‘Maria Clara at Ibarra’ love teams on show’s impact on youth, unexpected chemistry
Never in her dreams did Julie Anne San Jose think that she would be able to work with Dennis Trillo—much less get paired with him in an important television series like “Maria Clara at Ibarra.”
So you can only imagine her surprise, she said, when she realized that they actually have chemistry onscreen and fans on social media have started “shipping” their tandem.
“I have always been a fan of Dennis and his past projects. I never imagined myself working with him at first. But as we shoot more scenes, the chemistry just follows,” she told the Inquirer in a recent virtual conference for the hit historical fantasy series based on Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.”
“I guess that’s what people see in us,” added the singer-actress, who plays Maria Clara. “It’s also because my admiration for him as a person and actor has always been there.”
Dennis, who plays Crisostomo Ibarra and Simoun, described “MCI” as “experimental.” And doing projects of such nature always comes with risks. Fortunately, the decision to match him with Julie Anne paid off.
“It was our first time working together. We didn’t undergo any workshops besides brief Spanish lessons. We weren’t able to talk to each other or do a script reading prior to the shoot. We studied our scenes when we were on the set already,” Dennis said. “I didn’t expect our partnership to work. But I’m happy, of course. I know that when actors are dedicated … focused on their craft, the scenes will work.”
He also credited Julie Anne and the rest of the cast for helping him hurdle difficult scenes. “It doesn’t look like it, pero nerbyoso ako before my big scenes. I can’t not give my 100 percent because my costars give their 100 percent,” he said.
While Barbie Forteza and David Licauco have already worked together in past shows, it wasn’t until “MCI” that their potential as a love team was finally realized. Now, David and Barbie continue to bring kilig to their growing fan base, who fondly refer to their pairing as “FiLay”—from their respective characters, Fidel and Klay.
Their cat-and-mouse dynamic and sweet moments are internet meme fodder. And recently, the two scored their first endorsement as a love team.
“I feel like Fidel was designed so that my character wouldn’t interfere with Ibarra and Maria Clara’s love story,” said Barbie, whose character Klay finds herself magically transported to the world of “Noli Me Tangere” after a heated discussion with her professor over the importance of the novel to an aspiring nurse and embattled daughter like her.
“For a time, Klay stayed close to Ibarra. But to prevent people from assuming that there will be a romantic angle, Fidel came in to give my character a clear path,” she said. “This is our third time working together, so I was surprised by the audience’s reception. I didn’t expect this.”
David, who plays the haughty, self-centered Fidel who grows to become a sympathetic man, echoed Barbie’s sentiments. “I didn’t expect this as well. But the script is well-written. And my partner is very skilled, so the outcome was bound to turn out well,” he said.
From “Noli,” the “MCI” plot has now transitioned to “El Filibusterismo.” While Klay managed to return to the real world, some questions remain unanswered. She finishes reading “Noli,” only to find out that Fidel is not in it. Hints about Maria Clara being raped by Padre Salvi in the convent alarm her.
Klay begins to read “El Fili” to learn what fate awaits her friends. But grief takes over her upon realizing that there will be no more mention of Fidel. Desperate to save her beloved characters, Klay demands that she enter the world of “El Fili.” There, she seeks to find Maria Clara and tell her that Ibarra is alive, disguised as a mysterious jeweler who goes by the name Simoun.
Of all the actors in the “MCI,” it’s Dennis who has to make the most drastic changes because Simoun is, in many ways, a different character from Ibarra. “The story takes place 13 years after the events in ‘Noli.’ It’s a totally different character. May lamat na siya, after all he has been through, and now he returns to seek the change he has been yearning for,” Dennis said.
“There’s a small window to prepare. But I did my research. I studied how Simoun’s looks were described in the books and looked at how he was portrayed in other past shows. But of course, we still stayed faithful to the book,” he said.
“To entertain and educate”—that’s the show’s original goal. Now, it’s safe to say that “MCI” has succeeded on both counts. The show is a success, ratings-wise, and is shaping up to become a potential pop-culture fixture. More importantly, the show piqued young viewers’ interest in “Noli,” so much so that they started buying the book
A now viral post by one Joey Magracia related that his 11-year-old nephew, who rarely reads books, bought a copy of “Noli” to find out what happens in the story ahead of the show.
How does it feel to be part of such a show?
“About a week after ‘The Dinner’ scene aired, a post went viral showing a test paper that featured a question about who served the tinola. One of the choices was Klay. It’s amazing because even if she’s not actually part of the actual novel, she has become part of the world of ‘Noli,’ thanks to our brilliant creative team,” Barbie said.
These days, no one calls David by his name anymore when he goes out in public. “Everyone calls me Fidel. It’s heartening … that only means that they really watch the show and it made an impact on them,” he said.
Being the face of Maria Clara, Julie Anne said, is a huge honor. “I’m thankful that we’re given opportunities to be the faces of the characters. We’re able to influence the youth,” she said.
“Noli” and “El Fili” are usually tackled in high school. But for Dennis, it’s never too early to get into these classics. “It’s good that, this early, they will be able to visualize the characters in the book. It’s good that they’re exposed to a story like this, so they can be more interested in what’s happening in our society,” he said.