Romancing my stars

(The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Since Lakbay2Love is about biking, the environment and falling in love and we found locations to die for, I am lucky to have found the perfect stars to  die for as well — Dennis Trillo, Kit Thompson and Solenn Huessaff. Not only are all three beautiful, talented and lovable to work with, they are competent in biking and willing to endure the rigors of pedaling along rough and hilly terrain. Most of all, they had great chemistry. I can’t help but feel grateful.

Some were surprised that I chose Solenn to play the role of Lianne, the videographer who is trying to move on after the break-up with her long-time boyfriend, because they perceived the model-actress as an unreachable sexy icon.

But my decision was affirmed when Solenn took a one-day workshop with Best Supporting Actress Ruby Ruiz of Ekstra fame.

At the workshop, Ruby asked Solenn to write a character bio-data. Ruby interviewed Solenn about her character sketch as we videotaped their conversation. Solenn went on and on. Ruby and I shared that we found ourselves tearing up, moved by Solenn’s monologues.

Another exercise had Solenn as Lianne calling her French dad, pining for attention. Solenn’s raw, casual but fragile performance got me hooked. (You will be, too, when you see the videos posted on YouTube.) I think not many have seen her in this way.

In our film, Solenn is unplugged, prompting me to ask her if she didn’t feel limited by the glam image. She replied it was a joy to be comfy without make-up, adding that she only felt comfortable about being unmade since she got together with her boyfriend Nico (Bolzico).

So I thought, so this is the real Solenn. That night though, she posted a very sexy pic on her Instagram… as if to defy or confuse me!

At any rate, Solenn played her role with a lightness from her real persona and the angst of the character. Despite a privileged life, Solenn had enough pain to tap into. Yes, this “It Girl” is human.

Meanwhile, the award-winning actor was doing three films at that time, one of which was Felix Manalo. I met with Dennis and saw the actor’s calendar, which was dotted with shoots, except for two to four days per month. He was interested but could not commit to my schedule.

I asked Dennis how he could still give his free days to shooting my film when these should be his days of rest. Then he replied that biking is his rest.

There was an upcoming 7-Eleven Trail 1500 bike race coming up in a week’s time that I wanted to film for its bigness and context. I told Dennis that we wouldn’t talk about schedules yet but I asked if he could possibly free up the date for the 7-Eleven event. He agreed.

I had found my forester, a real mountain biker who, instead of riding the van to and from another location, would rather bike downhill and uphill. The challenge of scheduling didn’t matter to me anymore. Dennis is the real thing.

Solenn described Dennis as mysterious. “He is a real pro, comes to the set in his role, despite the many roles he plays outside. After doing a kissing scene together, Dennis would revert to being reserved as soon as the director yells ‘Cut!’ and not indulge in chismis.” Solenn found Dennis refreshing.

And after working with him for seven long months, sometimes having just one shoot per month, Dennis remains a charming mystery to me as well.

Finally, the third wheel who should be able to tear Lianne’s heart apart.

Kit wore a tight white shirt and exuded a sexy, boy-next-door image. He looked serious and “malakas ang dating” but when he smiled, he could melt hearts!

Kit had a reading wherein I “played” Lianne. At the end, he looked at me intently and held my hand, which was… very warm! And I fell in love!

I advised Kit to smile more often as his “karibal” for Lianne’s heart is not just one of the best but one of the most charming guys in showbiz. Then, I asked him if he liked Solenn and — I swear! — he started blushing like a teenager! After all, he is only 18 though he looks 24. (Check out the video on the Internet.) That was when I knew I found my Macky.

There was one scene where only after Solenn ended up improvising new lines playfully that the ice was broken and Kit ended up improvising lines as well. Kit embraced me gratefully and exclaimed how he enjoyed the scene. Kit is now in New York studying acting. Watch out, Philippines! 

I have never been this reckless in the past. Imagine, me signing up Dennis who could not give a definite shooting schedule, except for the first day.

In Lakbay2Love, I did so many things I never did before. For the first time, I directed intuitively, co-wrote the script, even write lyrics for a song. I revised scenes depending on the magic of the places we were in — falling leaves, changing water level, rain… I collaborated, even deferred at times to my associates and creative staff, many of whom were from the biking community. I am so thankful that they stayed despite the long production period and very limited budgets.

The idealism of the youth,  my son whose bike lesson is the reason why I went to the enchanting La Mesa Dam forest, the bikers, the millennials I work with, have taught me that to achieve change, one needs to fall in love first.

Now that our little film is in the promotion and distribution stages, I continue to trust the universe. I have already been given much, and will just do my best to share this piece of heaven I continue to experience.

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