Ilustrado: The making of a ‘bayani-serye’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Alden Richards revealed that he wasn’t the first choice for the lead role as the National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal on GMA 7’s first “bayani-serye” Ilustrado.

The 22-year-old actor named Dingdong Dantes, Dennis Trillo and Tom Rodriguez as those initially considered to portray the beloved hero when the historical drama series was still being conceptualized. But according to him, the project eventually landed on his lap when the other actors’ schedules couldn’t accommodate the shooting of the series. But first choice or not, Alden couldn’t be any more thankful for the providential opportunity. 

“I’m happy that this project was entrusted to me. I feel very lucky that GMA gave me this privilege,” said the be-dimpled actor who was last seen in the romantic drama series Carmela. More than Ilustrado being his biggest project to date, “Portraying a National Hero, to be honest, is giving me so much pressure.”

Alden won’t probably escape comparisons to seasoned actors who have essayed Rizal particularly in the big screen, but he stressed that he has no other aim but to tell Rizal’s story the best way he can. Aside from devouring books given to him by historian-consultants of the series, “(As preparation) I watched clips of Jose Rizal movies with Albert Martinez and Cesar Montano. I watched them to know how they attacked their role as Rizal, so that I would also know what my attack of the role would be based on my own understanding.”

Citing that the approaches of Albert and Cesar were vastly different, Alden said he wanted to give his portrayal his own imprint. 

A GMA News and Public Affairs production helmed by the same team behind the critically-acclaimed historical drama Katipunan and mini-series Bayan Ko on GMA News TV, Ilustrado traces the life of Rizal as a young student in the Philippines to his travels in Europe, and the crucial events that molded his thinking and influenced his actions as a reformist. Through his letters to his family and friends as well as his love letters, the series depicts his struggles while living abroad and his relationships with women that earned him the “playboy” reputation. 

Kylie Padilla stars as Leonor Rivera, described by many historians as Rizal’s true love, while Solenn Heussaff plays Nellie Boustead, the French woman Rizal nearly wed. 

Director King Marc Baco said, “We may have forgotten that the lives of our heroes are interesting. There are ups and downs, ma-drama din yung life nila and when it comes to their love life, I think the recipe for a telenovela is there. It’s just that this is historical and educational.”

Broadcast journalist Howie Severino (who has done award-winning documentaries on Rizal) serves as a consultant on the series. He said, “It’s gonna be really interesting — its structure. And of course, it’s not complete without the controversies — not the usual but a different, more political issue will be tackled here. While he was a hero, marami ding bumabatikos sa kanya, that he wasn’t supporting the Katipunan, etc., but one point we wanted while conceptualizing this, gusto naming maging taong-tao si Rizal. Because what we know of Rizal is that he’s a superhero, a genius, he is even regarded like a god by the Rizalistas. But we want to show that he also became a homesick OFW, he was a boyfriend and a fiancé, he became brokenhearted, he had a barkada, he had nights on the town, he had friends who betrayed him.”

Alden, for his part, said, “Based on my opinion and observation, the way we watched Rizal before, the way his life was portrayed, it dwelled more on the heroism. But this time in Ilustrado, we just want viewers to see that Rizal was only human as well — he was not perfect, he made mistakes, he had weaknesses, he gave in to temptations — so that audiences can have a complete understanding of who Rizal was aside from being a hero.”

Alden admitted that doing the role taught him greater understanding and appreciation not just for Rizal, but also for Philippine history. “When I read his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo before in school, my attitude was OK lang, steady lang, I wasn’t really a fan, I wasn’t really interested, but now I understand why (he wrote those novels).”

In its promotional teasers, the Kapuso network has made a bold pronouncement that Ilustrado is poised to change the landscape of primetime television. While that remains to be seen, in many ways, it is indeed a landmark production.

It is the first time that GMA News and Public Affairs has ventured into daily teleserye-making. Ilustrado is also the first primetime offering that revolves around a true-to-life, towering historical figure. King added, “The content, the narrative, it’s really out of the norms or the traditions or the conventions of a telenovela. A telenovela, of course, it’s a genre, it has a formula, so it’s out of formula, and for me, content-wise, since it’s a bayani-serye, it’s more educational.”

Ilustrado is filmed using the high-tech Arri Alexa camera and high-end lenses by CMB Film Services, Inc. The GMA Post Production has maximized 3D visual effects technology to recreate the grandeur of the European cities where Rizal lived and finished his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. 

While the series features other historical figures, Ilustrado also incorporated some fictional characters as contravidas based on a composite of real-life people and events in the life and times of Rizal.  

Howie said, “It’s a soap, it’s not a documentary. It’s a drama, and I’m very happy that there’s something like this. Because I’ve done five documentaries on Rizal, and let’s face it, the non-fiction documentary, it has a different audience... But entertainment, fiction story-telling, soaps, teledramas, they have such a wide audience, so you’ve got the people who are serious about history and in addition, there are many people who just want to be entertained. And then period dramas or dramas based on historical periods, they’re becoming popular. Take a look at Jewel in the Palace of Korea, it’s very foreign to us and yet it was a big hit in the Philippines. (The GMA 7 pre-Hispanic historical epic) Amaya, the Tagalog dialogue there was not easy to understand and follow (there were even subtitles), but we were surprised that a lot watched it. So, I believe our audiences are very ready for sophisticated storytelling that is rooted in history.”

More important, it’s the story about Rizal, who despite his flaws, accomplished so much for the country in the mere 35 years that he lived, from 1861 to 1896. Howie said, “One reason why I love Rizal and thinking about him is it gives me hope for our country, and it gives inspiration, especially (with) all the bad news about the Philippines, the corruption, the scandals, the lack of safety and peace in so many parts of our country. Then, you’ll remember the dreams of Rizal and his generation for us. That was the greatest Filipino generation — na sino yung makakasulat ng dalawang nobela standing the test of time in his 20s? He had so much discipline. He learned 21 or 22 languages as a young man, he became a doctor, a scientist, a poet, everything except a musician, yun lang siguro ang kulang pero parang nasa dugo natin yun. So, if you stop and think, it’s in our blood... I mean, we have to remind ourselves moving forward that we have this potential... kasi parang andaming nawawalan ng pag-asa. If there’s an opportunity to learn about Rizal, to read about Rizal, our heroes, our proud history, if we have opportunities to go back to that and teach the youth, they might be inspired not to give up.”

(Ilustrado, which also stars Eula Valdez, Ricardo Cepeda, Jaclyn Jose, Polo Ravales, Marco Alcaraz, Freddie Webb and Lito Legaspi, premieres tonight at 9:30 after Hiram na Alaala on GMA Telebabad.)









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