang ito para sa bayan.’ And that’s the magic line for them.”

In the following portfolio, Diaz talks about the actors he’s worked with — friends, fixtures, and fresh faces — and how they all have left their imprints in his films.

 

John Lloyd Cruz John Lloyd Cruz. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

JOHN LLOYD CRUZ

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Kahit na ang dami nilang trabaho, nagbigay sila ng panahon. Sabi namin, ‘Alam namin na busy kayo.’ ‘Yung shoot andun sa dulo ng Luzon … makikita mo ‘yung commitment. Ang daming lipad ng eroplano, sakay ng bus, para makarating, ginawa nila ‘yun, ‘yung sakripisyo na ‘yun. Hats off to them.”

 

Piolo Pascual Piolo Pascual. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

PIOLO PASCUAL

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Sobra ‘yung commitment ni Piolo sa character niya. Gusto pa nga niya eh. May mga panahon na tinatawagan na siya ng studio, ‘Bumalik ka na dito.’ Sabi niya, ‘Tatapusin ko muna ito.’ Ganun siya. He will sacrifice things para mag-stay. Sumama sila sa Berlin kahit ang dami nilang ginagawa. Kita mo ‘yung commitment nila.”

 

Alessandra de Rossi Alessandra de Rossi. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

ALESSANDRA DE ROSSI

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Madali siyang kasama. Nakakatuwa siya, pero ‘pag sinalang mo na, seryoso na. May ganun siyang personahe, eh. Mabilis siya. So that’s the mark of a good actor, an intelligent actor. Alam niya ‘yung ginagawa niya talaga. Very subtle ‘yung approach niya. Walang exaggeration, very easily, pinapasok niya ‘yan.

 

Roeder Camanag Roeder Camañag. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA  

ROEDER CAMAÑAG

Films with Lav Diaz: 5 (“Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino,” “Heremias,” “Death in the Land of Encantos,” “Melancholia,” “Siglo ng Pagluluwal”)

“Si Roeder matagal ko nang kilala. Napapanood ko siya sa teatro, and sabi ko ‘pag may chance, bibigyan ko siya ng malaking role. Hanggang dumating ‘yung ‘Heremias,’ after ‘yung ‘Death in the Land of Encantos.’ Hindi lang magaling si Roeder, may commitment siya sa sining. Importante ‘yan, eh, may responsibility siya sa ginagawa niya. Those are the attributes that I really want sa isang actor.”

 

Joel Saracho Joel Saracho. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

JOEL SARACHO

Films with Lav Diaz: 2 (“Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Kasama ko siya sa dyaryo noon, matagal ko nang kaibigan. Younger days namin, mga reporters kami. Tumanda na kami, naging actor siya, naging director na ako, bigayan lang. We respect each other, para kaming magkakapatid.”

 

Angel Aquino Angel Aquino. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

ANGEL AQUINO

Films with Lav Diaz: 6 (“Serafin Geronimo,” “Batang West Side,” “Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino,” “Siglo ng Pagluluwal,” “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis,” “Babae sa Hangin” [unfinished])

Siya ang pinakamatagal ko nang katrabaho. Barkada ko kasi ‘yan. [Laughs] Laging nandiyan siya eh. Para siyang fixture sa mga works ko. Isang text mo lang, darating na. Wala nang pahirapan, darating agad ‘yan. ‘’Tol, punta ka na dito.’ Magaling siya, no question about it. Hindi naman ako kukuha ng hindi ko nirerespeto eh.”

 

Noel Sto. Domingo Noel Sto. Domingo. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

NOEL STO. DOMINGO

Films with Lav Diaz: 7 (“Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino,” “Heremias,” “Prologo sa Ang Dakilang Desaparecido,” “Florentina Hubaldo, CTE,” “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan,” “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Noel is an old-time friend. Mula’t mula hindi naman siya aktor eh. Makulit lang siya nung naging filmmaker ako, lagi niya akong kinukulit. Sabi niya, ‘Tol, kailan mo ba ako paartehin? Magaling ako!’ [Laughs] Sinubukan ko, mahusay naman. Very raw, wala siyang technique, walang gano’n. Actor siya from life. Magandang i-merge ‘yun eh. Mga actor na may technique na — ‘yung mga taga-teatro kasi, ‘yung mga taga-cinema, nakapag-develop na sila ng technique eh. Pero ang katulad ni Noel, mga raw actors, magandang ihalo ‘yan [sa mga taga-teatro at cinema], may binibigay silang iba sa dynamics ng interaction.”

 

Bart Guingona Bart Guingona. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

BART GUINGONA

Films with Lav Diaz: 3 (“Jesus, Rebolusyonaryo,” “Heremias,” “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Idol ko ‘yan. Lagi kaming magkasama rin. Kapag nasa teatro ‘yan, lagi kaming nagkikita. ‘Pag mga ganyan, mga kaibigan ‘yan, eh. And they’re great, you know. Sobrang galing, intelehente. Just give him the space and time, it’s OK.”

 

Hazel Orencio Hazel Orencio. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

HAZEL ORENCIO

Films with Lav Diaz: 7 (“Elehiya sa Dumalaw Mula sa Himagsikan,” “Siglo ng Pagluluwal,” “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan,” “Prologo sa Ang Dakilang Desaparecido,” “Florentina Hubaldo, CTE,” “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“‘Yung character ni Hazel sa ‘Siglo,’ kami nag-develop nun. Walang kwento ‘yun noon, eh. ‘Yung inspiration noon was the storm. Nalaman ko na may darating na bagyo sa Central Luzon, tinawag ko siya, si Perry Dizon, ‘Let’s go.’ Ginawa namin. ‘Yun ang nangyari. So we developed it while shooting, kaming tatlo nila Perry. It’s very collaborative, ‘yung kanyang approach doon.”

 

Bernardo Bernardo Bernardo Bernardo. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

BERNARDO BERNARDO

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Siya ‘yung inspiration namin during the shoot. Literally, ‘pag nakasalang siya sa eksena, tumitigil kami lahat. Pinapanood namin siya. Parang acting class lagi siya. Master class. Pati ‘yung mga crew, tumitigil. ‘O, si Bernardo Bernardo na!’ Manonood silang lahat. Ganun kalakas ‘yung impact niya sa shooting. He’s such a powerful performer. Napaka-charismatic niyang tao. When he’s acting, nahahatak niya lahat.”

 

Joel Torre Joel Torre. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

JOEL TORRE

Films with Lav Diaz: 4 (“Hubad sa Ilalim ng Buwan,” “Batang West Side,” “Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino,” “Siglo ng Pagluluwal”)

“Magaling mag-aral ng character si Joel. Siya ‘yung aktor na tingin niya laging kulang ‘yung ginagawa niya. Napaka-intelehente niyang aktor and at the same time, napaka-insecure niya. After a scene, sasabihin ko, ‘Ang ganda na nun, ‘tol.’ Sabi niya, ‘No, kulang pa ‘yun,’ tapos gigisingin ka pa niya ng madaling araw, tatawagan ka niya. ‘O bakit?’ ‘’Tol, ulitin natin, hindi ko gusto.’ Sabi ko, ‘Ang ganda na, OK na.’ Ganun siya … makikita mo ‘yung commitment niya. He won’t stop bugging you until you say,‘Tama na, OK na ‘yun.’ Ganun siya ka-committed sa pag-arte. Magaling siya mag-create.”

 

Cherie Gil Cherie Gil. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

CHERIE GIL

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Si Cherie, matagal ko nang kaibigan sa New York. May gagawin sana kami noon [na project] na hindi natuloy. Hindi pumayag ‘yung asawa niya. Through the years, lagi kaming nagbabanggaan. ‘Uy, kailan uli?’ So finally, nagkaroon ng chance.”

 

Angeli Bayani Angeli Bayani. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

ANGELI BAYANI

Films with Lav Diaz: 3 (“Death in the Land of Encantos,”, “Melancholia,” “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan”)

“First time ko nakatrabaho sa ‘Encantos’ si Angeli. Napaka-sensitibo niyang aktor, ang galing. Amazing. Nakakatakot siyang aktor. Kung pumasok siya, hindi mo na siya magagalaw; andun na siya eh. Purely instructional na lang kay Angeli. Next scene ito, ipakita mo ‘yung frame and she’ll do it.”

 

Susan Africa Susan Africa. Portrait by JAKE VERZOSA

SUSAN AFRICA

Films with Lav Diaz: 1 (“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis”)

“Susan is Aling Hule. She assisted Oryang during the search for the body of [Andres Bonifacio]. The 30-day search. Pero may background siya, ‘yung horrifying na massacre. Dalawang anak niya ang namatay doon. Mabigat ‘yung pinasok niyang contribution sa character kasi dala-dala din niya ‘yung torment na ‘yun. Losing two sons sa revolution. And then they’re looking for the body of a dead man na hindi naman nila makita-kita. So ‘yung lalim — ‘yung abyss ng melancholia, grabe. You can see that in the film, ang bigat ng dinadala niya. There’s a dream there na she was walking in the mud — literally, ganun ‘yung soul niya. Gumagapang sa putik ‘yung soul niya kasi hindi niya maalis ‘yung torment na ‘yun. The only way she can heal that is to help the revolution. To help other people na tormented din ng cataclysm na ‘yan.”

 

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Hair by Jay Aquino (Angel Aquino, Bernardo Bernardo, Cherie Gil, Hazel Orencio, Alessandra de Rossi, Joel Torre)

Makeup by Don de Jesus for MAC Cosmetics (Angel Aquino, Susan Africa, Bernardo Bernardo, Cherie Gil) and Sylvina Lopez (Hazel Orencio, Alessandra de Rossi, Joel Saracho, Joel Torre)