Berlin-bound Piolo isn’t daunted by film’s politics
Actor Piolo Pascual gets all riled up when talk turns to the highly political nature of his latest film, Lav Diaz’s “Ang Panahon ng Halimaw” (Season of the Devil), an entry in the main competition of this month’s Berlin International Film Festival.
As an actor, he insists, it is his duty to tell the truth—unvarnished, unfiltered, uncensored.
In the rock musical, which revisits a tumultuous chapter in our nation’s history, Piolo is cast as a poet looking for his missing wife (Shaina Magdayao), a doctor who falls victim to vigilantes.
Until now, human rights abuses are happening in our midst, he points out.
“This happens not just in our country, but globally,” he explains. “We can turn a blind eye, but it’s a reality we have to show in our films.”
Piolo is keenly aware, however, of the limits of his role in society. “I am just an actor. I’m not a political person.”
Ready for debates
But he asserts that he’s ready for the debates that this film will inevitably spark here and abroad. “I respect Lav so much…I cannot pass up this project just because of these issues.”
In the end, he says, it is up to the audience to process the insights unleashed by the film. “You cannot be apathetic or apolitical,” he remarks. “It’s up to you to form your own opinions…to assess the situation.”
In any case, he has never shied away from potentially contentious material. Early in his career, he played an activist in Chito Roño’s “Dekada ’70.”
The polemical nature of Lav’s latest Berlin epic is familiar territory, as well.
In a lot of ways, “Ang Panahon ng Halimaw” is a fitting follow-up to Piolo’s previous collaboration with Lav, “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis,” which won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize in Berlin two years ago.
“Just like ‘Hele,’ ‘Halimaw’ is a period film,” he elaborates. While ‘Hele’ is set during the Philippine revolution of 1896, “Halimaw” covers the martial law era.
“But what sets ‘Halimaw’ apart is it’s a musical,” he notes. “All the lines are sung. It’s also heavier. It tackles current issues. It’s timely, still very relevant.”
Piolo is awed by the fact that Lav wrote all 33 songs in the musical.
“Before the shoot in Malaysia, he sent us study tapes of our songs,” he recalls.
When he first heard the songs, he instinctively knew he had to be part of the movie. “Ang galing! The songs are poetic; the lines, metaphorical.”
At first, he felt a tad daunted on the set—afraid that he had bitten off more than he could chew.
“It was hard. First of all, we had to sing a cappella,” he recounts. “And knowing Lav, he doesn’t like doing retakes. So we had to give our all during the first take.”
They had to make sure that their notes were perfect and their timing, impeccable. “This was one film where even the veteran actors got nervous.”
Still, they managed to pull through, inspired by their admiration for their director. “Working with seasoned pros like Bart Guingona, Pinky Amador, Bituin Escalante, Angel Aquino…was an experience,” he enthuses. “It’s a dream cast.”
Shooting in the mountains of Malaysia permitted them to get lost in their characters’ world, too. “The location was a two-hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur.” It was essential, he clarifies, because the set’s isolation ensured that there were no “distractions.”
According to Piolo, Shaina was initially nervous. “It was her first time to work with Lav. But she was there for the experience. We were all scared, but we wanted to do something different.”
As an actor, it is his duty to keep pushing the envelope, he exclaims. “Whatever excites you, you should do it. You should not limit yourself.”
In the end, it’s all about trusting your director, he affirms.
In spite of the hectic taping schedule for his new ABS-CBN series, “No Ordinary Love,” he’ll be attending the Berlinale, which will be held in Germany from Feb. 15 to 25.
“I got a week off,” he relates excitedly. “I hope I get to watch more movies this time. Two years ago, I didn’t have a chance to catch the other entries.”
He is grateful to his home network for allowing him to participate in another international event. “To represent the Philippines in an A-list festival is a rare opportunity. I am happy that our bosses give us leeway to do projects like ‘Hele’ and ‘Halimaw,’” he says.
After all, collaborating with Lav is like enrolling in a master class for most actors. “Lav is Lav,” Piolo quips.
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