Why Eva Noblezada started ‘crying, shaking’ the first time she met Lea Salonga
She’s one of the most grounded legends I’ve ever met in my life,” declared Eva Noblezada of Tony winner and Grammy nominee Lea Salonga and her coactor in the 2019 musical drama film “Yellow Rose.”
Like Lea, Eva first landed the starring role of Kim in the iconic musical “Miss Saigon” when she was a teenager.
“Lea is one of the kindest people. She’s a legend, a queen, but when you’re sitting next to her, she looks at you and you realize, ‘Oh wow! You see me.’ For me, that’s so cool,” the Filipino-American actress added.
In a recent Zoom chat with a select group of Filipino show biz scribes, Grammy winner Eva recalled the first time she met Lea. “I just turned 18 then. We had moved into the Prince Edward Theater in London to start technical rehearsals for ‘Miss Saigon.’ Cameron (Mackintosh, producer) said, ‘We’re going to meet Lea now. We’ve got cameras ready.’ I’ve never met her in my life, and she’s also my idol, so when I saw her, I started crying and shaking. It was horrible,” said Eva. “Yes, I was very nervous, and there was a lot of pressure back then.”
“Working with Lea was comforting for me because she has become my friend and mentor over the years. Thankfully, my first two scenes in my first movie were with somebody of my theater background, with one of my idols. She actually told me, ‘Hey, you got it! Now go!’” Eva shared with reporters.
Eva said she got this advice from Lea. “She goes, ‘As you go on your journey, my advice to you is to enjoy every second of it.’ I did just that playing Rose, which was indeed one of the biggest highlights of my career. Through this project, I was also able to do a lot of personal introspective digging, in making sure I had no prejudice against immigrants. It challenged my perspective on a topic I wasn’t confident enough to have an opinion about.”
In Diane Paragas’ “Yellow Rose,” Eva plays Rose, an undocumented Filipino girl, who dreams of leaving her small town in Texas to pursue her country music dreams. Her plan is put on hold when her mother Priscilla (played by Princess Punzalan) is taken by immigration authorities and Rose is forced to flee.
The film premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 2, 2019.
Eva was born in San Diego, California, to a Filipino father and a Mexican-American mother. She and her family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she attended the Northwest School of the Arts until she was 17.
Now that “Yellow Rose” will finally be shown to Filipinos (via ktx.ph starting Jan. 29), Eva said the moment “does feel like coming home. This was made for Filipinos. It has been seen by everybody; it has struck the hearts of people all over the world, now it’s finally coming back to the root of it all.”
Writer-director Diane agreed. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. As much as it’s an American film, it is definitely a Filipino film; and I’m just really excited for people there to see it,” said the New York-based artist. “I spent many years trying to get this thing made. To have this come out in the Philippines is a big moment for me.”
Asked to explain why the film was titled as such, Diane said: “‘Yellow Rose’ is a well-known Texan song. The song title is actually ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ Since it’s such a famous song, people tease Rose and call her ‘yellow Rose’ as a derogatory term with ‘yellow,’ meaning Asian. It’s a double entendre.”
She added: “The other story behind it was that the actual ‘Yellow Rose’ song, which was very popular back in the ’20s and ’30s, was actually about a mulatto girl. The ‘yellow’ term there was actually about her being mixed race. That’s something not a lot of Texans know about. The title actually means a lot of things and you find that out it in the film.”
As for Lea, who plays Rose’s aunt Gail in the movie, Diane said the audience will see her sing “Dahil Sa ’Yo,” which is sung several times in the film. “Without giving any spoilers away, Priscilla sings this song to Rose as a lullaby at the beginning of the film, but it’s also a way to pass the culture down.”
According to Diane, “Dahil Sa ’Yo” is also something that her parents sang to her when she was younger, “and now, they sing it to my daughter.” She added: “This song reminds me of the Philippines. I noticed that when we would play the movie at film festivals, the Filipinos in the audience would sing along to it. As we hear it at different times in the film, it gives a different meaning.”
Meanwhile, Princess said she felt very proud that “Yellow Rose” will finally be seen by her kababayan in the Philippines. “People in the United States and in the different international film festivals that it has attended took notice of the movie. I want Filipinos, especially my relatives there, to see what we’ve done here,” said the Los Angeles-based actress, who also worked as a nurse there before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Princess said it wasn’t difficult to play Priscilla, since she is also a mother in real life (to 9-year-old Ellene Diana) and that she is well aware of the living conditions of undocumented Filipinos in the United States.
“They would do all sorts of odd jobs just so they could stay here. Their life isn’t easy. They would live in one house with other Filipinos like sardines in a can. That’s why it was easy to motivate myself, to make myself really involved in all my scenes,” Princess explained. “I really felt the fear, concern and anxiety. As Rose’s mother, I kept thinking, ‘What will happen to my child when I’m no longer around?’”
Princess, who was used to flying in and out of the Philippines prepandemic because of acting jobs, said there’s no telling when she’d be able to come home again. “I’m hoping it would be soon. I miss taping for teleserye,” she declared.
Catch the Philippine premiere of “Yellow Rose” on Jan. 29 via KTX.ph, iWant TFC, Sky Cable pay-per-view and Cignal pay-per-view. The film is distributed by Cinexpress. INQ
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