Eva Green’s ‘sweet’ gesture makes Chai Fonacier gasp in delight
In early 2021, Chai Fonacier found herself stuck in an apartment in Ireland, finishing her quarantine before shooting for the Irish-Filipino suspense thriller “Nocebo.” One evening, she received a package.
It was from her costar, the French movie star and former Bond girl Eva Green.
“This was a time during the pandemic when there were no vaccines yet, and you had to quarantine if you did get permission to travel to another country. One of the production assistants dropped by the apartment and said that he had a package for me. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. And he was like, ‘Oh, it’s from Eva,’” Chai said at a recent press screening for the said movie.
Chai gasped. “At the time, I had yet to talk to her personally, not even through Zoom. So, I was like, ‘I got a package from Eva Green!’” she related when asked by the Inquirer about her first encounter with Eva and how they built a rapport.
“I took it inside and there was a note that read something like, ‘I’m looking forward to working with you. Welcome to Ireland and the project,’” she said. “With it was a votive candle and a bottle of wine. I immediately called [ video] up my friends, pointed at the bottle and said, ‘Guess where this is from! Eva Green gave it to me!’ So I opened it and drank with my friends. I was so happy.”
That “sweet” gesture from Eva set the tone for what would be an instructive and “wonderful working experience” for the Cebuana actress. Chai is usually bubbly and talkative on the set. But Eva’s presence brought out her introverted side.
“I found Eva a very shy person. And as talkative as I can be, I can also be introverted, especially with people I admire very much. So when Eva was there, I was like, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not here!’” she related.
“While she’s shy off-cam, she can take over the entire room once the camera starts rolling. And you have no choice but to watch—that’s how powerful her presence is. She can command the attention of people at will, but she can also disappear and remain very small if she chooses,” she added. “When I grow up, I want to be Eva Green!”
Directed by award-winning Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan, “Nocebo” tells the story of Christine (Eva), a fashion designer who contracts a mysterious condition that confounds doctors and frustrates her husband Felix (Mark Strong). Help arrives in the form of Diana (Chai), a Filipino nanny who uses her knowledge of traditional folk healing to reveal a horrifying truth.
And because of her memory loss, Christine can’t remember whether or not she actually hired Diana, whose real intentions remain unseen.
While there was some shyness and awkwardness at first, Chai and Eva quickly established a dynamic built on trust. “We came on the set understanding our characters. I knew that I could trust her in our scenes; I had no doubt that I could lean on her as an actor. I hoped that she felt the same way about me,” Chai said.
“That started to happen and Lorcan was very happy about it. I was like, ‘Yes, I’m doing my job! They paid me. I better do my job!’” she related, laughing.
Good screen chemistry doesn’t necessarily translate into friendship offscreen, or vice versa. But Chai would like to believe that the bond she and Eva had while working on the film was genuine. “We would have conversations offscreen and she was generous with advice about the industry,” she said.
In an Instagram post in 2021, Eva described Chai as “a truly great actress with extraordinary depth and sensitivity.” “She was an incredible partner—she blew me away,” she wrote.
The film was shot for five and half weeks in Dublin, Ireland, and one week in Manila. It was produced by Brunella Cocchiglia and Emily Leo, coproduced by the Filipino production company Epicmedia, executive produced by XYZ Films, and distributed by TBA Studios. “Nocebo” starts its Philippine theatrical run on Jan. 18.
Aside from elements of folklore, the movie is also a commentary on capitalism, fast fashion and the harsh realities of the workers who serve as the industry’s lifeblood. Art won’t solve such problems, Chai conceded, but movies like “Nocebo” can help keep the conversations going.
“Art can help by telling stories that concern us and our rights, and the welfare of people who are oppressed and underprivileged. The more stories we tell about ourselves, the more we’re able to collectively introspect about who we are. When we experience art as something shared, we introspect about who we are as a people. We break stereotypes about ourselves,” Chai said.
Chai’s performance was lauded by critics here and abroad. The movie review site www.RogerEbert.com, for instance, acknowledged the actress’ “measured,” “well-realized and deeply felt” performance.
A lot of Filipino actors who land roles in international projects often feel like they’re representing not only themselves but also the Philippines on the world stage. But Chai, who’s more of the “whatever happens, happens” kind of actor, doesn’t really feel that kind of pressure. Because she knows that she’s not alone.
“The future of Philippine cinema doesn’t rest on my shoulders. I’m at the bottom of the food chain, if you think about it. The future of Philippine cinema is on the collective shoulders of the community. Sabay-sabay namin itong binubuhat. There’s an entire community representing the Philippines—mayroon akong kasama,” she said. INQ
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