NY-based Filipino in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Actor Arthur Acuña said he wasn’t keen on auditioning for the character of Harry Shaw, the role that brought him here and would soon “bring” him to 18 other countries in Asia and Europe.
Arthur plays a restaurant general manager, one of five major characters in “The Kitchen Musical,” a TV series that centers on wine and good food.
He said he pushed through with the audition only upon the prodding of his wife Maritina Romulo, also an actress.
“I was working on the set of (Loy Arcenas’ drama) ‘Niño’ until 4 a.m. and the audition was set at 9,” Arthur told the Inquirer in an interview at the Republic Polytechnic, where the TKM set is located. “I already said no. I was tired and just wanted to drink a beer and relax. I owe it to my wife, who said, ‘Why don’t you just go?’”
He continued: “My main argument was, when you’re unprepared for an audition you’re going to look like a fool.”
But Maritina “twisted his arm” and he ended up hopping on his motorcycle and driving to the audition. “While stuck in traffic, I sang the song just to practice, to warm up,” he recalled. “Twenty minutes later, I was called in. I remember, ang dungis ko pa pero ang sarap ng pakiramdam ko. I got feedback right away. A member of the production told me, ‘They’re really talking about you. What’s your schedule like for the next couple of months?’”
Three weeks later, Arthur was told he got the part. On June 1, the cast began work on the series.
Arthur is a New York-based stage and screen actor who has appeared in numerous stage productions in the United States, including the “Whisper House” at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California, and in a number of popular American TV series like “Law and Order” and “As the World Turns.”
In the Philippines, Arthur was recently named best supporting actor for his work in “Niño,” the country’s representative to the 16th Busan International Film Festival next month. He is also in the cast of the John Sayles film, “Amigo.”
Joining Arthur in “The Kitchen Musical” are: Karylle Tatlonghari as Maddie Avilon; Christian Bautista as Daniel; British actor Stephen Rahman Hughes as Alex; and French fashion model and singer Rosemary Vanderbroucke as Selena.
The series was written and directed by Cheah “CheeK” Chee-kong and will air next month on Studio 23 in the Philippines.
Excerpts of our interview with Arthur and Maritina:
You went home to Manila just to work on “Niño”?
At first, Loy thought I was too young-looking for the part. I read for him and he said he’d think about it. I told him, “Loy, you know what I can and can’t do. Just say yes or no para ’di ko na iniisip.” He gave it to me and it worked out.
Raquel Villavicencio said the “bold scene” she did with you was very hard for her.
ART: Bold na ba ’yon? Rehearsals pa lang, wala pa kaming ginagawa, tinutukso na siya ni Shamaine (Buencamino, their costar). Shamaine said, “O may kissing ’yan!”
MARITINA: Raquel even sent me a text message to ask what I thought of it. I said it was too short.
ART: Holding her feet was my improvisation, walang plano. Poor Raquel was so tense.
Was the version of “Niño” you saw the one you imagined in your head?
Sort of. I’ve worked with Loy earlier, on three plays. I didn’t know what his process would be like for a movie, but I know his sensibilities, his visual instinct. I know he’s very good at character development. That’s why the film is about people rather than a complicated story. It’s about complex characters.
You underwent kitchen boot camp here in Singapore for TKM. What were you made to do?
The kitchen staff put on uniforms and learned to cut properly, use different knives, get the rhythm of how the kitchen operates. I did that in New York for my livelihood.
Oh, yes, you’re based in New York. Was moving to Singapore a tough adjustment?
OK lang. It’s very simple here – just follow the rules. ’Di naman ako naglalakad sa kalye smoking and with a Heineken in my hand. The people I work with here are very professional.
Describe CheeK as a director.
He’s very good, very collaborative. He has a certain sense of style about the show which I like. But the best part is that he’s open-minded. Here, the director and actor are equal, wala masyadong hierarchy. He will make it clear to you, if you have a question about something – how a scene should be played, why a line should be said in a certain way, or why it was even written.
What’s the biggest challenge for you here?
ART: I’m not a seasoned singer, though I have done musical theater.
MARITINA: But he’s not a recording artist.
ART: Recording is singing for a microphone, which I got right away. I now think it’s easier than singing on stage. You can hear yourself pa at natitimpla mo pa ang boses mo while recording. Another thing would be the choreographed dancing. Although I can dance and I’m quite okay, if it’s too complicated, it takes me a while.
What really happened during the audition?
They made me read for the character first. I believe it was the producer who read with me while CheeK was watching. It was being filmed and we had body mics. It was a full thing held at ABS-CBN in Manila. After that, I sang a rock song, “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Jon Bon Jovi. The requirement was to bring a minus-one.
MARITINA: When he said he didn’t want to go, I thought, “How can you not go to an audition? Just give me a name of a song.” He gave me a song. “Can you sing that?” “I think so. Should I go?” I said, “Relax we have 30 minutes to decide. I wrote down the lyrics. Can you memorize it?” He said, “Yes, I kind of know it.” Then I said, “Yes, we’re going.”
ART: She said, “You’ve never been afraid to look like a fool before. You always take chances.” I said, “Oo nga naman..”
MARITINA: I had a good instinct about it. For one, he has nothing to lose. Second, I really just want him to have fun.
ART: And I did!
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