Lessons from rejection that led to Xian Lim’s career as an actor-director
In his teenage years, Xian Lim moved to the Philippines from the United States with one goal in mind—to become a professional basketball player.
And while he did manage to earn a spot in a collegiate team, his plans didn’t pan out as he had hoped. “The reason I moved here was I wanted to play ball. I didn’t have a plan B or plan C. That was it. The dream was to become a professional player, and it didn’t happen,” he said in a recent online story conference for “Hello, Universe,” his upcoming second film as a director.
But life has a way of surprising us, Xian realized later on. One door closed, but another one opened. Show biz beckoned. “We face rejections constantly. But life can steer you into a different direction. Life will not give you what you want all the time, or from the get-go,” Xian said. “You can go through many ups and downs and still don’t get what you want. But I was led to another door. We can’t say what’s ahead of us, so we just have to live in the present and not take things for granted.”
This experience, the 33-year-old actor said, is one of the things that inspired “Hello, Universe,” whose plot revolves around missed opportunities, second chances and moments that make people go, “would, coulda, shouda.”
Xian, who was part of the 17th batch of National Artist for Film Ricky Lee’s scriptwriting workshops, set to work at the height of the pandemic. “‘Grabe ‘yung lungkot,’ I thought. I just wanted an uplifting story. So I started writing, jamming with friends. And this is what came out. I just want to tell a story that can provide hope, inspiration and fun to the audience,” he said.
The film, which will be produced by Viva Films, follows Ariel (Janno Gibbs) a middle-aged man who blames his life of mediocrity to his past failures. After losing an important basketball game in high school, Ariel lost sight of his goals, and ended up working as a quality inspector at a fertilizer company.
‘Rewrite his past’
That company happens to own a basketball team, which is headed and coached by Ariel’s former archrival, Mac (Gene Padilla). “Ariel is a man full of regrets. But he gets a chance to rewrite his past when he meets a magical figure named Jesie (played by Benjie Paras), who gives him a chance to live the life he has always dreamed of. But at what cost?,” Xian related. The film will also serve as a reunion movie for Janno and Anjo Yllana, who became a popular comedy tandem in the 1990s via the popular sitcom “Ober Da Bakod.” Anjo plays Rocky, Ariel’s best friend.
“It’s an honor to work with them. I have idolized these two actors since I was a child. And I’m glad that they can bring their years of experience into this project. Reading the script myself, then hearing them read it was so different. They gave it a new life,” Xian said.
“Our generation looks up to them. And I have been vocal about being a huge fan of their shows. We didn’t feel the need to watch their past works, but we still did, to come up with new ideas or identify things they haven’t done yet,” he said.
But with excitement also comes pressure, he admitted. “The pressure will always be there … I felt that during the casting process. I have to always remember my responsibilities as director to them. I want them to enjoy the script and make it as fun as possible,” Xian related, adding that he and the creative team made sure that everyone in the cast will have moments to shine.
“I made a promise that I will make them look good and that this is going to be a different kind of film,” he said.
While he’s the director, Xian said he remains open to ideas and suggestions. “Filmmaking, storytelling is a collaborative process. Just because you have already laid out the blueprint doesn’t mean I have to be super strict in following it. It’s more about ‘Tell me what you think and I’ll tell you what I think.’ After all, we all just want to come up with a compelling story,” he said.
His love and interest in filmmaking were first ignited back in 2010, when he starred in the late Gil Portes’ Cinemalaya entry, “Two Funerals.” “I asked him so many questions to the point that he seemed to be getting annoyed. But he answered all of them. That experience made me respect creatives behind the cameras even more. It was fascinating seeing all the work required to achieve the magic of filmmaking,” he recalled.
Xian made his directorial debut in 2019 via the Cinemalaya entry, “Tabon.” He then went on to write and direct the digital miniseries “Pasabuy,” as well as “Mala: Ibong Adarna,” the puppetry-inspired retelling of the poem showcased at the tribute for the late National Artist for Theater Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio.
Exploring different genres of filmmaking is something Xian intends to continue. “I don’t want to settle on a particular genre. As a director, I want to be able to tell different types of stories. That’s the path I want to take. It gives me so much joy and excitement,” he said. INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.