COVER STORY

The many lives of Alessandra De Rossi

In her decades-spanning career as an actress, Alessandra De Rossi has been a budding T.V. star, the auteur’s muse, the foul-mouthed primetime villain, and now, the reigning box office queen. But for her, it’s all just part of the job.

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Nakaka-shock,” says Alessandra De Rossi. “Parang, ano, leading lady, ateng?” Her own laughter echoing around the room, she gestures to herself, and concludes, “Hindi naman ito ’yun, eh.”

The actress, 33, started her career 20 years ago on the classic horror-comedy television series “!Oka Tokat,” won Best Supporting Actress at the FAMAS Awards for her role in “Azucena” (2001) at 16, and garnered critical acclaim for “Mga Munting Tinig” (2002). She started a long-running television career (begrudgingly, she admits) playing serpent goddess Valentina, archnemesis of Darna (played by Angel Locsin), in the 2005 small-screen adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s — and the country’s — most iconic superhero, which led to various supporting and kontrabida roles.

De Rossi has also been in international projects (Singaporean horror “The Maid” in 2005 and Taiwanese dramedy “Pinoy Sunday” in 2009) and has become a compelling mainstay of the independent film festival circuit, gripping audiences in the likes of “Bambanti” (2015), “Sakaling Hindi Makarating” (2016), Lav Diaz’ “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” (2016) and “Sta. Niña” (2012), opposite Coco Martin, for which she won a Gawad Urian award for Best Supporting Actress.

But it was her turn in “Kita Kita,” as a tour guide in Japan who suddenly goes blind and finds love in the unlikeliest of ways, that made her a bankable star.

DEC6.jpg “[I like the type of] material that speaks to the world. Dapat maganda ‘yung message niya. Dapat, of course, ‘yung message niya, pinaniniwalaan ko, political or religious, ‘yung parang ganun. Kung hindi ko lang din siya belief, ‘wag na lang akong isali,” says Alessandra De Rossi of how she chooses the projects she wants to work on. Photo by JL JAVIER

Nothing about “Kita Kita” was supposed to make sense. Her love interest, after all, was played by comedian Empoy Marquez, who was probably never going to be the next Piolo Pascual (although he did produce the film under his independent film production firm, Spring Films). The trailer might even pass for a parody on “Saturday Night Live” — all by design, De Rossi explains. They thought, she says, “‘Lika, pag-tripan natin ’yung mga rom-com. Gawa tayo ng something very, very real.’ Very, very raw. Paano mag-kiligan ang dalawang tao na walang nagpapa-cute, or whatever.”

Audiences, for their part, weren’t saying “whatever” when they came to see it in droves, and the movie was a sleeper hit, earning more than ₱300 million and becoming the highest-grossing Philippine independent film of all time.

And before she knew it, all reservations and vehement denials aside, she had since transformed into a bona fide leading lady, landing an ensemble role in ABS-CBN’s latest primetime show, “Since I Found You,” a workplace comedy with a love web straight out of Shakespeare. She stars opposite Marquez, Arci Muñoz, JC de Vera, and, yes, Piolo Pascual himself.

Late last year, however, she wrote and co-starred in “12,” a film about a long-term relationship that is put to the test when the topic of marriage is brought into the fold. De Rossi’s screenwriting is very character- and dialogue-driven, her scripts often built around the actors she has in mind. “Sa writing, super daldal ko,” she says. “As in super daldal ng lahat ng characters ko. Lahat sila, may iba’t-ibang opinyon.”

DEC (1).jpg De Rossi started a long-running television career (begrudgingly, she admits) playing serpent goddess Valentina, archnemesis of Darna (played by Angel Locsin), in the 2005 small-screen adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s — and the country’s — most iconic superhero, which led to various supporting and kontrabida roles. Photos by JL JAVIER

“12,” in particular, was based on personal experience. “Ang daming nag-message sa akin na, ‘Lahat ng sinabi mo dun, ’yun ’yung mga gusto kong sabihin sa partner ko.’ O tipong, ‘Bumait ‘yung partner ko dahil sa movie mo.’ It made my friends cry.” It’s a step, she adds, toward her plan of moving behind the camera and perhaps someday directing.

CNN Philippines Life sat down with De Rossi to talk about what she imagined her career would be like when she was starting out, whether there are any creative payoffs in T.V. acting, and the unforeseen effects “Kita Kita” has had on her personal life and how she’s perceived within the industry. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Your filmography is very diverse, venturing into different genres and unique characters and stories. What do you look for in a project, and what material speaks to you?

[I like the type of] material that speaks to the world. Dapat maganda ‘yung message niya. Dapat, of course, ‘yung message niya, pinaniniwalaan ko, political or religious, ‘yung parang ganun. Kung hindi ko lang din siya belief, ‘wag na lang akong isali. And of course, ‘yung redemption, kailangan dapat meron ‘yung character ko, kung masama siya. ‘Yung pag-uusapan niyo after. Hindi ‘yung wala lang. Normally, ganun ‘yung nangyayari sa akin kapag nagbabasa ng script. Kapag medyo kalahati na, binibitawan ko na siya. Although tatapusin ko pa rin siya, pero malamang sa malamang lang, ‘pag bumibitaw na ako sa kalahati, no ‘yun. Gusto ko siya [dapat] mapanood as a consumer. Kung [nanonood] ba ako, may mapupulot ba ako dito?

What drew you to “Since I Found You”?

Si Papa P. [Laughs]. I love him very much. Meron nga akong movie na sinulat for him. Um-oo naman siya, so very excited kaming gawin siya. And maganda na nag-ba-bonding kami dito sa “Since I Found You.” With Empoy pa, na wala kaming ibang ginawa kundi i-rewrite lang nang i-rewrite ‘yung mga scenes namin. Para mas funny! Para mas kami. Maganda, lumalabas ‘yung totoo kong character.

Like example, si Empoy, mag-jo-joke siya na, bigla niya akong hahawakan. Me as a person, hindi kasi ako ganun. Natatapik ko siya, [parang], “Hindi pwede sa babae ‘yung ginaganun!” So lumalabas ‘yung totoong pagkatao mo.

How different is this show from anything you’ve ever done?

Different siya sa T.V., kasi sa T.V., most likely, kontrabida si Alex, pangit ‘yung mga lumalabas sa bibig niya. Sinasabi nila sa “Since I Found You,” pinaka-raw na character ‘yung akin [na si Janice]. Pati ‘yung family ko, pati ‘yung feelings ko, ganun. And maganda, kasi nakukuha mo ‘yung core ni Janice. Sa iba kasing mga ginawa ko sa T.V., wala lang, gigising siya, tas bad siya. Hirap na hirap akong gawin siya talaga, ‘yung, “Bakit nga ang sama niya, direk?” Tas walang makapag-explain sa akin. Minahal naman siya, wala namang nangyaring [masama sa kanya]. Hindi ko [‘yun] gusto. At least dito, may values ‘yung character, and something na close sa pagkatao ko.

Photo-13 (10).jpg “The moment na in-accept ko ‘yung Valentina [sa ‘Darna’], na ayaw ko talaga siyang tanggapin. As in, packing my bags na ako, going back to Italy. ‘Yung, ‘Kung ito lang ibibigay niyo sa akin, ‘wag na.’ Because I know that I will do it with all my heart, and I know na hindi na ako makakalabas diyan. Which is what happened.” — Alessandra De Rossi. Photo by JL JAVIER

Despite the very set formulas and cliches on teleseryes, do you find a creative payoff in T.V. acting?

Sometimes. Hindi naman pwedeng all the time. Hindi naman pwedeng wala, ‘di ba? Meron naman, siyempre, pero sa T.V. kasi, mas naniniwala silang dapat spoon-fed ‘yung audience, and ako naman, ayoko ng ganun, kasi nga gusto ko mag-isip ka after, tas mapag-usapan, tas may makukuha kayong bagong point of view. Sa T.V. kasi, it’s all in your face, eh. ‘Yung mga close-up, halos kita na ‘yung ngala-ngala, ‘di ba? It’s all there. So mas intimate ang movies for me. May time for quiet moments, and when you say quiet moments, [walang] music. Sa T.V. kasi, parang, paglabas pa lang ni Empoy, may scoring na. ‘Yung, alam mo nang it’s going to be funny, get it? Sa movie kasi, anong mangyayari? Hindi mo alam.

You started acting very young. At that age, did you imagine your career turning out a certain way? What changed for you?

Akala ko noon, kasi parang may idea dati — actually hanggang ngayon naman — na, for example, sa Hollywood, ‘pag movie actress ka, movie actress ka lang. So ‘yun ‘yung gusto ko. Parang, “Hindi ko naman kailangang makita every day sa T.V.” Gusto ko ‘yung lalabas lang ako [sa pelikula], tas ang ganda nung project, ‘yung tipong pang-international. Kaso nung time ko na lumabas ako, parang after a few months lang, [nag-offer na sila ng T.V. roles]. Sabi ko, “Never!”

Siyempre, mawawalan ka talaga ng choices, ‘di ba? Papatol ka sa T.V. And that will be your day job. So ‘yun ‘yung nangyari. The moment na in-accept ko ‘yung Valentina [sa “Darna”], na ayaw ko talaga siyang tanggapin. As in, packing my bags na ako, going back to Italy. ‘Yung, “Kung ito lang ibibigay niyo sa akin, ‘wag na.” Because I know that I will do it with all my heart, and I know na hindi na ako makakalabas diyan. Which is what happened. Ten years, straight. ‘Yun lang at ‘yun lang ang ibibigay na role sayo. Na, kahit anong sabihin mo na, “Uy, give me something naman with substance,” hindi talaga nila kayang ibigay. Hindi ka nila makita in a different way.

Through all that, how do you think you’ve changed or grown as an actress?

‘Yung growth naman, matagal na siyang nandiyan, mas madali na lang siyang i-grasp ngayon. Like for example, before, ‘pag choosy ako sa roles, [sasabihan ako], “Arte naman nito, akala mo sikat.” Ngayon, parang, “Oo nga, hindi pwede sa branding.” May branding si ateng! Hindi ko nga lang alam kung ano ‘yung branding. Basta meron daw. So ngayon, pwede na siyang maging choosy, pwede na siyang mag-suggest, may boses na ako na nandun na noon pa, wala lang nakikinig. You have “K” na.

After “Kita Kita,” ‘yung mga producers, they know na if they bet on you, kahit papaano, babalik ‘yan. Hindi siya katulad ng dati, “Bakit ako magi-invest diyan? Wala namang may pakialam kay Alessandra.” Ngayon, kahit paano, ‘yung tatlo kong fans, six na. [Laughs].

DEC5.jpg “‘Yung ‘Kita Kita,’ parang joke lang siya [nung una]. ‘Yung isang bagay na trip-trip lang, naging journey pala siya ng buong career mo. Hirap talaga ako kahit ngayon. Adjustment period siya. Pero pangarap ‘to ng mommy ko, eh. Pinag-dasal niya ‘to.” — Alessandra De Rossi. Photo by JL JAVIER

How much of yourself do you put into your work?

Everything. Walang kulang, walang wall, walang, “Takot ako pumangit [‘yung gawa].” Kaya kino-correct ko kapag may nakita akong hindi OK or hindi ko tinatanggap ‘pag hindi siya for me, kasi kung hindi ko mabibigay ‘yung 100 percent ko, sayang ‘yung project. Wala akong pakialam sa performance ko, nanghihinayang ako sa material nila.

You’ve been in the business for more than 20 years now, do you ever feel burnt out?

Burnt out ako, hindi sa work, eh. Sa personal life. ‘Yun bang, lumiit ‘yung mundo ko. ‘Yung dating tahimik, hindi na ngayon. Hindi pa ako nakakapag-grocery after “Kita Kita.” Kasi one time, pumasok ako, takbuhan sila. Tas tumakbo na lang ako pabalik ng bahay. Naiintindihan ko naman siya, and kailangan ko siyang i-embrace. I’m trying very hard, kasi private talaga akong tao. Ngayon, nagugulat ka na lang, like for example, may sinabi ka, tapos ang bilis makarating sa kabilang grupo! Pinag-uusapan ka nila. Dati I was just there, and no one cared, and I was happy.

It’s something that I need na rin. Change siya, mas malala pa ‘yung [sa] iba. Hindi naman ako superstar, ‘di ba? Maybe some people really enjoy the attention, and I don’t. Iwanan mo ako sa isang sulok, promise, OK lang. Mag-meeting kayo, diyan lang ako sa gilid, magke-Candy Crush lang ako.

It’s pretty surprising to hear you have an introverted side because people know you to be very open, able to work a room with your sense of humor, so you’re seen as very sociable. Are you conscious of having a public image to uphold or go against?

Yes! Siyempre. Kasi what you see is what you get naman ako. Wala naman akong masyadong tinatago. I think alam naman nila na ganito ako. I don’t know kung tanggap nila. I don’t know kung iniisip ng ibang tao na I don’t care kung ano ‘yung iniisip nila. Hindi totoo ‘yun. I care.

Entertainment ang pinasok ko. So I will entertain you. So pa-guest-guest ako ng show, e-entertain kita, patatawanin kita, that’s true. Even off-cam, very entertaining naman ako. Pero iba ‘pag hindi kilala ng isang tao ‘yung soul mo, ang hirap talaga. Very clannish ako. Alam mo ‘yun? Even when it comes to production. Kailangan may nakakapitan akong kilala ko talaga.

Along with the newfound level of fame that you’ve mentioned, the success of “Kita Kita” has led to all kinds of opportunities, like your new show. People are calling it a resurgence — would you agree?

Maybe. Why not, ‘di ba? ‘Yung “Kita Kita,” parang joke lang siya [nung una]. ‘Yung isang bagay na trip-trip lang, naging journey pala siya ng buong career mo. Hirap talaga ako kahit ngayon. Adjustment period siya.

Pero pangarap ‘to ng mommy ko, eh. Pinag-dasal niya ‘to. I’m sure, 20 years. Sabihin natin sa kanya, “Your girl is a ‘vlockvuster.’ Now riding ‘vusiness’ class.” [sic] Hindi na pwedeng i-economy! [Laughs].

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Makeup by Ricci Chan