Samantha Richelle is ‘biggest revelation’ of ‘Almost Paradise’
She’s the one.”
ABS-CBN international production and coproduction division head Ruel Bayani said network COO Cory Vidanes whispered these words to him while Filipino-Bruneian Samantha Richelle was auditioning for the role of Kai Mendoza in the US-produced action-comedy series “Almost Paradise.”
In the 10-episode series, Samantha, as Kai, is a police officer who goes on a mission to hunt down powerful drug syndicates alongside American lead actor Christian Kane (as Alex Walker). Prior to doing the show, Samantha was involved—and still is—in fashion design.
“There were over a hundred people who auditioned. When Samantha entered the room, and delivered her lines, Cory whispered to me, ‘She’s the one.’ I said, ‘but she’s so inexperienced. How can she handle a role of this scope? Kai is the heart and soul of the entire series!’ Cory just answered, ‘No, she’s going to get it,’” Ruel recalled.
For Ruel, Samantha is “the biggest revelation of the project.” During a recent media gathering, he declared: “She learned how to adapt. Obviously, she will get a lot of offers after this. Obviously, she will get offers from ABS-CBN.”
For Samantha, hearing what Ruel had just said “felt like I’ve really done the work.” She explained: “I’m very grateful to be able to get this project. Before ‘Almost Paradise,’ I wasn’t even thinking about being in this industry. I came into this project knowing I would be working alongside these heavy hitters, and with Dean (Devlin, showrunner) and the Philippine crew. I knew I was working with the best of the best and so I put my big-girl pants on to make an impression. I just had fun while making the project.”
Meanwhile, when asked to recall her favorite experience while working on the series, Samantha said it was meeting everybody. “Filipinos do have this communal family vibe. I just came out of this show with more family. Meeting all these talented people is definitely my favorite,” she said.
Filipino casting director Will Fredo (“Compound, “In nomine matris,” “Filemon Mamon”) gave a rundown on how producer Electric Entertainment and ABS-CBN (line producer) assembled the cast.
“We received scripts for each episode. We auditioned for each character per episode. The showrunner, the directors, and scriptwriters gave us their input as we presented to them five to 10 actors per character. Dean decides who gets which role—this goes from the very top role up to the bit player,” explained Will.
“It’s big work but it’s fun because we were able to meet a lot of talented artists in the Philippines, as well as actors from different parts of the world like New Zealand and Singapore when we looked for specific ‘foreign looking’ characters,” Will added.
Ces Quesada, who plays Alex’s landlady, said she hoped for local productions to have a more effective process of casting talents. “This is so that the right people get the right roles. This is why when it came to the actual shoot, we were confident that the actors would be able to do the job. Casting is very different locally. We pick the artists first before the material,” she said.
When asked what Hollywood practices he hoped that local producers would adapt, Noni Buencamino, who plays police chief Ike Ocampo in the series, said it was definitely the fact that preproduction work is always given great importance.
“When I came to the set a few days before my first taping day, I was already given scripts for four episodes,” said Noni. “I had a few days to memorize my lines and I got to try to say them in so many different ways in my room. When taping day came, I was ready for the director. I was able to give him what he wanted. I appreciated very much that the script was given ahead. There were very few revisions that came later on, with only a few tweaks here and there.”
Hannah Espia, who directed two episodes, said “Almost Paradise” is “something very fresh,” especially these days when attention in the Philippines is focused on drama. “While this offers action and comedy, it’s also about family and community. It speaks to a wider audience,” she said.Episode director Irene Villamor said the series also “offers a different image of the Philippines to foreign audiences, or those who are used to seeing images of poverty while watching films about this country. Here, they will see the Filipino’s brand of humor, which isn’t so different from those in the suburban parts of the US, or the main audience of the show. They appreciate the humor, how it’s done and where it’s shot,” she declared.
The series was taped entirely in Cebu. It is currently streaming in the US via imdb TV.
Director Dan Villegas said he appreciated “the western work flow of doing things … I was surprised at how professional our foreign actors are. They came prepared even just for a reading session,” he observed. “I also appreciated the fact that everything was approved before the shoot. I am able to apply stuff I’ve learned from that production to my projects here. You just really have to be a sponge and absorb all the positive experiences you got there.”
“Almost Paradise” started streaming locally in March. It aired its season finale last Sunday night.
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