Filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka on limited opportunities for trans actors
Filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka, who is making the first Filipino movie to feature a real-life transgender man as lead, admitted that he found his project’s frontrunner, Gian Cruz, only a few days before he was supposed to begin shooting.
In this romantic comedy titled “Love & Lockdown,” Gian plays Danny, a Canadian trans man who reluctantly returns to the Philippines with his British Indian girlfriend, Neisha, for a quick trip to correct his passport. The COVID-19 lockdown traps them in the small village where he was born, meaning he must confront his family, his past, his relationship and himself.
“When Gian read the script, he did it very differently than everyone else. That’s what got him the role,” Allan recalled. “The script could be read in a very sad and depressing way, particularly for the scenes Gian auditioned with, but he read it with confidence and charm. Most everyone else took the sad and disappointed route, which I felt was really obvious but not quite what it was. Gian also had charm and this is something that’s hard to find. If you don’t bring it on your own, I can’t give that to you.”
Needless to say, casting Gian, who is a fitness professional by profession, was “a very long and difficult process” for Allan. “As soon as we decided that we’re going to film in the Philippines, it became very important to me to use a natural trans actor in the role and not someone who is merely pretending to be trans. There aren’t so many opportunities for trans actors, so I wanted the role to go to someone who needed this opportunity. We started auditioning every Filipino trans man we could find. Some are actors, some are not,” he began.
“We weren’t sure yet who we were going to go with when Gian was recommended by a friend. He auditioned and got the role right away. I felt really lucky to have found him. He has been killing it on set every day,” Allan told Inquirer Entertainment during a recent visit to his set in Tanay, Rizal.
Although Gian had done some acting as a child, Allan said Gian never pursued it as a career. “That’s one of the issues with the film industry and storytelling in general and the lack of trans roles. People who have talent think, ‘When will I ever get cast? When will there ever be a role for me?’ So they put those dreams aside and do something practical that they can make a living from. We need to start telling these stories so that young Gians who wish to do acting don’t think, ‘There will never be a role for someone like me,’’ said Allan of the project that came from the script of London-based writer Joanna Benecke.
“Acting is very hard to get into. The chance that you’ll ever make a living out of it is already very slim. But if you’re trans, you’ll ask, ‘How many films are there with trans men in them?’ I hope this project opens the door for other films that tell these stories,” said Allan, who is based in the United States and first came to Manila in 2004 for the Pink Film Festival, where his movie, “Eating Out,” was screened.
To get Gian to perform more confidently and consistently, Allan said they had to rehearse with him. “We did it a lot more than I would with an actor who has a lot of experience. Gian is just like any other actor who is just starting out—the same learning curve as with any other actor. Now, he is doing a great job,” the director added.
Allan said he cast British Indian actress Bairavi Marohanan quite differently. “Everyone calls her B for short. The character had to be from the UK so we hired a casting director in London who sent a whole bunch of tapes to me. I knew that I wanted her the moment I saw her audition. I still went through the whole bunch of other tapes and interviewed a lot of other people, but B had always been my favorite,” he said.
Watching from the sidelines, we saw that Gian and Bairavi have great chemistry. When asked to react to this, Allan said: “They put in the effort for that. Chemistry doesn’t always happen right away, so the two hung out a lot. They did a lot of fun things together. They clocked in a lot of rehearsal time, too. Now, I totally buy them as a couple.”
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Inquirer Entertainment went to visit on the last day of the film’s principal photography. They shot a wedding scene and a big musical number. “I don’t want to ruin the ending of our beautiful movie, but it’s kind of obvious that somebody gets married here. Overall, the journey for me had been really enriching. Yes, it’s a lot of work, very little sleep, but a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of amazing talents and seen some of the most beautiful set locations,” said Allan, who is a nephew of the late National Artist for Film, Lino Brocka.
Also part of the cast are Gabby Padilla, Cedric Juan, Lui Manansala, Leo Rialp, Topper Fabregas, Rubi Rubi, Victor Medina, Timothy Castillo, Miguel Almendras, Sunshine Teodoro, Lotlot Bustamante and William Lorenzo.
“During one of our first days, after I gave instructions to all the actors, William told me that I sounded just like Lino,” said Allan of William who worked with his uncle in a number of films in the 1980s.
“I asked if this was a good thing because some people seemed to be terrified by Lino. William clarified and said I reminded him of Lino in the way I told all of the actors what I was looking for in a scene. I made sure that everyone knew what they were doing and why. That was really wonderful to hear,” said Allan. “It’s been an emotional journey, too. I’ve always wanted to come back to the Philippines, get to know people, and do what I love the most, which is filmmaking.”
Allan has since returned to the US for postproduction work. “The goal is to start screening this in festivals next spring. Hopefully, we’ll get a distributor quickly after that,” he said. INQ