Living the dream: Jake Macapagal on role in Paramount+ series
The seven-part suspense drama series “No Escape,” which debuted on Paramount+ in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada last Thursday (and in Asia later this year), may have been shot in Thailand and features New Zealand star Jay Ryan (“It Chapter Two’), Scottish Bafta winner Abigail Lawrie (“Tin Star”), Sundance fest-winning British actress Rhianne Barreto (“Share”), Australian actors Sean Keenan (“The Power of the Dog”), Susie Porter (“Wentworth”) and Josh McConville (“Fantasy Island”) and Cameroonian actress Colette Dalal Tchantcho (“Domina”).
But there are elements about this noirish new show that make it instantly appealing, particularly to Filipino and Asian viewers: It isn’t just set on a cruise ship called The Blue in Palawan, it also stars homegrown Filipino theater/film actor Jake Macapagal (“Metro Manila,” HBO Asia’s “Halfworlds”).
Helmed by Hans Herbots and written by Kris Mrksa, the New Pictures/All3Media release has been adapted from Lucy Clarke’s best-selling novel of the same name.
It follows two girlhood friends, Lana (Abigail) and Kitty (Rhianne), who travel to the Philippines seeking refuge from their less-than-ideal lives in the UK on The Blue sailing through Southeast Asia. But the tide turns cold and deadly when death creeps quietly on deck.
Will the TV show live up to its promise? Let’s put it this way: When its first-look trailer came out, Ms Clarke was asked what she thought about it. She replied, “It’s been the most incredible experience to see my novel reimagined for the screen. I’ve loved every moment of the journey—from reading early iterations of the script to visiting the set in Thailand.
“The show is breath-taking, transportive, gripping and thrilling from beginning to end. I can’t wait for viewers to fall in love with it, too!” That’s high praise from the author herself!
As for Jake, the seasoned actor portrays Col. Justin Reyes from the local Filipino police force who’s determined to discover what really happened on The Blue.
So, we found it intriguingly fortuitous to talk about “No Escape” when we crossed paths with Jake at Monique Wilson’s recent birthday cruise on a Gallo yacht in Manila Bay. The last time we performed with Jake was for the Singapore and Manila runs of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Aspects of Love,” in 2006.
“It’s interesting because Lucy Clarke’s novel really came into being after a memorable trip to the Philippines—in fact, she wrote a whole book about our country,” Jake told Inquirer Entertainment in a separate interview. “[Producer] Elaine Pyke said that they really wanted to shoot in the Philippines, but that ‘the numbers didn’t add up.’ It simply was easier to get it done in Thailand—from security issues to the tax incentives made available for the team.
“Kris, the head writer, pointed out early on that you can’t go to the Philippines and not have a prominent Filipino character in the story—that’s where my character comes in. So the way I see it, it’s about a brown man cleaning up white folks’ mess.
“I am the one investigating what happened on the yacht, so I follow them to Australia. But that’s easier said than done because it’s out of my jurisdiction.”
The casting feat transported Jake—a “Miss Saigon” alumnus in Germany, among others—back to a less-than-pleasant memory from more than a decade ago.
“At this point in my life, I’m very happy to be included in a series like this because, in 2010, I attended an eight-week acting course in Australia and was told by a teacher that ‘You’re not going to make it here. They’re not going to cast you’—and he said that without knowing anything about my background as a performer.’
Finally ‘in the mix’
“These days, we already have hit series featuring Filipino characters, like ‘The Unusual Suspects.’ But at the time, Filipinos were hardly included ‘in the mix.’ In my case, it took me 11 years to finally be included ‘in the mix.’ In ‘No Escape,’ I’m playing a Filipino, first and foremost—so the role means a lot to me!”
When we asked the actor how he got attached to the project, Jake recalled being at a film festival in LA, where “The Monsters Without,” his sci-fi fantasy film for director Randal Kamradt set in Biliran before the pandemic, was chosen as an entry.
“I was helping promote the movie with Randal at that festival in 2021 when my agent called me. He asked what I was doing from March to September in 2022. I didn’t even know what it was for, but I told him, ‘Yes, for work.’
“I didn’t hear from the casting director about the official offer till the end of that year. He gave me the character breakdown, and I saw the name [Captain, later Colonel] Justin Reyes—and I said, ‘Wow! Sino ’to (laughs)?’
But what was it about Colonel Reyes’ story and personality that appealed to Jake?
Explaining at length, the seasoned actor said, “I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of foreigners making musicals outside the Philippines. But I’ve also had the opportunity to invite my friends who are foreigners to come here and see how they change when they come to Asia—they want to let loose and f*ck up.
“You know, I was the same when I went to Germany (for ‘Miss Saigon,’ etc.). Sometimes, when that happens, you want to ‘police’ them and call them out when they do something they shouldn’t. So, in a way, I could identify with Colonel Reyes’ story and his conviction to right some wrongs and get to the truth.”
Asked what’s fueling his character to go to great lengths to get to the bottom of things, Jake mused: “Reyes’ story will eventually be unraveled, but obviously, the stakes become very high for him because at the heart of this character is his family.
“A later episode with a 10-minute sequence will show how I am as a family man, and this will make viewers understand why I need to go to Australia. You don’t see me in the first three episodes, but once I step in, you’ll see why Reyes needed to do what he did.”
Tribute to Filpino actors
In terms of Filipino representation, the series is significant for the actor because it’s “an accumulation of the great strides” taken by those who came before him.
“I just want to pay tribute to the people who helped open doors and broke glass ceilings for Filipino actors today,” Jake said. “I remember watching Bembol Roco and other Pinoys in ‘The Year of Living Dangerously,’ ‘A Dangerous Life’ and other international projects that were filmed here.
“They were significant because we saw ourselves in those productions. They made us realize that, suddenly, it was possible to aspire for a seat at the table. I want to be represented. So, when I see people like Dolly de Leon or John Arcilla paving the way for others, I also want to pay it forward and honor them for such feats.”
What has Jake taken away from his experience of being in the series?
“My takeaway from this is just how fortunate I am that, at age 56, I can still play in this field internationally. I feel lucky that I’m able to work with people who are talented—that’s my biggest takeaway from this.
“Sometimes, I pinch myself because, with projects like ‘No Escape,’ I’m able to realize my childhood dreams. Now I’m living the dream.”
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