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The Inner Circle

Nonie Buencamino, Sid Lucero, and Carla Humphries open up to us on their roles in their upcoming film Smaller and Smaller Circles.

MANILA, Philippines — Serial killers are the most normal people in public. I can be a serial killer for all you know,” quips Nonie Buencamino, who plays Father Gus Saenz, the main protagonist in the crime novel-turned-movie Smaller and Smaller Circles. This is one of the truths uncovered in the film that presents a glimpse into the jarring realities often overlooked in the Philippines. Another truth goes beyond the story — it’s the prowess of the actors who deliver astounding performances, cementing their positions as real movers of an industry yearning for true talent. Joining Nonie are Sid Lucero, who also plays a priest, and Carla Humphries, who portrays the determined journalist Joanna Bonifacio. And together, all three killed it.

There is undeniable chemistry among the three actors, whether it’s onscreen looking for the next clue to solve the mysterious killings of pre-teen boys, or on the set as they clink bottles of beer during the photo shoot. This chemistry and camaraderie is not like the ones of the tween love teams; this one has depth and intensity — the same minds thinking alike, the same passions evolving together.

“We’ve somehow known each other for a while. It just so happened that we’re not maarte. I mean in a showbiz way,” reveals Nonie. “I cried in front of him na,” adds Sid as he points to Nonie. “I’m very close to the Eigenmanns. Sometimes I attend their family affairs,” shares Carla, who admits that she’s still a big fan of the clan. It’s not a closeness easily revealed to the public. The last known project all three came out in was Ang Probinsyano, albeit at different points in the show’s long runtime.

Individually, the three have worked on recent projects that put each on a pedestal, but still not quite completely. Nonie can be last remembered as the loving husband to Sylvia Sanchez in The Greatest Love. Sid was last seen catching waves in Apocalypse Child, while Carla maintains a supporting role in Pusong Ligaw as a long-time friend of lead Beauty Gonzalez.

The project came at the right time, especially for Carla. “It was the work I was looking for. I had just retuned from France, where I Iived for a bit. Medyo nadismaya ako sa career ko for a time. But to come home and for that to be the first script that I read made me very hopeful and excited to do something finally serious.” It’s a role that she’s been waiting for and is one her co-actors believe she excelled at. “I would think she fits her role perfectly like a glove. Kasi to begin with, she’s French, so that natural sophistication is there,” shares Nonie. And with a hint of humility, Carla offers more: “I’m still trying to establish myself, but here, I speak several languages. I show my boobs. It’s my first nude scene.”

 Nonie and Sid offer something new to the audience, too. “I don’t normally play a priest. I’m usually the killer,” says Nonie. And playing a Jesuit one, who is the hero in the story, showcases a new side to Nonie. Carla shares: “I can’t believe that it’s just now that he’s been given this kind of role. He’s the star of the movie and he is so well deserving because he’s such an amazing actor. I think gone are the days wherein we glorify just personalities. It’s nice to see real acting.” Sid, on the other hand, took from his experience being schooled in a Jesuit-run institution. “Malaki talaga ’yung difference. They’re very pilosopo. They’re much cooler. My headmaster was smoking a cigar outside the school campus. They drink. They drive BMWs.” Plus, as some quipped, just seeing a hot priest onscreen is already something to watch out for.

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But the three are quick to dismiss that they aren’t really what the audience should watch out for. “In the film, the story is the star, more than anything,” says Nonie, as any unassuming actor would. “The work that we do is really just for the story. It’s nice to work that way because there’s less pressure.” And here, Sid does not shy away from admitting he had a hard time playing Father Jerome Lucero. (Yes, they share the same surname.) “I felt like I could not explore too much because I wanted to be loyal to the story and his (director Raya’s) vision. When I got there, it was only after the first week that I became comfortable. There was always extra effort in trying to get into what I wanted to do.”

There was just as much effort coming from Carla: “If you know me in person, I’m very soft-spoken. I speak my mind with people who want to listen, but I’m not outspoken in the sense where I’ll be the first to speak. So it was nice to play a role where I can be more confident about the knowledge that I’m sharing. Just playing a powerful woman was something that I’ve always, as a Filipino actress, (dreamed of).”

It’s easy to assume that Smaller and Smaller Circles serves as a reflection of the problems in society today — killings, poverty, mental health, abuse and even misunderstandings between the government and institutions of religion and media. “I don’t know if ’yun ’yung sinasadya, but astig na bagay siya,” says Sid. But Nonie quickly reminds us that the novel’s story is set in 1997, when the country was under the Ramos presidency. Carla shares: “It’s sad to say that it’s still relevant now — that there are killings and the fact that life is still so cheap in the Philippines and around the world. It’s sad that it’s still relevant, but maybe it’s shedding light on things that people shy away from. Maybe it will shake some people, and even our government.”

These are actors who, through their craft, want to see a change in the stories, whether it be those they act out or those they live in. “There are parts of the movie that were shot in a dumpsite. I asked when we were there if meron ba talagang nahahanap na mga katawan dito, and meron talaga,” shares Carla. “Yes, hindi siya true story, but the movie is a depiction of what’s happening in our society today. It is a thinking movie, which is usually something Filipinos shy away from.”

Smaller and Smaller Circles doesn’t offer immediate solutions to the problems then and now, but it sheds light on how the mind of any antagonist works. “There’s more than one way to kill someone,” shares Sid. The three agree that killing can be done emotionally or even spiritually, and the story lets audiences in on this. “There are parts where you go into the mind of the serial killer. And it’s beautifully done in the film through narration,” shares Nonie. This way, the movie offers a new understanding of evildoers in society, and it’s not one that is to be dealt with through physical means and retaliation.

From the get-go, this cast knew they’d accepted a challenge that went beyond portraying roles that highlighted their capabilities. Here is one project that lets truths out of the cage, and whether they like it or not, Nonie, Sid and Carla are now the images of these truths. Nonie sums it up: “Let’s have things out in the open, let’s not hide them; and as a society, let’s help in improving them. How? By punishing those who need to be punished? Or improving the lives of those who are in need?”

 

Photo by JILSON TIU

Styling by SAMANTHA TIDALGO

Makeup and Grooming by MURIEL VEGA PEREZ

Hair by KEN MENDEZ

Produced by KARA ORTIGA

Shot on location in Taco Vengo

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