Telling OFW story a tall order
Acclaimed actress Irma Adlawan’s last movie, Hannah Espia’s “Transit,” was an excellent preparation for her next indie film, Ronnie Lazaro’s “Edna.” Both films tackle a modern-day diaspora, the saga of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Adlawan says it’s a huge responsibility to tell the OFW story. “The challenge [in playing Edna] is to make the audience aware of difficulties encountered by Filipinos abroad. For many of them, it’s like being uprooted. If a plant is uprooted, it withers … or dies.”
She witnessed this firsthand while shooting “Transit” in Israel last year. “We were in the middle of a dramatic scene when I noticed our Filipino landlady crying,” she recalls. “She later told me that she sympathized with my character. She had a young son, born in Israel, who had never been to the Philippines.”
“Transit” focuses on Filipinos in Israel and their urgent concerns. “Where we filmed, 20 Filipinos lived in one small apartment,” Adlawan recounts. “I took a crash course in Hebrew for that film, too.” For her efforts, she was rewarded with a Best Actress award at last year’s Cinemalaya fest.
Her stay in Israel was an eye-opener, she says. “The Filipinos there do not seek comfortable lives. Their priority is to send money to their families in the Philippines.”
That Lazaro chose not to dwell on her character Edna’s conflicts made it trickier for the actress. “Edna’s pains are internal,” Adlawan explains, “bottled up inside. The movie hopes to be a voice for OFWs, to express what they can’t verbalize—the heaviness, the longing for their families.”
She is fortunate, she says, that her profession allows her to experience situations that would otherwise escape her. “Acting deepens my understanding of people,” she points out, adding that portraying martyrs like Edna is not as easy as many might think. “Villains are multifaceted, but martyrs can be just as tough to pull off.”
Fortunately, Lazaro is someone she can turn to for guidance, as both director and costar (he plays her husband in the movie). “Working with Ronnie was a joyful experience,” she relates. “He is a good friend and he understands the acting process.” As director, she says, Lazaro encountered not a few obstacles. “But he passed with flying colors. With more directorial projects, he could become one of the country’s best filmmakers.”
Would she consider directing, like Lazaro, or her husband Dennis Marasigan? Replies Adlawan, a three-time Best Actress nominee at the critics’ Urian Awards, “I’ve directed plays. I’d like to try, though I know it could be daunting and might give me wrinkles.”
In “Edna,” produced by Anthony Gedang’s Artiste Entertainment, she gets to act with daughter Mara. “It’s not every day that one gets that chance,” she says. “At least, I know where she is.”
Adlawan is also in the cast of Michael Tuviera’s “The Janitor,” an entry in the Directors’ Showcase section of this year’s Cinemalaya fest. And after her stint in the GMA 7 soap “Rhodora X,” she is playing a tomboy in “My BFF,” a new Kapuso show which premieres on June 30 and is top-billed by Manilyn Reynes and Janno Gibbs.
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