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Fides’ indie adventure continues

Being in the horizontal position was tough, she recalls
/ 12:08 AM February 21, 2014

TETCHIE Agbayani (left) with the singer-actress in “Mana.” Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (inset) wants to play the grand-dame “aswang” onstage, too.

Opera singer-turned-indie film actress  Fides Cuyugan-Asensio thought shooting Gabriel Fernandez’s “Mana” would be a holiday.

Boy, was she mistaken.

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She recounted: “95 percent of the shoot, I was in a horizontal position—moaning, groaning and wailing, made up to look like I was at death’s door.”

She plays the dying matriarch of a political clan who must bequeath her supernatural powers to her hesitant children.

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“What attracted me to the film was the brevity of the lines I had to memorize,” she explained. “I counted my lines… exactly four!”

But then again she later realized that her character’s uncommunicativeness was also a “challenge,” especially when she had to interact with seasoned cast members Cherie Gil, Mark Gil, Jaime Fabregas, Epy Quizon, Ricky Davao and Tetchie Agbayani.

“I’ve always wanted to work with them, but it turned out that the only scene I was with all six of them was when they gathered around my bed, reciting Latin verses and I had to lie inert… close to comatose,” she related.

She was likewise drawn to the “folkloric” aspects of the film’s story.

“At that time, I was also staging a musical, ‘The Legend of M’ (based on the Maria Makiling story),” she volunteered. “I took note of how superstitious beliefs and facts take shape—interesting and exciting enough to beweaved into a story for film or stage. ‘Mana’ can be turned into an opera. I’d love to reprise my role as the grand dame aswang—as my character is called by (filmmaker and friend) Peque Gallaga.”

Soft mattress

It was Gallaga, who directed Asensio in her film debut “Oro, Plata, Mata” in 1982, who suggested her to Fernandez.

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“Gabby was always concerned about my comfort,” she looked back. “He never pushed me beyond my 80-plus years’ physical capacity. I think he was afraid I would expire on his watch. When I told him that the mattress was too soft, he quickly put plywood under it.”

A project for the 25th anniversary of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (of which Fernandez is chair of the production design program), “Mana” opened in SM cinemas on Wednesday.

“I hope ‘Mana’ will inspire other indie filmmakers, writers and producers to make good use of our rich folkloric heritage,” she said.

Acting career

She regretted that the movies (in general) and the indies (in particular) came too late in her life.

She was in her 50s when she made “Oro” and 30 years later she returned onscreen with the Cinemalaya films, Loy Arcenas’ “Niño” (2011) and Vincent Sandoval’s “Aparisyon” (2012).

“In my youth, I always wanted to act in the movies,” she confessed. As luck would have it, after “Mana,” she will start shooting her fourth indie, Henry Tejero’s “Buwan sa Salamin” in April.

She is also keeping herself busy with various stage productions. “Apart from ‘The Legend of M,’ I am also doing ‘Song Cycle,’ ‘A Day in the Life of a Fool,’ ‘Loony Ladies’ and ‘Amy.’ I am also rehearsing for ‘Lakme’ (with Lena McKenzie in the lead role) on March 26 and ‘Cimarosa’ on March 28—both at the Abelardo Hall of UP Diliman.”

(E-mail bayanisandiegojr@gmail.com)

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TAGS: Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, indie film, Mana
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